Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.
Sunday, 30 January 2011
Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean
I just missed James Dean. I was 9 in 1955 and just starting to get interested in movies and magazines and popular culture but I was too late for Dean's original impact but remember the fuss afterwards - magazines about him, the movies being constantly revived and how he influenced those who followed ... I was just in time though for Elvis (the first record I ever held was a cousin's 78 of "Jailhouse Rock" and I loved him in LOVING YOU and those early films and listening to his hits on the radio and those picture of him in the army etc .... my real 'moment' though came when I was 17 in 1963 and the arrival of The Beatles - I had the hair and the "look" with the boots, the black sweater etc and that first album was amazing. But back to the '50s and James Dean ...
EAST OF EDEN and GIANT were (and still are) monumental pictures helmed as they are by Kazan and George Stevens at their peak and have that rich Warner Bros look and feel, with great soundtracks too. When I was in London in my late teens revival houses always had good runs of Dean films - it was terrific to be able to see EDEN on the large screen. Dean has so many terrific moments in it (from that electrifying start with him waiting on the kerb for Jo Van Fleet (tremendous, as ever) to go by), he projects his vulnerability perfectly, I love his scenes with Julie Harris but those scenes where the father rejects his money and the climax can be cringe-inducing now. One feels for poor Richard Davalos - it is a good role but he is so over-shadowed by Dean... It is a handsome production using only part of Steinbeck's book and the captures the early California of Salinas and Monterey.
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE seems lightweight by comparison despite being brilliantly directed by Nick Ray and that red jacket image of Dean here is as iconic as Marilyn's white dress (see for instance how Joni Mitchell uses it and Jimmy in her SHADOWS AND LIGHT concert dvd). It is of course the essence of teen watching and relating to Jimmy, Natalie and Sal here. Dean though could be anything we wanted - was he gay? or bisexual? - you could just project your fantasies onto him... he was the lost little boy, the best friend one never had. One of the most iconic images is that one of him walking in the rain - he certainly knew how to project the image he wanted...
He looks amazing in GIANT too - he and Elizabeth together look timelessly iconic and beautiful. It is a perfect Warner drama from Ferber's book starting in lush Maryland as Bick and Leslie (Rock and Liz are iconic here too) meet and marry and travel back to Texas and the Reata ranch and Dean's Jett as the surly ranch-hand of Little Reata, left to him by Luz, where he strikes oil - the older Jett is certainly an oddity but Dean carries it off (as the film meanders on with the new generation of Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo and their idea of the older Hudson and Taylor).
Back then it must have been a rite of passage to go through the whole James Dean thing in one's teens or twenties, just like one did about Marilyn Monroe: the books, the films, the posters ... the legends about him in New York and Hollywood. it is nice to remember all that now. For someone who died so young the amount of photographs is amazing - all those images by Dennis Stock back in Fairmount, Indiana; dance class with Eartha Kitt, playing his bongos, his apartment, clubbing with Ursula Andress, with Pier Angeli etc.
There is that amazing story too by Alec Guinness about when he went to Hollywood in 1955 (to make THE SWAN with Grace Kelly) and his meeting with Dean and going for a ride on his motorcycle and then seeing that car and having the premonition of the disaster ahead and warning Dean not to drive it.
It was good too to get the dvd editions of the films with all those extras: the screen tests (including that one with Newman), costume tests, documentaries etc. There are some Dean songs too - the best probably being The Eagles "James Dean" on their "On The Border" album.
It is still an amazing story how this strange young actor burst out of the conformist early '50s establishing his name in the theatre and then in little over a year making three big films and being gone before the second one even opens! Like Marilyn he will always though be forever young, unlike Brando and Clift growing older and disappointing us - but we will always have Cal Trask, Jim Stark and Jett Rink. And then of course we had Altman's film of the play about the GIANT reunion, COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME JIMMY DEAN JIMMY DEAN. Amazingly, he would be 80 now....