Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean": docudrama of the start of the famous actor's career


Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean”, directed by Matthew Mishory (2012), dramatizes the earliest time in the career of legendary actor James Dean, who died in a car crash (somewhat of his own making) in 1955, and would win an award for best actor for “Giant” posthumously.
Most of the film is in stark black and white, including the desert scenes, with a few flashes of 50’s style Technicolor.


Dean (James Preston) was an acting student in LA, with a professor who said that acting was like working out with weights;  when it hurts it feels good.   There are some conversations where Dean has to face what it will be like to be on his own financially and have to support himself with “real jobs” if necessary.  The parental cords have been cut.  The film explores is bisexual lifestyle, which becomes somewhat comfortable in California despite the times.  He becomes intimate with his roommate (probably William Bast, as played by a fatherly Dan Glenn).  Later, he meets a very beautiful young man Arthur (Christopher Higgins), with whom he has a very tender and extended intimate scene, at around the 50 minute mark.  There is some real tension in this scene, which is one of the better of its kind in gay cinema (comparing to similar scenes in “Judas Kiss”, “Old Joy”, “Trick”, and even “Edge of 17”). 


I remember seeing “Giant” with a friend in Dallas at the Inwood Theater in the mid 1980s.  I recall the scene where Dean’s character is introduced.  I don’t recall “Rebel Without a Cause” and “East of Eden” nearly as well (my own boyhood years), but I think I saw them on TV in the 70s.

The Wolfe link is here and the film has been in many LGBT and smaller festivals.

Yes, the lime in the tequila shot looks sharp and succulent in black and white. 
The Wolfe DVD includes a 12 minute short “Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman”, also directed by Mishory (2009).  The film, with some bizarre rural and boarding school scenes (anticipating “Like It Rough” with Timo Descamps) in post-WWII Britain, shows the gay English film director who would pass from AIDS in 1994. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Joshua Tree National Park ariel view, link here.  Much of “Zabriske Point” took place near here.  I’ve been in the area many times, especially in the 1970s.  

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