on January 7, 2006
This is a superb treatment of the making of an iconic film. Published at a time when many books were coming out to commemorate the 50th anniversary of both James Dean's death and the release of Rebel, Live Fast, Die Young faced stiff competition, at least on the subject of Dean himself. But this story is the ultimate examination of the evolution and production of one of the most important films in the history of cinema, not just Dean's contribution to it. As far as direct competition, the earlier more academic study, by Douglas Rathgeb, unfortunately does not quite hold up next to this mountainous, jam-packed look at the movie which made the legendary careers of James Dean and Nick Ray.Rathgeb's book was certainly adequate and very thorough as to the use of extensive Warner Brothers memoranda and archives. However, the end result of his approach is dry and lacking in narrative. Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel took the Rebel ball and ran with it, bigtime! The cover painting grabbed me right away, as did that seductive and lurid title, also used to great effect, in part, by John Gilmore for his '97 book on his experiences with James Dean. From beginning to end, the authors dished out exactly the type of balanced but fast moving stories and anecdotes I was hoping they had uncovered. I'd had a feeling there was more, much more to the making of that haunting film than what anyone else had written, dating all the way back to Dalton's The Mutant King and beyond.There's no shortage of steamy gossip or interpersonal intrigue here; there is much I didn't know about Nick Ray's life, as well as Natalie Wood and writer Stewart Stern. I picked up the book mainly because I'm a dedicated fan of James Dean. Although I like the film and have alwayes been intrigued by that indefinable aura of transient youth and tragedy that clings to it, I was instantly drawn in by the authors' impressive sources, fresh anecdotes, and a consistent knack for leaving no stone unturned. There are other older sources on the life and work of Nicholas Ray, but I have not read them, so the intimate details of his background, as well as that of his work on Rebel, was mostly fresh to me. It is unbelievable what Stern and Ray went through with the stiff sensorship of the era, as well as with the top brass of Warner Brothers, while trying to get the film made their own way. It was a different world in the fifties, full of oppresseive political pressures, racism and sexism. Ray, Dean and cohorts successfully rose above the fray and survived to create a cinematic masterwork that laid the ground work for practically all that we've come to know as youth culture. I love the way the chapters are broken down to evenly introduce the major and minor players, as well as keep the overall story of the making of the film moving along rapidly. Anybody who is heavily into the film and/or Dean, or any of the impressive cast, should not overlook this fantastic read! Great selection of photos included. Paul Waters
on December 16, 2005
This excellent book is sheer heaven for those addicted to the romantic myth of this movie and its galaxy of stars. Even if you're a little bit addicted, you'll be hooked fast after just a few pages, as these authors make it easy to love James Dean, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, the script writer Stewart Stern, the composer Leonard Rosenman, Corey Allen, and the minor players who composed the "gang." Nicholas Ray is also at the core of this work, an exploitative megalomaniac insecure and wounded to the quick probably from the opening bell of his life. In fact, everyone and every thing related to Rebel is examined in fascinating detail, before Rebel, during the making of Rebel, and after Rebel. One really feels the great significance of this movie to not only everyone involved in it, but to a whole generation, and generations after it. Of course, I've run out and gotten all three Dean movies, but my appreciation and understanding of Rebel has gone up a thousandfold after reading this book. If you remember the fifties gang warfare or vaguely remember when Dean died (I was eight years old), and you've seen Rebel just once, read this book. You won't be the same. You'll fully appreciate how this movie and its cast have influenced our culture (today's right-wing philistines would say for the worse, as we move back to a 1950s repression). You'll also understand the genius that was Dean. Who knows what he would have done and where he would have taken us in our collective consciousness, but his tragic loss ironically is part of his ever-present influence.
on October 30, 2005
As a huge Natalie Wood fan, I'm always happy to get my hands on anything that mentions her, and there hasn't been much until recently. This is another great contribution to the facts of her life, as well as the lives of everyone else involved in the making of "Rebel." The authors did a wonderful job of uncovering the story behind the film, and their writing style moved things along quickly, throwing fact after fact at their readers. I loved it, and I look forward to the authors' next collaboration.
on October 9, 2005
When I started reading this book, everything I knew about the making of this movie came from a Vanity Fair article from a few years ago. I had the vague and maybe inaccurate idea that Natalie Wood was sleeping with Nick Ray and James Dean, and that James Dean was sleeping with Sal Mineo. Whether or not these are all facts or if they're just rumors, I still don't know... the book doesn't delve too deeply into gossip.
