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PostPosted: Sat Oct 25, 2008 11:29 pm 
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I first saw Rebel Without a Cause in high school, butchered on a P+S VHS, where it was met with the general arrogant disdain afforded to older things by kids of a certain age. Revisiting it now in my mid-20s, it's remarkable in retrospect how right Ray's film gets being a teenager. I can't think of any Hollywood production before or since that captures so perfectly not necessarily the details but the larger strokes of being sixteenish. The thrills of "safe" danger (Such as the knife fight that still has rules-- no stabbing, just slicing!), of young love, of being accepted, of taking in new stimulus at what will be the highest levels of one's life. Obviously the universal experience of the film's protagonists is relevant even to those who've never jumped out of a moving car or shot at the police-- it's not what they're doing plot-wise, but how and why they're doing it that strikes the strongest chord.

What's similarly striking is the complexity afforded to the main characters and how effectively Ray shows his subjects in a constant state of sussing out their surroundings. And the unsure footing of the children seeps into their parents and poisons their actions as well. The kids don't know how to act and thus neither do the adults. Dean's parents get the lion's share of screentime, but even take Wood's father, who doesn't know how to deal with his daughter's rapidly-maturing sexuality any more than she does.

The film dares to place the kids on the same level as adults and to treat them with respect. The very idea that this film was sold in some markets as a melodramatic warning to parents is pretty disingenuous, as no film has ever worked harder to not romanticize, glorify, or chastise its teenage subjects. Instead of condescending to youth, Rebel Without A Cause presents teenagers as equals to adults, as worthy of being taken seriously. This is an achievement rarely attempted in cinema with the level of sincerity found here.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2008 3:03 am 
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domino harvey wrote:
I first saw Rebel Without a Cause in high school, butchered on a P+S VHS, where it was met with the general arrogant disdain afforded to older things by kids of a certain age. Revisiting it now in my mid-20s, it's remarkable in retrospect how right Ray's film gets being a teenager. I can't think of any Hollywood production before or since that captures so perfectly not necessarily the details but the larger strokes of being sixteenish. The thrills of "safe" danger (Such as the knife fight that still has rules-- no stabbing, just slicing!), of young love, of being accepted, of taking in new stimulus at what will be the highest levels of one's life. Obviously the universal experience of the film's protagonists is relevant even to those who've never jumped out of a moving car or shot at the police-- it's not what they're doing plot-wise, but how and why they're doing it that strikes the strongest chord.

What's similarly striking is the complexity afforded to the main characters and how effectively Ray shows his subjects in a constant state of sussing out their surroundings. And the unsure footing of the children seeps into their parents and poisons their actions as well. The kids don't know how to act and thus neither do the adults. Dean's parents get the lion's share of screentime, but even take Wood's father, who doesn't know how to deal with his daughter's rapidly-maturing sexuality any more than she does.

The film dares to place the kids on the same level as adults and to treat them with respect. The very idea that this film was sold in some markets as a melodramatic warning to parents is pretty disingenuous, as no film has ever worked harder to not romanticize, glorify, or chastise its teenage subjects. Instead of condescending to youth, Rebel Without A Cause presents teenagers as equals to adults, as worthy of being taken seriously. This is an achievement rarely attempted in cinema with the level of sincerity found here.

Although I also saw Rebel Without A Cause in high school, I felt like the peers I viewed it with connected with the characters surprisingly well. It is common to show classic films in an intro level class, but rarely does one find a class enthralled by characters from the film. I believe the only exception to this common occurence was Rebel and Hitchcock's Psycho. It is extremely rare when a classic can connect with a young audience on their level. I fell in love with the film the first time I saw it. I think it is safe to say it was ahead of it's time and extremely genuine.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2008 9:21 am 
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Rebel Without a Cause is way long overdue for another visit from me. From my memories of this film, I was struck by how the gay Sal Mineo character was handled with profound sensitivity and humanity. Very admirable and ahead of time for a 1950s Hollywood film. If only he could live....


