Rebel Without a Cause (Ray, 1955)

So much has been said and written about Nicholas Ray’s iconic masterpiece it’s difficult to write a fresh, novel analysis of the film. The most I can say is upon a third viewing, it appears I underestimated and undervalued Rebel, initially recognizing it’s beauty and importance but none of it’s dynamism and magnetic pacing. But hey, I was eighteen and had been weaned off Pulp Fiction. Now, seven years later, Rebel took on new life for me, especially in a glorious 35mm print projected on the big screen. The opening credit sequence says it all – James Dean as Jim Stark, drunk, wandering the streets of suburbia, lays down in the gutter, finds a toy monkey and tries to cover it up with a dirty newspaper, tucking it in to sleep. Here’s a kid aching for some strong guidance by an adult, a role model of some worth, as we later see in the police station sequence which introduces the three main leads; Stark, Judy (Natalie Wood) and Plato (Sal Mineo). Each has offended the moral code of small town life, showing their depression and anger with the parental world that has either abandoned or flat out ignored them. It’s amazing that Rebel consists of only five or six major sequences. 1. Police Station, 2. Planetarium, 3. Racing/Buzz dies, 4. Jim fights with his family, 5. Mansion, and 6. Back to the planetarium. Ray dictates all of these sequences in terms of character, showing the situations with which Jim, Judy, and Plato have grown within, or more appropriately, grown stagnant. Nicholas Ray, a filmmaker who charts the crisises of morally ambiguous characters, hits his apex home run with Rebel, the prefect fit for the perfect misfit director. Whether it be Judy’s orgasmic reaction to the chicken race or Jim’s necessary anger/frustration with his father for not standing up to his mother, Rebel personifies the hidden neuroses and trauma’s children can suffer at the hands of their ignorant parents. The consequences blow the adults away and Ray gives us the feeling Jim might be acting out long after the tragic end at the planetarium, trying fruitlessly and diligently to convince his parents they’re tearing him apart. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and Ray, Dean and company understand that all too well.- Screened at the 2007 San Diego Latino Film Festival

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