7 February 2010 | bandw
The cost/benefit ratio is high
If you know anything about James Dean, then this movie will probably not add much to your knowledge. What we see of Dean is mainly through still photographs. Most of these are just portraits that add little to the film, but there is an occasional one that surprises, like a nice one of Dean enjoying himself in a ballet class. The scene of real interest, which is saved for the end, is from a black-and-white audition Dean did for "East of Eden."
The tone of the narration would be appropriate for the biopic of a saint--you are made to think that Dean's early death was some sort of national calamity.
There are several interviews with some of Dean's relatives, friends, and even some restaurant owners and taxi drivers. The depth of the questioning is often inane, such as when the interviewer asks the restaurant owners, "How was his appetite?" We watch as a previous friend rummages through a box of Dean's miscellaneous stuff like phone numbers and a note from his laundry. It seems that everything that Dean touched was sacred. We don't even get any insights from Dean's girlfriend, the one with whom, "for the first time he found the timid belief that life was possible."
The most frustrating thing about this film is the narration's constant speculations about Dean's motivations and thoughts. For example, consider this, "He took his envy to the beach. He looked at the ocean and he was jealous of its power. He envied the gulls for having found each other. He envied them their freedom and their solitary flights. Suddenly he knew that as an actor he could be the ocean and flood everything with his power. As an actor he could be a gull." A good part of the movie is filled with such florid prose that has no basis in fact. Amid all of the speculations there is none about the common one of Dean's being homosexual, or bisexual. He supposedly avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual.
The main question I have always had about Dean is the extent to which he manufactured his own myth of being the sensitive, misunderstood, moody, independent intellectual. This film got me no closer to answering that.