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2008 11:15 am 
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Michael wrote:
Rebel Without a Cause is way long overdue for another visit from me. From my memories of this film, I was struck by how the gay Sal Mineo character was handled with profound sensitivity and humanity. Very admirable and ahead of time for a 1950s Hollywood film. If only he could live.

I've heard that Ray originally planned a kiss between Mineo and Dean but the studio wouldn't allow it and either they cut it or it was never filmed.

I loved the relationship between the two and thought that Dean and Mineo's characters had a connection they shared of alienation and that Natalie Wood's character seemed to be the third wheel just tagging along. The film really pushed the boundaries for violence and sexuality, and I watched the DVD recently and found out that the knife fight between Dean and the preppy was actually real and the blood shown was their own, so many interesting aspects of this film.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2008 1:12 pm 
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The best reading of Rebel is found in George Wilson's Narration in Light. Highly recommended.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 26, 2008 1:38 pm 
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King Prendergast wrote:
The best reading of Rebel is found in George Wilson's Narration in Light. Highly recommended.

I will check this out, thanks for the recommendation

As for Wood being the third wheel... eh, sorry, I don't buy it. I know the homoerotic reading is very popular for the Mineo/Dean storyline, and Dean is quite feminine (more so than Mineo really) in the film, but I feel their relationship is more accurately a mirror of Dean's relationship with his father, with Dean acting as the ineffectual father to Mineo. And really, Dean and Wood leaving Mineo asleep so they can run off and have sex doesn't fit into her being the third wheel.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 10:42 am 
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domino harvey wrote:
I first saw Rebel Without a Cause in high school, butchered on a P+S VHS, where it was met with the general arrogant disdain afforded to older things by kids of a certain age. Revisiting it now in my mid-20s, it's remarkable in retrospect how right Ray's film gets being a teenager. I can't think of any Hollywood production before or since that captures so perfectly not necessarily the details but the larger strokes of being sixteenish. The thrills of "safe" danger (Such as the knife fight that still has rules-- no stabbing, just slicing!), of young love, of being accepted, of taking in new stimulus at what will be the highest levels of one's life. Obviously the universal experience of the film's protagonists is relevant even to those who've never jumped out of a moving car or shot at the police-- it's not what they're doing plot-wise, but how and why they're doing it that strikes the strongest chord.

What's similarly striking is the complexity afforded to the main characters and how effectively Ray shows his subjects in a constant state of sussing out their surroundings. And the unsure footing of the children seeps into their parents and poisons their actions as well. The kids don't know how to act and thus neither do the adults. Dean's parents get the lion's share of screentime, but even take Wood's father, who doesn't know how to deal with his daughter's rapidly-maturing sexuality any more than she does.

The film dares to place the kids on the same level as adults and to treat them with respect. The very idea that this film was sold in some markets as a melodramatic warning to parents is pretty disingenuous, as no film has ever worked harder to not romanticize, glorify, or chastise its teenage subjects. Instead of condescending to youth, Rebel Without A Cause presents teenagers as equals to adults, as worthy of being taken seriously. This is an achievement rarely attempted in cinema with the level of sincerity found here.

When I first saw this film I absolutely loved it-- in my teens, in my 20's, in my 30's-- as did most kids who saw it then. Even then in the "tough guy" times in the 70's & 80's where the 50's were really looked at as the goofball inocuous HAPPY DAYS cornball era, everyone I knew who saw the film loved it. It's Dean, furchrissakes... the guy is just immortally cool, and his aura helps the film quite a bit and this and the Ray-ian subtext sucks a lot of the camp value out of the film vs a lot of 1950's juvie kids-gone-wrong melodramas from the period which wind up on Something Weird Vid nowadays.. torpedotit chicks in tight sweaters and switchblades and tea-smoking kids moving up to heroin and "bennies".

