Sunday, November 22, 2009

Forever young

He's still got it. Showed James Dean's astonishing first lead performance in East of Eden (1955) in the Film Studies class and Dean still exerts his power, especially among a group of young people, still wrestling with the issues that deviled Dean's characters. I have no doubt that should he be reincarnated this year, still age 24, he would be a star all over. His acting, though it represents a certain generation of the Strasberg Method is so personally applied that he never really had imitators. Some dismiss him as a Brando imitator himself, but Brando still fit the mold of the cool professional actor, delving deeper than his predecessors and with an astonishingly invisible technique. Dean is an actor, too, but he appears to have been caught on camera by accident--ready to run and hide at any moment, filled with quirks and sudden apparently involuntary movements. Instead of displaying pride of craft, Dean seems embarrassed to be put on show and eager to run from the limelight. Except when his characters are attention-seeking.

This is the first time I really paid attention to the conclusion of the film, which is sheer perfection. The father is on his deathbed, the "good son" run away, the "bad son" not knowing what he should do. The cliche would have been the tearful reconciliation, followed by the father's hand losing its grip as his head turns away, the music swelling to indicate his death. But that death is not arrived at in the sequence. The father has had a paralyzing stroke, and he finally asks the son, Cal, to do something for him--to dismiss the obnoxious professional nurse and take care of the father himself. At that moment, the father permits the boy to become a man, and, at a single stroke (no pun intended), healing begins. This would be an invitation for overacting, but Julie Harris, Raymond Massey and James Dean all underplay, almost for the first time in the film and it is superb.

No comments:

Post a Comment