For someone who had such a small, cinematic output-only three feature films-James Dean left behind an impressive legacy. Along with Marlon Brando, he best personified the Method style of acting where the individual would go to great lengths to feel and act as their character did. There is something about Dean's brief career and persona that has made him a revered icon. Perhaps it is because he died so young and so tragically. Perhaps it is that he never had the chance to age and his death has immortalized his youthful good looks. Regardless, this year marks the 50th anniversary of his tragic death and in observance, Warner Bros. has released The Complete James Dean Collection, a box set that packages all three of his movies in 2-DVD special editions loaded with extras.
We first see Dean in East of Eden sporting what would become his trademark look: disheveled hair, sitting hunched over on a street curb with his head bowed slightly like some kind of shy, troubled person. His performance oscillates between internalized torment and explosive anguish. It is a very stylized Method performance with Dean sometimes mumbling his dialogue but also a very emoting like crazy. For the time, it was quite realistic and a revelation but now seems, at times, exaggerated. However, no one conveys angst and emotional turmoil quite like Dean, especially when he pleads, "Talk to me!" to his estranged mother at one point in the movie.
Dean expands on the angst and frustration he displayed in East of Eden with a more complex performance in Rebel Without A Cause. Jim just wants to have a strong father figure to admire and not the emasculated one he has (the polar opposite of his dad in Eden) to deal with. Dean conveys a wide range of emotions and even showcases a capacity for comedy. Like The Catcher in the Rye, there is something timeless and universal that Rebel Without A Cause taps into (anyone can relate to Jim, Judy or Plato's feelings) and explains its enduring legacy.
In Giant, Dean plays Jett Rink, a hired hand at the Benedict ranch. His portrayal hints at the versatility he was developing. Finally, Dean doesn't play some angst-ridden youth-although, he still is an outsider, always looking at the action from a distance. Jett is jealous of Bick because his family didn't have the savvy to get rich like the Benedicts and so he resents being their hired help and is determined to become rich. This sets up the opposition between Bick who was born into money and Jett, a self-made man who strikes it rich when he discovers oil.
The East of Eden DVD features an audio commentary by Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel. He delivers all the requisite information (mini-bios on cast members, how people were cast, etc.) but in such a mundane, passionless way.
"Forever James Dean" is an hour-long documentary on the contradictions of Dean's life with interviews with friends and colleagues. The doc also does a nice job tracing Dean's life and his development as an actor with the only blemish being an awfully cheesy `80s song that dates it instantly.
"East of Eden: Art in Search of Life" examines the Steinbeck's novel and how it was not just his take on the Cain and Abel myth but also a commentary on his relationship with his father and family.
In "Wardrobe Tests," we see the cast try on various outfits for the camera in order to see what works and what doesn't. It's interesting to watch Dean's behaviour during these tests: sullen in one segment, goofy in another and serious in yet another.
The Rebel Without A Cause DVD features an audio commentary by Douglas L. Rathgeb, author of The Making of Rebel Without A Cause. The writer speaks very knowledgeably about many aspects (casting, visuals, acting, themes and anecdotes) of the movie in this very informative track.
"James Dean Remembered" is an hour-long look at Dean that was made in the `70s. Co-stars Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo talk about their experiences working with the actor on and off-screen. Even Sammy Davis, Jr., who was with Dean shortly before he died, tells an amusing anecdote about Dean and Marlon Brando meeting at a party.
"Rebel Without A Cause: Defiant Innocents" traces the film's origins from director Nicholas Ray's fascination with juvenile delinquency to the film's legacy. The film's screenplay was very autobiographical of its author, Stewart Stern, in particular, the dynamic of Jim Stark's family and his own. This is an excellent, in-depth look at how this classic movie came together.
There are "Screen Tests" of Wood, Dean and Mineo together that shows early on the terrific chemistry they had.
"Wardrobe Tests" features Dean with the actors who would play Buzz and his gang. Dean goofs around with some of them as he meets them all for the first time.
Also included are 16 deleted scenes without sound, some in black and white and some in colour. There is a lot of boring stuff, here, like kids leaving the Planetarium, complete alternate angles, kids driving up to the school and so on.
The Giant DVD is an existing special edition that came out a few years ago.