But in some ways I almost feel like you saw a different flick than I did domino... this statement
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And the unsure footing of the children seeps into their parents and poisons their actions as well. The kids don't know how to act and thus neither do the adults.
confounds me a bit. The film is very clearly stating the obvious-- that parents uncertainty and lack of spine and attention seeps into and scrambles the brains of the kids. The whole idea of the film being a "warning" to parents was precisely because of this-- "ignore your kids at your own peril" was the message to parents. Telling kids, essentially, "you're not to blame". That with parents as inept and inattentive as these, what other way could a child turn out. The kids are shown suffering the ignorance and indecision of their parents at every turn, and-- although the kids react with typical teenage angst, melodrama, and penchant for trouble-- you have the character of the juvie division cop who tells Jim that parents don't understand their kids ("they never do", Jim says), and that anytime he feels the need to talk, to come on in and rap with him (invites him to punch the desk). But when Jim needs someone to talk to and takes him up on it, the guy's not there.

I don't think anyone comes out blameless, but this tone of blaming the adults and vindicating the "delinquent" as a natural byproduct of domestic dysfunction was pretty new for the time for a major hollywood feature. Youth culture was finding it's voice for the first time viz cars & rock & roll/dance music, and JD's were becoming more and more defiant. And rather than simply take an exploitation film's approach regarding "these out of control kids" Rebel pointed the finger squarely in the home and at(hideously rendered) oblivious parents. It was basically saying "You want to know why your kids are out of control and getting into trouble-- look in the mirror."


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 12:25 pm 
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I think you're mostly right in your reading of the parents, but where I differ is that I believe the blame goes both ways, which absolves either party from the easy position of responsibility. It isn't the parents fault any more than it's the kids: these actions are symbiotic, and placing the blame squarely on one side takes away from the complexity of a film which dares to present problems without solutions. Both sides make movements towards understanding each other at the film's end, but nothing is fixed. I see the ending far less optimistically than most, I guess.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 12:35 pm 
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I revisited Rebel last night after two decades and I still love it, even more now. This is the film Van Sant would make if he was making films in 1950s. At times, the camera breathtakingly lingers on the youth - beautiful and wounded. Here and there camera shots of teens' limbs cut off, disoriented. Every other scene blows intense melodrama but the vibe from the first scene of JD cuddling with a wind-up monkey to the last scene of the morning-lit planetarium is exceptionally, unbreakably poetic. Schreck's assessment makes more sense to me than domino's. The romantic heart of the film belongs completely to the broken youth, never to their parents, their home. The film looks down on them, down on where the children came from. The parents are spineless, selfish and absent and even the death of teens won't make any difference, that's the devastating horror of the film.

The look of Sal's longing for JD remains a powerful revelation for me, I have to say. More on that later.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 12:58 pm 
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I don't think "the romantic heart" of the film belongs in any way to the parents, I'm not sure what in my comments implied otherwise. I think the role of the parents is more complex than you're giving it credit for, but I also don't give them the level of negative credit Schreck does. Somewhere in the middle is the reality of the situation and the reality of the film. To be clear, this film clearly and rightly belongs to the kids-- it's the impetuses for their actions that does not, as both groups share responsibility. If the film sought out blame, it would be simplistic and void of the complexities and truths that make it a great film.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 2:39 pm 
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But the film refuses to give the chance to the parents to develop as much as the kids. Tragically flawed humans they are but in my eyes, they are still selfish monsters, how they manage to slip away from dead teens back to their shit like nothing had happened doesn't deserve an ounce of sympathy from me. The only adults worth caring about, worth sympthy are the police officer and Sal's nanny.

I'm not blaming the parents for all the fuck ups but the film still doesn't allow the parents to redeem at all. Not that I expect them to redeem in order to make the film better or anything of that sort, I think the way the film ends with parents still fucked up, still fucking up their kids is very realistic. One of so many things to admirable about the film, an old Hollywood film that remains so refreshingly uncompromising, the themes and emotions still resonant today.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 2:48 pm 
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Michael wrote:
I think the way the film ends with parents still fucked up, still fucking up their kids is very realistic.

