This documentary, which was undertaken soon after James Dean's death, looks at Dean's life through the use of still photographs with narration, and interviews with many of the people ...
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This documentary, which was undertaken soon after James Dean's death, looks at Dean's life through the use of still photographs with narration, and interviews with many of the people involved in his short life. Interviewees include the aunt and uncle who raised him after his mother's death (when James was 9), his fraternal grandparents, a cabdriver friend in New York City, and the owner of his favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. James's father, who was alive when the film was made, does not get a single mention.Written by
David Glagovsky <email@example.com>
Dying young is always a smart career move, and never more so than by James Dean after his astonishingly short career of just six months the lot. We can too easily imagine this petulant, self-absorbed problem-kid living on into the Sixties and boring the pants off us with protest and psycho-babble. But his glory days - so brief, so intense - came and went at just the right moment, when audiences were needing a rest from too much conventional virility in their screen heroes. The idea of an angry teenager hiding a sensitive, vulnerable side seemed to intrigue many. There is no doubt that it touched the maternal in female viewers. And after Dean's dramatic death, many young males liked to see themselves as enigmatic figures with tragedy hovering. (Scriptwriter Stewart Stern even picks up a hint of emotional blackmail: "It could happen to me too, Mom.")
Stern also points out that Dean's origins in the small-town Indiana of cornfields and prairie did not exactly chime with that tortured personality that seemed so metropolitan, like the Actor's Studio from which he promptly dropped out. The clunking interviews with locals who remember the boy next door (generally fondly) were plainly rehearsed, and the extensive use of still pictures instead of the expected movie-clips does nothing to raise the production values, whatever Stern may have meant by "dynamic exploration of the still photograph".
One of these stills shows a school report, where his temporary enthusiasm for art is acknowledged, alongside another reference to Safety Driving Training - ironical indeed, as is his brief involvement in a documentary movie about car safety. On that sensitive topic, I was surprised not to hear the widely-credited story of Alec Guinness warning him of a premonition that Dean would shortly die in an accident if he continued to drive that new Porsche. It happened in a week.
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