I spent my birthday doing the most wonderful thing that I can imagine; watching a double feature of Rebel Without A Cause and East of Eden. I was just driving by the New Beverly and saw the marquee, and pulled over right into a meter and squealed!!!
James Dean is one of my favorite celebrities and I love his acting. I’ve read every book on him and when I went to NYC for the first time, as well as LA, I went to all of the landmarks, places he lived, filmed, hung out, etc.
I love how he was perceived as some kind of manufactured cool in his movies but off screen he was a real weirdo in a lot of ways. Was hanging out with those NYC jazz types, was really into the occult and bullfighting and of course, MEN. He also took ballet with Eartha Kitt and I love how floppy he is with his body on screen, always propping himself up against things, leaning, running and flailing, burying his head, etc.
I’m not the biggest fan of Rebel Without A Cause but I like the teen-exploitation part of it; Jim Backus is a genius as JD’s dad. And the Griffith Park/observatory scenes are amazing. And you have to appreciate that in the 1950’s nobody made movies about kids yelling at their parents, trying to strangle them, telling the adults to face their demons in order to raise their kids properly. When I bring that up with my parents my dad just said, “Oh I don’t know. When we were teenagers we just liked when James Dean said, ‘Well, then, there, now…’ in one scene. It became a huge catch phrase in high school.”
But East of Eden is the movie that got me hooked on James Dean. My sociology teacher showed in one week, 30 minutes a day until it was finished. It was I think for a study on family relations, sibilings and parents. It takes place in Montery, CA in 1917 and is a basic Cain and Able tale. It was Dean’s first of only three movies and it was the only movie that was out in the theatres when he was alive.
I know every high school girl liked James Dean but I hold that I was different in the way I liked it. It wasn’t because he was ‘cute.’ He just seemed like a guy who loved acting.
And then as a Smiths fan I saw how much Morrissey borrowed from James Dean movies lyrically and of course his hair is similar and one of their album covers is a shot from East of Eden. I also enjoy the subtle and not so subtle homo-eroticism in these movies. So many stories about men trying to force a relationship with a woman because what they really need is a mother and these guys seem asexual around women but the scenes with the men were always really loaded – although never about sexual attraction.
In one scene in East of Eden, Cal, played by James Dean, goes to see his father’s friend who is about fifty years old because he wants to talk to this guy about investing in beans. JD finds this guy at the local gymnasium (you know old school style, medicine ball workouts) and the guy is showering. Dean gets right up to him after he gets out of the shower with his towel on (of course the guy is smoking butts) and he says, “Cal , don’t get too near me I don’t want to get all hot again.” It’s a totally innocent line meaning, “Stop standing so close when you talk to me.” But it got big laughs in the theatre. What a bunch of pervs.
Thanks James Dean for giving me something to do in high school while I waited for the stupid boys to mature. (still waiting.)