Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan
Running Time: 111 minutes
Release Date: September 25th
There’s a discount interior decor store just off Henry Street in Dublin. The whole place is packed to the rafters with canvas images of old Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Not wanting to sound snooty but I question how many of the shoppers have seen Rebel Without A Cause? Most of my film school classmates hadn’t even seen it. Dean’s legend and legacy were formed over three films in a timespan of a little over twelve months; as such our stock of images is incredibly limited and often repeated. The double-breasted jacket, popped at the collar, his face forever caught in a frown with a cigarette destined to dangle from his lower lip for eternity.
More than any actor, Dean’s place in popular culture is based on the photos taken of him and the characterisations we have projected onto them. Any exploration of Dean’s role in popular culture must therefore be accompanied with an exploration of celebrity and the myths that can develop over the iconic images of them. Lifeis Corbijn’s exploration of that very thing. The film tells the story of the friendship of James Dean, at the time a highly-rated but unknown up and coming actor and Dennis Stock, the photographer whose images would make him an icon.
There’s something wonderfully appropriate about this film being directed by Corbijn. This is a man who has quite an intimate and expansive knowledge of the role photography and portrait, play in the game of celebrities and icons. It’s also delightful that they cast Robert Pattinson as the photographer (casting him as Dean would have been too much meta for one film). It allows the film to take on additional dimensions, extra layers for us as the audience to chew over afterwards.
Pattinson’s casting allows us to compare the nature of celebrity then with its present form, of which he is all too familiar; it’s impossible to imagine any modern figure inviting a photographer back to the family home. Whilst Corbijn’s directing allows for two things. Firstly, it ensures that the film is at least as well shot as the photo series it’s telling us about. The second is a level of authenticity, bringing us through the images to the humdrum and ordinary experiences that led to their creation.
He might have been cast for the budget guarantee but Pattinson is excellent here. Frustrated and socially awkward, Pattinson plays it as an ambitious man, desperately groping and trying to grab onto a career he feels will quickly elude him. His partnership with Dane DeHaan (playing Dean) works very well, the two of them allowing a minor element of homoeroticism to creep into their relationship. To his credit DeHaan isn’t attempting to play “James Dean”, it’s more “His James Dean”. It’s an intriguing portrayal but he does miss on the voice. The attempt misses Dean and winds up somewhere closer to Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters.
If I’ve focused too much on the talking points of the film rather than the film itself, it’s because I feel that was the filmmaker’s intention. Those purchasing tickets expecting an expose on Hollywood history would be better served downloading an episode of You Must Remember This.To view it as a film with a story and a plot would just be frustrating. It’s pacing is much too slow and it has about two endings more than it probably needs.
The film is at its worst when attempting to indulge these little ideas of plot and story. There’s an overlong scene with Eartha Kitt shoehorned in for no discernible reason and the relationship between Pattinson’s character and his son is stuck somewhere between being overdone for what was needed and underdone for what they were intending to do.
It’s a grower of a film; expect to leave the cinema feeling nonplussed only to have it constantly in the forethoughts of your mind for the following week.