What I got, instead, was a detailed description of how hard it was to make this particular movie - a new kind of film, involving a maverick director (Ray), a Method super-star (Dean), and hiterto unseen realistic depiction of modern teenagers - at this particular point in history.
A pretty gripping story, all told. The book's strongest sections are the ones dedicated to story development (several writers and drafts came and went) and to Dean's Method acting, which was still a very new phenomenon in 1955.
If one had to nitpick, I guess I'd say the book's a bit too long and maybe a wee indiscriminate with its detail. It's exhaustively researched and talks a bit about everything (including the details of Dean's "cursed" sports car). But is there any real insight into any of the major players? Not much, really. Dean remains an ambitious cipher, and in the end comes across more like a template for today's ubiquitous, petulant, pretty-boy movie star than as some sort of trailblazer. That's unfortunate, I guess... but without direct access to the deceased himself or his closest friends, I guess that's about the most you can expect to learn about him.
Overall: this book does a very good job of depicting the uphill climb involved in making REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. The U.S. wasn't ready for a realistic look at teen culture. The flood gates were opened, and it looks like -- for better or worse -- there's no shutting them up again.
I'd recommend this to film buffs, film students and screenwriters. The chapters on story development are really quite fascinating. Actors may also get a kick out of reading about Dean's method.
I know I'm going to rent the film again right away, while the book's details are fresh in my mind.
on January 15, 2006
Wow! And what a view! If you are a Rebel Without a Cause fan, this book is for you! The first book that deals in depth with all the people behind the making of the movie, their weaknesses, strengths, motives, ideals, faulty patterns, games, it all comes out. Well written & tactfully done, you gotta smile when you read this one. It rounds out all the gray areas of Rebel & the now famous people that were a part of it. Lengthy, detailed, prudent & tactful, still an exciting read that I found very hard to put down. Gives some of the personal motivation behind decisions & fleshes out the actors that were so dynamic & bold for their time. No rock is left unturned and you feel "full" after ingesting it. For those of you who are new to Dean & those of us who are still yearning to learn about him, this book is an indispensable gem & a classic, already. 5 stars for a real dynamic beauty of a book.
on December 23, 2005
This exhaustively researched, thoroughly end-noted book about the making of an iconic American film not only is a compelling read, it doubtless is the authoritative last word on its subject.
Written in accessibly clear, journalistically workman-like, if less than eloquent prose, its authors are to be commended not only for their tireless, if never tiresome spadework--there are jaw-dropping revelations scattered throughout the book concerning each of the film's main players--but for crafting a narrative that in the breadth and depth of its approach and structure approaches something like the definitive "biography of a movie."
No less impressive is their clear-eyed critical sense and level-headed interpretive skills, qualities that enable them to embed the movie in both its historical and cultural contexts while avoiding the sort of academic "film studies" jargon that mars so many works of this sort. Indeed, even where their assertions are more dubious than not--most glaringly with regard to their overemphasis on the centraility and importance of the film's homoerotic subtext--they remain largely even-handed.
A word of caution. For those expecting yet another biography of James Dean, look elsewhere. While the book does include its share of information on that score, as it likewise does about Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, scriptwriter Stewart Stern, and, most interestingly, director Nicholas Ray, the focus of the book remains rightly fixed on the conception, genesis, and actual making of the film--the "creative process" behind the "finished product"--as well as on the meaning and subsequent significance of the work itself.
on July 18, 2007
Wrangling teen idols to make a classic movie
If you're into movies, and classics, or more specifically, misunderstood classics, and you have any interest in James Dean, then Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel's Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause is required reading.
Of course, as a reformed "Deaner" who's read every biography about the icon, much of the information about 1950s film star James Dean, whose died in a car accident only days after completing his third movie, isn't new.
