Friday, September 30, 2005

9/30/55 at 50

It's appropriate (for me) that I'm putting together what textbooks I'd like to teach for my upcoming class on movie stars because it's 50 years today that James Dean etched his permanent place among the Hollywood firmament by crashing his Porsche Spyder and dying. Not necessarily a great actor nor one with a tremendous range, Dean was only in three features: East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause and Giant. The 50th anniversary of the release of Rebel, his most iconic film (and, hokey as it is today, one of my very favorites -- the image above features him and the also-doomed-in-real-life Natalie Wood), will be in three days. Dean's beyond-intense acting style, paired with a man-boy look (and an ambiguously sexual sensuality) that epitomized unsure adolescence (a concept just emerging in the 50s), changed (along with Brando and Clift) what it meant not only to be a leading man in the movies -- but what it meant to be an American man to begin with. It was OK for boys to cry and to still become men (as I assured my son this morning, when he got his third and final quadruple vaccine). Indeed, we can credit Dean partially for "sensitive new-age kinda guys" like myself. Dean's death was mourned by millions of confused adolescents and the date was etched in desktops and put on t-shirts by the thousands.

(The irony here? I am utterly fascinated by Dean and his star image -- and be that as it may, I think I'm actually going to forego him for the class and screen Red River so I can get the two-fer of man's man John Wayne and girly-man Montgomery Clift.)

Anyway, we miss ya, Jimmy -- even guys like me who are too young to have ever been directly affected by you, even if your death assured that you wouldn't become the old, sad, obese caricature that your contemporary pioneer Brando has become.


Rusty said...

So many problems with this...

1. Brando. Obese, yes. But almost always important. It's not like he pulled an Orson and was featured in magician documentaries and wine cooler commercials. I mean, don't people consider Brando, like, the bestest actor ever? After he got fat too.

2. You referred to yourself as a "sensitive new-age kinda guy." That needs to stop. Buy a .22 and let's go hunting.

Middento said...

Au contraire. Certainly Brando never stooped to the level of Welles in caricature, but given the palpable virility in his earlier films and the eccentricity surrounding his later performances (The Island of Dr. Moreau, anyone?) he clearly was past his time, starwise.

J.J. said...

There's a great lost documentary about bullfighting that Orson Welles abandoned. I saw clips at the Library of Congress over the summer. He may have slummed in his twilight, but I don't think he ever lost that intense ambition to do great things with film.