I watched Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause 2 days ago. It is a curious film, one of those famouser than famous ones that everyone knows about but never watches. I finally did. It somewhat reminds of me of another classic American piece of iconography, J.D Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye because they both deal with American teenage atrophy. The connection is loose but it’s sort of there. I hated Catcher. Holden Caulfield is the gold standard for bitch-assness. Thankfully, Rebel isn’t quite that annoying. It just presumes that America’s troubled youth of the 50s were rebelling because their parents were inept.

James Dean plays James Stark, a teenager who’s always getting into trouble and his family has just moved into town. Apparently, his aggressive, irresponsible behaviour is because his parents are always fighting. His dad is a neutered loser who wears aprons at home to show his re-mancipation. (Clothes play a big part in this here film) His mom, is a bitch. He doesn’t know what’s right and wrong and just wants to fit in and have real friends but he’s arrogant and confused.

On the first night in town, young Stark is already drunk off his head, scrambling around on the ground, playing with a toy monkey in a beautiful opening shot. He gets picked up by the popo and meets the 2 other protagonists, Natalie Wood’s Judy and Sal Mineo’s Plato. Judy is the slutty next door neighbour. She’s confused cos she has the hots for her own dad, who slaps her when she tries to be affectionate. So she fools around with the school bully, Buzz. Plato, is the nerdy best friend/sidekick. His dad left home early on, leaving him without a father figure. Worse still, his mom also decided to dump him with a caretaker and just write him cheques. Which leaves him terribly lonely and gay.

The pic below shows the 3 protagonists in the same frame at once near the start of the film. Great cinematography as the camera weaves in and out, switching from one angle to another, distancing, tightening and establishing relationships all in one go. James is trying to lend Sal Mineo his jacket.

rebel trio

So basically James Dean meets chick, wants to tap but has to prove himself. Fights badboy, wins and sets up that famous driving the cars off the cliff scene. Chick is fascinated at this display of male lunacy and secretly wishes Dean will bang her anyway. Gay best friend starts to come out of the closet but is repressed by 50s mores. This 3 way relationship arches and swells until it reaches breaking point. Will the youth of America be saved?

I gonna get my VW.

You know, if this shit was amoral back in the 50s, I wonder what people would make of gun toting, abortion experienced, drug using teens today. Is it because the parents still don’t give a shit? Or is it just easier to externalize?

Anyway, I have this unexplained desire to own a red windbreaker. Also, I cannot, under any circumstances, mismatch my socks again.

rebel red

rebel socks

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