I absolutely agree, though I do think the film redeems Dean's father, however half-heartedly. I liked Schreck's negative reading of the police officer (how he wasn't there when he was needed) too. But I think no matter the reading, there's not a very satisfying sense of closure, which is to the film's credit.

I gather from the responses thus far I'm the only one who really feels Wood's plight is the most fascinating in the film-- I think back to the ending, with Dean introducing her to his parents, and just go, "Man, that's going to be so much harder for her parents to accept this than his." Dean's assuaged his parents fears by taking roots with a girl in the new community and even introducing her, that's a huge step forward for their relationship and his maturity. Wood's problem with her parents can only be worsened by forming a close relationship with a member of the opposite sex.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 4:12 pm 
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I always felt that Buzz was a kinda tragic character. At first, he comes across as jerk who's just out to get his kicks and torment Jim. But then the two have a mini-heart-to-heart before the "chicken run" (i believe) and Jim asks him why do they have to do it. I believe Buzz says something like, "What else are we going to do?" and that bit always made me a little sad. That these kids do all this crazy, goofball stuff and as a result Buzz dies. All because his sleeve gets stuck on the car door. Man, what a way to go out.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 4:34 pm 
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Definitely, and really as the film progresses, Dean's the one who is saddened over his death, not Buzz's thug friends who hunt Dean down. After all, they're not out for revenge, they simply think he's going to tattle on them. Even Wood forgets all about Buzz (though she obviously never really liked him, this seems more due to still being in shock and using Dean as a coping mechanism). No one but Dean knows that the two could have (and surely would have) been friends had the run ended without Buzz's death, and his unnecessary demise begins Dean's journey towards adulthood. Dean and Wood mock adulthood in the mansion, but their outward derision hides how much they are in the process of maturing as the night progresses.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:37 pm 
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I'm not sure if they are actually in the process of maturing during that night at the abandoned mansion. Never got that impression in any way though. They resist the adults so much, their parents are spineless and selfish and the kids see that very well. They fear of becoming like them so they resist, they rebel. In the mansion overnight, they spark a little fantasy among dusty cobwebs and candlelights. They being so lost and alone create an unit depending on hopeful love and need. I don't see how they mock adulthood, they arelonely damaged teens gathering, recovering and cuddling away from the cruel world of adults - only for the moment.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:05 pm 
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I also need to revisit it (it's been a few years since I watched it), but I recall the sense of the mansion not representing any maturation but rather a reversion to the pure childhood experience of "playing house" as a proto-Jules et Jim almost. The film resonates with the restless ambiguity of pre-adulthood, this liminal space of sexuality and burgeoning violence. "Who lives?" Natalie asks. "We gotta do something," Buzz says. Sal Mineo's Plato hides, overwhelmed with the loneliness of being an infinitesimal part of a limitless universe. Plato falls asleep in the mansion, as though already spent just at the closeness to Dean; Dean, the wounded object of desire, heads into the darkness to compare scars with Wood. It's the perfect threshold space -- this rejected house, this symbol of status and achievement that is decayed -- for them to act out their desires.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:07 pm 
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I didn't neccessarily mean it to be a negative reading of the police officer, just that he happened to randomly not be at the precinct when Stark came looking for him. It's a general narrative sympathy the text has for Dean and the rest of the teens, vis a vis the world of adults which is never 'there for you'. But certainly the cop character is the one guy who expresses an understanding for the confusion and disappointment the world of adults endow to the kids.. so he comes off a lot better than most adults in the film, and kind of cool in that he knows the score. Jim's father is a henpecked, oblivious dude who gets eaten alive in his own household, Natalie Woods father slaps her when she wants to show love.

