Almost two years ago I sat down and watched my very first Marilyn Monroe film. It was awesome. Since then, I've watched a further zero Marilyn films because I'm an idiot. I've now seen more films about Marilyn than I have starring her. The gaps in my cinema knowledge are wide and varied - and dare I say it, a little embarrassing. However, thanks to COVID-19 (and the smallest of silver linings), I've had time to do some catching up. 1983's 'After Hours' and 1987's 'Raising Arizona' were among the most recent Spakfilla viewing sessions, but I decided to go further back once I realised that the 8th of February 2021 would have marked James Byron Dean's 90th birthday. Again, I'm ashamed to admit that I've never seen a James Dean film, and that I knew even less about James than I did about Marilyn. Never too late to right a wrong, I binged all three of JD's feature film performances to find out what all the fuss was about and why by the tender age of 24 this young man had accomplished what most people spend their whole lives trying to do: reach icon status.
The stars simply aligned for this man, and then as stars tend to do, they burned out.
James Dean earned two Academy Award nominations within 12 months with a filmography of just three. When people in the industry talk about having "it", they should just hold up a poster of Dean. And yet in 2021, not one of these three films is currently available on a streaming platform. You can't even rent or download them from iTunes. Thankfully DVDs step in where modern viewing practices fail. Which begs the question - is James Dean still an icon, or just pop culture fodder? Reduced to a t-shirt? A poster? Now a little wiser and with a little more cinema under my belt, I sincerely hope he's still an icon and remains one for generations to come. He deserves it. With his name still in the zeitgeist, perhaps more people like me will come along with enough curiosity to follow the rabbit hole down to the truth. Or is it too late? What's to become of any of our Golden Age icons?
For those in the know, or who are old enough to remember James Dean, he's still revered for his acting. However, directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh are about to use a CGI version in the latest Vietnam War tale, 'Finding Jack'. Will it look like shit? All evidence points to yes. Is it insulting and completely disrespectful to his talent and legacy? Absolutely. Is it a money-grabbing gimmick? Oh, you betcha. So? Those in charge don't care. Those speaking up aren't being heard. Will you pay money to watch a film starring James Dean but not actually acted by James Dean? Has technology gone too far, and is cinema trying to play god? Playing Devil's advocate, is this a way to keep these names alive and remembered? One thing's for certain, it'll have people talking. James Dean back in conversation 67 years after his death - wow, what an age we live in. I wish he could have seen it. Happy birthday, James.