11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2005
It was comprehensive, factually correct, and very interesting. I'm not sure I learned anything new, but I have been a fan/collector for 50 years so it is difficult to find anything new for me. That being said, this biography kept me interested from start to finish. Impressive.
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Like all the recent A&E biography DVDs A&E are misrepresenting the actual TIME ...it is NOT 100 minutes...the program actually ends at 85 minutes...and the final credits run into the 86 minute mark! The A&E Biographies marked 50 minutes are really closer to 42!
This may seem to some a picky complaint, but ask yourself this....if you send A&E 85% of the price would they send you their products? Why should they be padding their run times on their products to make them seem like better investments...the list on these DVDs is $24...pretty steep in comparison with the much superior WB DVDs on James Dean like "Forever Young" which lists for $19 and actually DOES run the advertised..90minutes...heck they should advertise 100 minutes they are closer than this A&E..and its a better DVD anyway...AND the American Masters James Dean : Sense Memories...has the nerve to say its 53minutes when it is! Why don't they take their lead from A&E and round up to whatever they want? ...okay..enough of my ranting....don't believe the run times on A&E products
this DVD is still worth owning...but buy it used.
on September 16, 2014
I have for years had a fascination with the counterculture, wanting to understand what drove people to go crazy. James Dean is the one who brought the generation gap into the open, and 85 minutes (1 1/2 times the usual length of an A & E Biography episode) was an appropriate length for someone so complex. I gained a lot of benefit from learning how his childhood left him with serious personality problems, most of which revolved around creating his own masculine identity since he was estranged from his father, and selfish ambition to be an accomplished actor. He also had a naturally strong-willed and individualistic personality, and when he used that to create his own kind of acting, he was not well regarded by some of his peers, making him celebrate rebellion as his defense mechanism. His lack of bonding with his father made it easier for him to jump from relationship to relationship for the sake of advancing his career, to the point of probably being bisexual and breaking a promise to his dad, taking advantage of his dad's money for a car but breaking his promise to enroll in the legal program at college. The New York scene, where he struggled to make ends meet financially and sought to become a better actor and get established in the movie business through Broadway recognition, was very formative for his hedonistic philosophy. He hung out with existentialist people of the Beat movement and got into jazz culture, which helped shape his off-kilter screen image and also made him more hostile to the establishment. Eventually he intentionally courted trouble while at the same time attracting sympathy from people, causing people to be semi-loyal to him while also hating the way he was. Throughout his life, he searched for resolution to his identity struggles through his father (who couldn't emotionally connect), acting, girlfriends, and driving like a speed demon. He makes for a very interesting character study.
His path to stardom was as roundabout/long and confusing as his own psychology. Eventually, after a long and winding path toward a movie career, Elia Kazan cast him for the movie East of Eden after Dean gave an acclaimed Broadway performance of a scandalous play called The Immoralist. (It was about a homosexual affair tearing apart a marriage, something movies and TV would not have been allowed to address, but theatre in New York could.) From then on, he was obsessed with women and cars in order to distract himself from the pain and pressure he felt. People he knew could see he was heading down a dangerously reckless path (even more than earlier), and it ultimately led to an early death from speeding on his way to a car race, at age 24.
I have not seen his East of Eden role yet, but I have seen Rebel Without a Cause and understand how it could create such a seismic shift in American society. I saw Rebel in 2008 and still remember parts of it very vividly, including the atonal music, the feeling of isolation in a suburban neighborhood, the switchblade and chicken-racing scenes, and the planetarium presentation at Griffith Observatory. Nothing had dared to get so existential about teen problems and present the adults as so out of touch and unhelpful. The adults are not so much villains as just incapable of providing solutions. Ultimately, the solution which the teen culture (which idolized Dean and was heavily influenced by Rebel Without a Cause) found was sexual and drug experimentation. In fact, Rebel Without a Cause is one of the only movies which presents its worldview in an academic way, at a planetarium show in Griffith Observatory which talks about the possibility of the world blowing up, because we're just a speck of dust in the universe, an accident. The atheistic foundation of the movie is established in that scene. It's one of the few movies to end with dissonant music, like Dean's life.
I think if Dean had not died from reckless driving after only 3 movies, he may have become less of a martyr, and would have possibly lost his movie career because he continued to deliberately make enemies, though they may have continued tolerating his defiant attitude because he was bringing in a ton of money. He also would have eagerly joined the drug culture when it emerged in the 60s. I find it odd that he defined the "cool" image for people when, as far as he was concerned, he was just acting forlorn because that's how he really felt. I saw a little of James Dean: Race With Destiny, a TV movie, on YouTube, and I thought it was interesting that the person playing Dean captured his mannerisms well, but (and this is a good thing!) couldn't capture Dean's deep psychopathic quality. It's too bad his legacy was more societal chaos by escalating the generation gap, and that he himself was such a troubled person, inspiring other troubled people to let go of their inhibitions like he does in his movies. I think of a statement by Jesus from Luke 6:39, "A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?"
It's interesting that less than 5 minutes of this documentary are taken up by movie excerpts. The crucial meltdown moment of each movie (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant) is the only movie footage shown in the documentary. I think for the purpose of understanding him as a person, that was all that was needed. The commentary by people who are interviewed is quite interesting. There is really a lot to discuss about important segments of Dean's life, and I have learned a lot about why he became the way he did.
on February 12, 2014
I have watched "East of Eden", "Rebel without a Cause" and "Giant" many times in the past. I am "culturally literate". I thought I understood who James Dean was. I did not.
I learned a lot from "Biography - James Dean - A&E". I was not any kind of expert on James Dean. But after watching this DVD, I have a lot of insight into who James Dean was, clues to his inner nature, and why his dying young was perhaps somewhat inevitable.
The DVD is quite well produced. It has a lot of footage from interviews with many people, important movie scenes, scenes from his childhood, many other video sources. There is little or no filler.
Related to the review about the DVD length: The credits start at about 85 minutes, so the DVD is indeed mislabelled. It does seem like a pretty big difference between 85 and 100 minutes. So shame on A&E. However, I chose to deduct no stars, because it does not matter to me, I would otherwise never have noticed without the other review.
I highly recommend this DVD for anyone interested in understanding James Dean.