This documentary on James Dean has the advantage of archival footage, as opposed to re-enactments, to convey the life and career of this unique screen personality.
Dean's life is charted from birth, including the untimely loss of his mother at an early age, the estrangement from his father, his junior and senior high school activities, and on to his acting studies and early career experiences in New York and Hollywood.
Short commentaries by Dean's teachers, close friends and associates paint revealing pictures of both the actor and person. Film clips are used to help flesh out the degree to which Dean brought his own life's experience into his roles, taking great risks in improvisation with the printed script.
It was indeed fortunate that Dean had such remarkably sensitive directors to work with. Elia Kazan waited to get Dean's signal to begin a shoot, rather than the other way around. Nicholas Ray allowed Dean to structure and direct the scenario the way he saw it, rather than the way Ray may have chosen. And George Stevens accommodated Dean every step of the way, providing for maximum comfort level for Dean to prepare and execute a scene.
In a way, Dean's bonanza of directors was not unlike that of Audrey Hepburn, who also inherited a string of great directors. The only way to accurately sum up Dean's brief and mecurial career is "phenomenal." This documentary provides interesting footage for the film researcher and the Dean devotee.
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