I don't really catch the text as placing the kids as being on a journey to adulthood or maturity. The movie revels in the eternal gulf between the jazzy, bopping world of the later teen years, and people over thirty. He singlehandedly crafted probably the most everlasting and canonical incarnation of the timeless, deathless teenager: James Dean in his jacket and cigaret. What could be more anathema to the spirit of this film than the idea of Dean on his way to becoming an insurance salesman or manager of an accounting firm? Or the idea of "study, get an education, listen to your parents, don't smoke, drink and get into trouble, and plan for your future"? Ray, who was almost a rebellious eternal teen himself (reminds of van sant in this sense), is celebrating the fiery glory of these years, and is mocking the staid, repressed, buttoned up, zipperlipped world of adulthood.

Although the film to it's credit is more complex than simply presenting the kids like bopping stoned menaces in Touch of Evil, Ray is absolutely glorifying by freezing that moment in time when kids look like adults, have developed their intelligence to peer level with adults-- and therefore rebel and can convincingly explain why they aint takin' anymore shit-- are at their most physically beautiful, are not ruined by work and responsibility yet are close enough in proximity to this point in life and can therefore see the destruction responsibility wreaks not only on the mind (of a parent) but on the family. An ideal state of supreme physical attractiveness where you live every tragedy and glory to high drama with freedom, a tuned in mind and a raging libido. I think Ray was excited by the slightly beatnik, NYC Actors Studio-y, jazzy, poetic possibilities afforded by the up & coming generation turning it's back on the one that came before it, saying, "We're not going to be like you," and an almost utopian social promise of people creating a far cooler culture than the immediate postwar generation.

A lot of that is speculation based on the person of Ray, and his feelings vis a vis Dean, but one thing I most emphatically don't see is a destination for Jim Stark in the world of his parents... I don't see the film advocating any traditional manifestation of 'adulthood' or 'maturity' for him. I think it's simply a fork on the end of which is held some rather attractive specimens of teenaged glory, frozen in time, with all their melodrama, anguish, mistakes, mannerisms, defiance, and youth culture. It's there to be admired as it moves about, more than it is to wonder where it will end up after graduation. While the film has quite a bit to do with Growing Pains, it's far more about the Pains than it is about the specifics of the Growing. Adulthood is an alien world occupied by the enemy in this movie!


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 6:22 pm 
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I think there's some confusion about my statement: The kids playing house is not representative of their growing maturity, it's their actions afterwards-- Wood making an emotional (not just sexual) connection with Dean and Dean introducing his girl to his parents, two things that never would have happened had they not matured enough to let them. My point was that they mock being adults earlier but by the night's end, they've grown regardless


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 6:40 pm 
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I'm curious, domino, what you think the tone is at the end. You say "they've grown, regardless." Do you think we're left feeling that they're going to join this imperfect adult world in some way, or are they destined to drift? Are they doomed to assimilation, or is there no place for them at the end? Is it a hopeful or pessimistic denouement to the characters we've come to understand and sympathize with?


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 12:08 pm 

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It's been a fair while since I've seen Rebel, but as I recall the movie:

At the end the Dean and Wood characters have had one the defining illusions of teen-hood shattered on them. The teen illusion bubble of immortality is gone for them. They have a much deeper and more personal understanding of the concept of "consequences" ..... and not the trivial sort of teen consequences like getting grounded. At the end of the movie they are what might be described as "sadder but wiser" versions of the characters that we had met at the beginning of the movie.

In that respect, they can be said to have "matured", even if somewhat in spite of themselves. They couldn't help it.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 1:09 pm 
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PillowRock wrote:
In that respect, they can be said to have "matured", even if somewhat in spite of themselves. They couldn't help it.

I missed JTMB's question, but I couldn't have put it better myself


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 6:28 pm 
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I see that. It's just a very unique situation, the paradox that Jim Stark/Jim Dean encapsulates in that film both youthful immortality and the "sad wisdom" of maturation/matriculation into adulthood. For a film that's celebrated as a voice of untamed youth ("You're tearing me apart!"), it ends on a very sober note (cf, A Clockwork Orange); the Eden of their ruined mansion lost, Dean and Wood have nowhere to go but the suburbs, where they will, no doubt, become their parents.


