Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Rebel Without A Cause

Reviews - Rebel Without A Cause

Rebel Without A Cause

Reviewed By John Porter

Rebel Without A Cause
Rebel Without A Cause
Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Nicholas Ray) is a familiar title to many, and James Dean who takes the title role is a recognisable icon of pop-culture, yet over time these aspects seem to have overshadowed the movie itself. Putting that to right, the Alhambra was treated to a slice of vintage melodramatic Americana last week in the final Tuesday Classic until the new year. The movie depicts a breakneck twenty four hours in the life of three teenagers under the deep blue skies of 1950s California as they battle with angst and alienation, parents who don't understand, and cruel rites of passage in their quest for belonging. Dean oozes charisma in the final role of his short life playing Jim Stark, a boy moved by his family from town to town in a vain hope of taming his wild ways. However Jim's first day begins with drunkenness, and passes through knife fights, car crashes, and police stand-offs before ending in tragedy.

Jean-Luc Godard once remarked that, "the cinema is Nicholas Ray", and Rebel Without a Cause exhibits many of the stylistic tropes which ensure that among cinephiles Ray's reputation continues to grow. He was a Hollywood iconoclast and active in the counterculture scene of the era (spot a young Dennis Hopper as one of the gang members), which makes his outsider's fascination with the family unit even more intriguing. In spite of casting a critical eye upon hierarchical values, in one sequence Jim and Judy (Natalie Wood) along with young loner Plato (Sal Mineo) ironically mimic a couple being shown around a new home, yet through their joking by the end credits the trio have become a surrogate family for each other. The film is also a text-book use of Cinemascope, a widescreen process only developed three years previous, and although marketed as a spectacle, allows Ray a greater expressiveness in the direction of both his actors and locations. Physical lines in the decor and positions of the actors are shifted across the frame in an ever-changing choreography, the staging subtly mirroring the allegiances and conflicts in the script. Rebel Without a Cause stands as a passionate and lush technicolour outburst of a statement by an artist striving to push the limits of his medium and message whilst working within the confines of a studio system for which he held little love.

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