Monday, May 27, 2013

James Dean: The First American Teenager

James Dean: The First American Teenager is not too enlightening about the star of East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause who died at age 24 in a 1955 car crash shortly after completing his role in Giant. It has a cut-and-paste feel about it much like a biography compiled from newspaper clips, but instead of yellowed news stories, we get film clips.

Some of the content was lifted, with permission, from The James Dean Story, a much earlier documentary in which Robert Altman had a hand. The interviews with the likes of Sal Mineo (smoking a cigarette and guzzling from a can of Schlitz), director Nicholas Ray, and Natalie Wood look current for the time, but might have been filmed for another project. A lot of grainy black-and-white photos and even grainier black-and-white Kinescopes fill us in on Dean’s youth and early appearances on live television, and scenes from his three major color films fill in the rest.

The narration by actor Stacy Keach falls back on clich├ęs (Dean was the first American teenager, the first rebel, an acting genius, etc), and the whole thing reeks of something made directly for home video even though it was released before the introduction of the Betamax.

Brian W. Fairbanks
March 18, 2012

© 2011 Brian W. Fairbanks


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