Yet when woven with biographical accounts of Rebel co-stars Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and director Nicholas Ray, Live Fast, Die Young becomes compelling reading, mostly through its swift and meticulously researched details (shown in 50 pages of bibliographical notes) that take us sequentially through the pre-production, daily shooting schedule, ups and downs and sometimes lurid behind the scenes drama that took place through the making of a pivotal film that defined the "teenager" in pop culture, and established post-war adolescent angst as a social phenomenon.
Dean, known for his moody temperament, over-the-top method acting, and palpable inferiority complex to contemporary Marlon Brando, gets his now-famous behaviors contextualized. But what has been forgotten among the piles of gossip magazines through the decades, is how Dean, working closely with director Ray, helped shape Rebel into its unique teen-focused originality.
Commentary from surviving actors like Corey Allen, who played Buzz, the gang nemesis of Jim Stark, Dean's character, offers a grounded perspective to the mythologized stories of Dean, Wood, and Mineo, who all died under tragic circumstances. Allen recounts the competitive atmosphere for camera time (Nick Adams being the biggest ham), and the choreography of the opening knife fight (originally shot in black and white, studio executives pushed to move to the then-new color Cinemascope after watching a rough cut. The entire first scene was re-shot).
The three main character's lives reflected strongly on their private lives at the time. Judy's (Wood) advanced sexuality, Jim Stark's (Dean) longing to befriend Buzz rather than fight him, and Plato's (Mineo) adoration of Stark.
Authors Frascella and Weisel, who both thank their male partners in the book's acknowledgements, are therefore presumably gay. But they show a restrained tone in laying proof to the bisexuality of star Dean, focusing on the actual events surrounding the film's subtle successes at revealing the eroticism lurking under the surface of malcontent violent kids.
It's Sal Mineo who shines when he realizes he is, in effect, cinema's first gay teenager. Never exactly in the closet, Mineo's Plato becomes an icon of shy sensitivity and undefined sexuality.
As the book winds through the travails of filming a revolutionary film under the pressures of studio executives, director Ray's own complex personal problems are no less dramatic, ranging from alcoholism to the shame of enduring an affair between his second wife, who seduced his son from his first marriage, to his illegal affair with a teenage Natalie Wood (who was also having a sexual affair with co-star Dennis Hopper).
That the film ever managed to become the classic it was lies largely to this rare collaborative process that Ray nurtured in a time when Hollywood -barely over the dread of McCarthyism and its related blacklist- was anything but collaborative.
While often times abusive and erratic, and even boastful - years later he would take credit for scenes and ideas proposed by screenwriters and actors- Ray is shown as a maverick who made his mark, despite his eventual downfall, by having created more than a great film, but a document of a culture at a pivotal moment. Frascella and Weisel's thorough work shows readers how it happened.
on September 28, 2005
This extremely well-researched book is impossible to put down once you've started reading it. It's not only one of the best books about movies I have ever read, it really gives you a feeling for the times. It's smart, beautifully written and fun to read. If you're a fan of James Dean or Rebel Without a Cause you'll find a lot in here you probably didn't know before. Even if you're not a fan the book has so many interesting stories about Hollywood, America in the 1950s and the art of moviemaking that you won't stop reading until you get to the last page.
on September 29, 2005
I bought this book because I was interested in James Dean and in Rebel. But I was very pleased to find that not only does the book contain a load of fresh new information, it's also a beautifully written and evocative book about the period of the 50s and about the creative process involved in the making of a film--or any work of art. It was a great read. As some other reviews have said, once I was 2 or 3 pages into it, i could not put it down. I read it all in one day. Now I can't wait to see the film again.
on September 30, 2005
If you loved the movie Rebel Without a Cause, you'll REALLY love this book! Well written in a fresh and fun style and packed with juicy, behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film, as well as Hollywood of the 1950s. Lots of never-before-told stories that are truly fascinating. I read it in one day. It was hard to put it down. I can't think of a better gift for the film lovers on my Christmas list. I know they'll definitely enjoy the "wild ride" as much as I did.