ACTOR LIVED FAST AND DIED YOUNG
And so James Dean remains unique. His life, alleged bisexuality, predilection for masochism, quirks (such as playing the bongos with irritating glee) and fascination with fast cars has long been pored over.
Yet it’s for his acting that he should be focused upon.
Dean was a product of the 50s but, even in Giant aged just 24, he was exhibiting signs of a range and maturity that eluded several of his contemporaries.
Put plain, Dean was a meteor. He required the firm hand of a trusted director to guide and rein him in. He found that control in Nicholas Ray, Elia Kazan and George Stevens, the men who made his final three films.
He would have needed similar treatment from the men who came after them.
We shall never know how he would have fared had he lived into the 1960s and 70s.
Would he have followed Brando’s path through the 60s, plodding through one flop after another?
Would he have burned out like poor, anguished Clift who limped on for 10 years following a car crash from which he never fully recovered?
Or would he have embraced the counterculture, emerging as a new star like Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson or Peter Fonda?
James Dean was the epitome of the angst-ridden, misunderstood youth – the angry kid with fierce tears stinging his eyes and fire in his belly.
In the 1950s he stood for something and his trio of classic films fly a standard for the motif of the post-war American teen.
Whether he is still relevant remains to be seen.
Rebel without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant (all PG) are being rolled out in cinemas over the next month.