This movie chronicles the story behind the 1955 LIFE Magazine photo thread by Dennis Stock of then-rising star, James Dean, and gives us an inside look at some of Hollywood's most iconic images and into the life of a gifted, but troubled man.
At the time the film is set (1954-55) it was not possible in Southern California to direct dial outside of a local calling area. Only an operator could place the call. At the time, area codes were used only by operators. Not until 1968 was it possible to direct dial calls beyond the local area. In 1955, in areas controlled by General Telephone (Santa Monica,West L.A., Malibu etc.), local numbers required dialing five digits. Other calls required an operator. In Pacific Telephone (Bell) areas (most of Los Angeles County), local calls required dialing seven digits; other calls required an operator. It was not yet possible to dial direct to New York; it was necessary to first dial 112 for long distance and have the operator place the call. See more »
James Dean. When we hear that name what do we think of? Youthful icon. Screen legend. Rebellious. Cool. All have been posted to the name of Dean over the decades since his premature death in 1955 but how many of us would mention the words, shy, vulnerable and complicated. The silver screens rising star came out of nowhere, had a fleeting moment in the sun and then as quickly as he appeared, he was lost to us, dying at the eternally youthful age of twenty-four.
There was very little mentioned about the film, 'Life', it just seemed to appear so I was a little unsure about its content. Were the producers trying to tell us something that we didn't know? Putting this aside though, I was still intrigued by a semi-biographical tale of a Hollywood legend whose name has survived the test of time despite only ever starring in three films. After a journey that involved a train excursion and a bus trip, I managed to make it to one of the few theatres that has included 'Life' in their weekly line-up. For a time I thought I was going to be the only person brave enough to see it until a woman walked in and the audience doubled in size and became two.
The first thing that leaps out at me is the quality of the cast. A film that features Ben Kingsley, Robert Pattinson and Joel Edgerton couldn't be that bad but again, perhaps the produces know something that we don't. Anton Corbijn brings a distinguished resume to the directors chair and has been able to deliver a delicate view of a young star who was much more than just the moody, difficult new kid on the block that ruffled the feathers of Hollywood's power players. The audience gets to see a genuinely vulnerable James Dean brought back to life with a stand out performance by the little known Dane DeHaan.
DeHaan's execution of the immortal screen icon was always going to make or break the production. A brave decision for Corbijn to make but an inspired one as DeHaan completely transforms himself into James Dean right down to the 50's stars mumbling vocals and uncomfortable nature. Pattinson portrays Life Magazine photographer, Dennis Stock, who is responsible for capturing Dean in his raw and natural poses that have now become recognisable around the world. Unfortunately Pattinson is totally left in the shadow of DeHaan's portrayal and at times looks out of his depth trying to act as the second lead. Ben Kingsley is absolutely superb as Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers Studio who has a difficult time in trying to rein in the rebellious Dean. Edgerton adds a rounded cameo as Stock's boss but all eyes are on DeHaan as he moves from scene to scene totally immersed in his character.
With a set that transports the viewer back to the golden years of Hollywood when studios owned their acting stars and everybody sucked back the soothing smoke from a death stick, the film highlights just how cutthroat the movie making business was and still is. Dean was a prodigious talent but didn't want anything to do with the regimented routines that were thrust upon him by Warner. He felt most comfortable around people he trusted and he felt most at home on the farm in rural Indiana.
This is a good glimpse into the life of an immortal Hollywood icon whose talent could have taken him anywhere.
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