Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here to finish what we began in yesterday’s blog. That is, running some of the thoughtful comments we received about James Dean.
As you must know by now, we at Classicmoviechat have had our say (starting with James Dean — really a good actor, Sept. 22, 2011), and much of what was said was not flattering.The comments we are running today serve as a useful counterpoint to our rather critical remarks about the much-remembered actor, who died at just 24 in 1955, after making one of the biggest career splashes in Hollywood history.
We start off with this analysis from Laura:
Yes, his performances in “East of Eden” and “Rebel” seem rather dated. However, Dean added little details to his characters that made them seem more real than performances by Cary Grant, perhaps (whom I adore, but.. let’s face it, he wasn’t a natural or versatile actor).
In “East of Eden” for instance, there is a scene where he and (costar) Julie Harris are in some sort of field and she tells him about her relationship to her father. Look at his reactions. They’re not overly emotional.
But when you look at the scene where his father rejects his money, you see Dean react in a way that seems truly ridiculous compared to performances we are seeing today.
His best performance was in “Giant.” Look at the end where he basically looks like early version of (Marlon) Brando’s godfather. Dean shaved his freaking hair to make it look as if he were balding. THAT is the great actor.
Not all actors back then were willing to go as far as Dean. Of course, shaving one’s hair seems rather cute today where we have actors basically starving themselves for roles. But it was actors like Dean who did it first.
From Anonymous, we received this followup to his earlier missive taking us to task for criticizing Dean:
…..are you guys NUTS? To wit: you want a “rational defense” of his acting ability? A rational defense is a term used by criminal attorneys in a courtroom, not someone discussing an artist’s creative legacy.
But let us not further descend into petty squabbling. I’ll step up to the bench and address the judge. Your Honor, these men know nothing. They are, at best, well informed dilettantes, somewhat akin to extremely clever JEOPARDY contestants who win big cash prizes but whose perceptions of the deeper philosophical implications of the subject at hand is virtually zero.
James Dean was a genius because he was a peerless PIONEER in mining the aspects of The Stanislavsky Method which had revolutionized the art of acting through precisely such tenets as “subtext” and “hidden meaning”….to see that though the illusion of art, all “real life” is a shadowplay of phony surfaces and artificial civilities, and that it is the task of the artist to reveal through either comedic or tragic or tragicomedic fictions all that is repressed, hidden, and emotionally counterfeit within that so-called reality.
Therefore, all truly great artists are dangerous to the status quo; they are then either assimilated through the mechanisms of fame as nothing more than objects of physical desire, or tolerated and sometimes rewarded through their own complacent creative mediocrity and/or timidity.
When they fall into neither category, they are often erased from the public sphere, either through their own self-destructive suffering at the hands of such externally enforced limitations, or often helped along in this suffering by the willful ignorance and indifference of an elitist body of so-called “critics”.
Now, before you accuse me of pretentious long-windedness, here’s the hard evidence, Your Honor. In the screenplay of “East of Eden” there was no indication or description of the character of Cal Trask clutching or desperately trying to hug his father and letting all that money so symbolically cascade down to the floor. The character, rejected, was to merely take the money and angrily walk out the door, go under the tree, and sob silently in the shadows.
In that one instant of an actor’s brilliant insight and capacity to ratchet up the emotional stakes, an entirely new and dangerous explication of naked human pain was born, which gave an entire generation the tools with which to express it’s previously unarticulated feelings toward much larger societal hypocrisies.
A lesser actor would have had neither the courage, the technical ability, the desire, nor the intelligence to take that kind of risk with which he confidently INVENTED something far deeper and unprecedented in the American cinema.
Watch John Derek in (director) Nicholas Ray’s “Run For Cover” shot at the exact same time as “Rebel Without A Cause” by the exact same director in 1955. Same dynamic between an elder father figure and an alienated young man….completely forgettable and unaffecting results.
James Dean was an ACTING genius. I rest my case.
Finishing up our discussion is this relatively succinct note from The Lady Eve :
Like so many things, it seems, the question of Dean’s abilities is in the eye of the beholder.
My own opinion is that he didn’t have enough time to truly prove himself. He was barely “blooming” as an actor at the time – what was he, 24, when he died? I don’t know if anyone would disagree that he showed great promise in those first three films, though.
As for “schticky ” Method acting, there was a lot of that going around for a long time once Brando made his name.