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James Dean: A Portrait (1996)

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Title: James Dean: A Portrait (TV Movie 1996)

James Dean: A Portrait (TV Movie 1996) on IMDb 7.2/10

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Himself (1955 public service film) (archive footage)
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Beverly Long ...
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Steffi Sidney ...
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2 September 2007 (Germany)  »

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A brief, touching portrait of an artist
28 December 2003 | by (Kyoto) – See all my reviews

This TV documentary is only 60 minutes in length, and doesn't go into much depth. It does contain some very interesting material, and it achieves its purpose as a short documentary that both enlightens and touches. The film is basically a quick walk-through of Dean's life. There is more to it than that, however, and along the way we find intriguing quotes from Dean's personal writings, some scenes from rare home movies, family photographs, some great screen tests, behind the scenes footage (some even filmed by Dean himself), examples of Dean's artwork, a general study of his acting technique, and even a homemade stop motion animation of a bullfight that was found in his possession after his untimely death (Dean was greatly enamored with the symbolism of bullfighting).

The film covers Dean's life very quickly, but the presentation is solid and you get a good, elementary feel for Dean from it: as an actor, artist and person. From Dean's writings we see that he was, in fact, not only innately talented but very intelligent. The factual portrayal is really a highlight when you consider how many presentations on Dean get caught up in his legend and mystique, thereby confusing the audience more than educating. There's no obsession with the legend here. The film states it simply: Dean had amazing talent as an actor. We see it here in the many selected movie clips and screen tests where Dean isn't even acting--he's literally, emotionally (perhaps even psychologically) become the character. That essence of his ability goes beyond compliment to become a simple fact. Dean was in Hollywood only 18 months but by the time his first film made it to theaters his name already received top billing.

Several people who knew Dean provide brief interview commentary of a personal nature: what he was like, things he said. These interview bits are interspersed mostly from obscure footage shot years prior to this documentary's production. They include Dennis Hopper on the set(?) of Easy Rider, Nicholas Ray and other cast and crew he worked with.

A clip from Dean's highway safety public service announcement is also included, and the irony is tragic. Dean briefly talks about his new Porsche Spyder and how the highways are even more dangerous than the race track. The accident is covered briefly but coherently (Dean was not at fault). In sum, it's a brief and touching portrait of an amazing artist, who had an astonishing impact on the world with only 3 films to his name, and who could have accomplished so much more.


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