directed by Nicholas Ray
James Dean is one of my all time favorite actors. Period. (Ugh, did he just do one of those things where he spells the word period, then punctuates it with a period and uses it as a sentence? What a pretentious asshole… ) Dean acted as if his life depended on it, and he acted as if he didn’t give a shit about what anyone else thought about his acting. What a strange dichotomy. Aside from Elia Kazan’s classic East of Eden, Dean’s best role takes the form of his Jim Stark in Rebel without a Cause, starring the wonderful and dazzling Natalie Wood and the subtle and complex talent of Sal Mineo. Considering how inexplicably homophobic we are as a country right now, in Two Thousand and effing Ten(!), then imagine how much more performances like Mineo’s meant back then? No condescension and no indulgence, just youth, angsty and enraged at a world that didn’t get it. Rebel sums up the Molotov cocktail of youth in a way that rivals modern attempts on the subject. Dean hates his out of touch parents, Wood’s parents thinks she’s a tramp, Mineo’s home is broken. We see these things in Rebel through some kind of Technicolor veil and claim it’s too out of touch, too old fashioned, but these themes and cores never change. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is filled with all the same elements as Rebel, with all the same elements as My So-Called Life, with all the same elements as Kids (an overrated film, in my opinion, but worth watching), the same emotional extremes, confusion and naively intense preconceptions about the world that fuel the desire to changes things, to rage against the structure of soul killing precedents set forth by our parents. Adding blood and cussing doesn’t make it more real or more accurate, and when you have a cast as fine as Rebel’s (even the supporting cast is phenomenal), you really just need to let the camera capture their talents. Elia Kazan understood this when he let Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger have it out in the back of that car in On the Waterfront (which is deserving of every praise it ever receives). All you young film lovers would do well to see films like this, because as much you may think things have changed and improved, there are some things that never do. Hell, go back and watch Baz Luhrmann’s very well conceived film, Romeo + Juliet while you’re at it, or go and read Shakespeare’s play again. There are few things as poignantly stinging as revisiting a relic that somehow cuts to the core of your experience and the perfect melancholy it can produce.