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 30, 2008 11:37 am 

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Good thread here. I re-watched this one last night, for the first time in many years. It's pretty great, albeit unnecessarily broad at times, though it doesn't really diminish the overall effect.

One of the most famous moments seems quite silly, when Dean yells "YOU'RE TEARING ME APART!!" out of nowhere in the police station. I guess the reasoning might be that he's still kind of drunk and unable to control it when his angst finally comes pouring out, but it really seems like too much. I remember one of my friends in college used to pay tribute by yelling that same line at random moments, like when a few of us couldn't decide where to go for lunch. I don't think they had to play it anywhere near that big.

Some of the other fights with his parents are also more explicit than they need to be, like when he's telling them he needs answers or bad things are going to happen; I don't think kids have ever talked that way. It works better in the scenes between Natalie Wood and her dad, when she responds to his disdain by just shutting the parents out and leaving, instead of lecturing them on what's going to happen. It's set up well in the beginning by the juvenile cop getting her to admit that she's gone missing to try to get her dad's attention, and then they just let the consequences play out instead of re-explaining each time it comes up again. The early scene with Jim in the cop's office works well along those same lines, but some of the later scenes with his parents set things out too directly all over again. In the film's defense, I guess it could be said that its particular slant on these themes was new enough that they felt the need to err on the side of getting their message across. Perhaps some of what feels forced to me is largely the result of the movie's outsized influence on every single "good kids gone bad" story that's followed in the subsequent half-century.

With that out of the way, there's a lot of stuff to admire, some of it very subtly effective. For instance, the real villain of the Stark family is...the grandmother. Her smothering dominance of her son, and her subsequent disapproval of his wife, is undoubtedly the root cause of the father's pathetic weakness and the mother's inability to cope with it. It starts to play out in the policeman's office, when the grandmother says, "well, you know who he takes after," in response to the mother's criticism of Jim's outburst. When Jim and the cop go in the back room, it's obvious that Jim knows who's really to blame, when he says "someone ought to put poison in her Epsom salts," and the cop realizes who he's talking about.

The subsequent scene in the Starks' kitchen, on Jim's first day of school, is terrifically constructed in playing out the dysfunction among the adults. Dad talks about how Grandma always made him eat everything on his first day of school, with a strong hint about who still needs to do some growing up, and the tensions between Mom and Grandma are on full display: Grandma tut-tuts the choice of peanut butter for Jim's sandwiches with a tone of "I told you so," and when she exclaims that she baked the apple cake, Mom gets a quick cutaway to show her resentment at having her role in the home usurped by this dragon lady. It all plays out very quickly and very naturally, with wonderfully economic screenwriting and editing.

After that scene, the grandmother only makes one more appearance in the entire film, but it's a pretty strong one (unless I've got it badly wrong). When Jim storms out of the house after the most brutal fight with his parents, he kicks in the painting that was blocking the back door, and it's a portrait of the grandmother!

Well, after that treatise on the Stark family, I guess the one other thing I really wanted to mention was the "chickie run" sequence. There's a good reason it's the most famous one in the film--a real cinematic tour-de-force. The buildup, the character moments, the epic scale with all the other cars' lights illuminating the contest, the moment where they touch hands just before leaving...wow. It's just breathtaking. The charm and beauty of the young performers and the great use of the mansion and planetarium locations are probably the overall main strengths of the film, but that one set piece at the bluffs is so brilliant that it manages to carry much of what follows. Whatever sudden changes the kids go through after that--like Judy losing her ostensible boyfriend to a violent death but then falling in love with someone else in the span of just a few hours--are made believable enough because the cinematic power of what the audience has been through can stand in for the emotional force of what the characters have experienced in that life-changing event.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 17, 2008 1:02 pm 
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James Franco channelling James Dean and Nicholas Ray...


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 21, 2008 12:20 pm 

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I love the way the suburban decor and architecture is physically imposed upon the characters. The teens especially often seem dwarfed by their outsized surroundings. That seems to be more than just free floating expressionism but a precise point of view about a time and place.


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