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James Dean (#110 of 6)

Poster Lab: The Paperboy

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Poster Lab: <em>The Paperboy</em>
Poster Lab: <em>The Paperboy</em>

When Nicolas Winding Refn was doing the early rounds for Drive, he said he chose pink for the film’s opening titles—and, subsequently, poster font—because the color is so feminine it can transcend masculinity. With their first poster for The Paperboy, another stylish film to feature heartthrob-steered cars, the gang at Millenium Entertainment would appear to be following Refn’s lead, conveying a fiery manliness that’s awash in rose and coral hues. The faded red of the car door, Nicole Kidman’s vibrant top, the muted sandy border, and Zac Efron’s glistening sun tan come together to form a sexy, rugged monochrome evocative of old photographs and ’70s cinema.

Designed by ...and company, who also brought you that Russian-doll one-sheet for Cold Souls, The Paperboy’s poster is a rule-breaking beauty, its placement of actors as off-kilter as its fleshy, more-than-macho color scheme. Faces—and, certainly, facial expressions—are expertly, tellingly situated in a cool balance of glamour and plot suggestion, and long-established stars are eclipsed by one whose James Dean mug and aphrodisiac arm can sell this baby while fully serving the design.

Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence

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Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence
Nicholas Ray Blogathon: Poet of Violence

“Violence is never an end, but the most effective means of access…[having] no other purpose than to blast away the accumulated debris of habit, to create a breach—in brief, to open up the shortest roads.” —Jacques Rivette, “Notes on a Revolution” (1955)

I. Introductory

The films of Nicholas Ray, more than any other contemporary American director’s, were singled out by the up-and-coming Cahiers du Cinéma crowd (on the cusp of their own splashy Nouvelle Vague) as justification for their politique des auteurs—more a personal stance on critical practice than dogmatic superstructure, and long since codified and ossified by academic film criticism into hierarchy-happy “auteur theory.” What attracted critical minds like Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and others to Nicholas Ray and his oeuvre—bored stiff as they were by the risk-averse, respectable, and ultimately neutered “cinema of quality”—was the stamp of the personal and the element of danger they discerned in his films, whether that meant the improvisatory handling of actors with a touch deft enough to coax remarkable performances out of even non-professionals; the “superior clumsiness,” cited by Rivette in “Notes on a Revolution,” resulting in “a discontinuous, abrupt technique that refuses the conventions of classical editing and continuity”; or the purely visual flourishes Ray relished—ranging from the sweeping, vertiginous helicopter-mounted shots in They Live By Night to disorienting, subjective POV compositions like the “rolling camera” during a car crash halfway through On Dangerous Ground, its very title indicating the source of Ray’s critical appeal.

Summer of ‘86: Stand By Me, Take Two

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Summer of ‘86: <em>Stand By Me</em>, Take Two
Summer of ‘86: <em>Stand By Me</em>, Take Two

During the summer of 1986, my friends and I all thought Stand By Me was the greatest movie ever made, and we were sure it had been made for us, because though the characters in the film were a year or two older than we were, and though the story was set during our parents’ teenage years, we could all see ourselves in one of the four main characters. No film had ever seemed more real to me, more true, more beautiful. I was ten years old.

I know I saw Stand By Me in the theater, but I don’t remember with whom. Probably a couple of friends and at least one of our parents, because it was rated R and we were years away from being able to go to R movies on our own. How did we ever convince a parent to take us to a movie in which kids swear, smoke, and talk about sex? I have no recollection, but I expect it had something to do with the music.

The summer of ’86 for me was the summer of Stand By Me’s songs. Before seeing the movie, I scrounged up some money, or wore my parents down with whining, and got the soundtrack on LP. I remember my father’s delight with the album. He took a big cardboard box of 45 rpm records out of the closet and showed me the original singles of some of the songs on the album, singles he had bought at a record store when he was the age of Gordie and Chris and Teddy and Vern. I think I wanted the soundtrack because I had seen the music video on MTV, and I had certainly seen the trailer, which was ubiquitous on every channel. The title song was inescapable that summer, and though the brief scene with Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell lipsynching “Lollipop” is not in the trailer, I’m sure it was used in promotional materials. That song and Buddy Holly’s “Everyday,” also used prominently in the film, were two my father was especially nostalgic for.

One Solution for Two Problems: Acting in Three Kazan Films

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One Solution for Two Problems: Acting in Three Kazan Films
One Solution for Two Problems: Acting in Three Kazan Films

Andrew Sarris wrote of Elia Kazan in The American Cinema that “his career as a whole reflects an unending struggle between a stable camera and a jittery one.” Historically that’s more or less been the rap on Kazan—a highly-acclaimed filmmaker with many strong titles, but one whose work was too simultaneously bland and conflicted for the critical establishment to elevate him to auteur. The son of Greek immigrants and eventually a famed Broadway director, Kazan began filmmaking with a group-directed short called People of the Cumberland, broke into feature directing with 1945’s adaptation of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and left it 18 films later with a version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon. He came close to greatness on film, though rarely reached it: At his peak period he was at the high end of the middle bracket of several frankly liberal directors, many of whom had crossed over into movies from film and TV. He’s lighter and earthier than the leaden, sententious cinema of Stanley Kramer and Richard Brooks, though he never achieves the pure ecstasy and reverie of the best Nicholas Ray.

Going Through Splat (Or Not) with Stewart Stern

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Going Through Splat (Or Not) with Stewart Stern
Going Through Splat (Or Not) with Stewart Stern

Stewart Stern—it seems to go almost without saying—is best known for writing the screenplay to the seminal American classic, Rebel Without a Cause. This iconic film has overshadowed the rest of his output, which included collaborations with Nicholas Ray, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando (above, with Stern and Bea Lillie), as well as an Emmy for writing the 1976 TV miniseries Sybil. “He gets tired of talking about Rebel,” filmmaker Jon Steven Ward told me. And Ward should know: he produced and directed Going Through Splat, shooting hours of interview footage with the now 84-year old Stern that covers the writer’s life-or-death ordeal as an infantry leader at the Battle of the Bulge; his clashes with Nicholas Ray over Rebel re-writes; the early loss of James Dean; and the slow descent into writer’s block that effectively ended Stewart’s screenwriting career.

Determined not to be one of those reporters who can’t see past Rebel Without a Cause, I arrived at Stern’s house armed with questions about his scripts for Rachel, Rachel and Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. Over mugs of herbal tea, we spent the morning talking about flying in a harness around and around the wings of Seattle’s Intiman Theatre (he has done this, on his 70th birthday, no less), and of the “overripe sense of reality” that, as a young actor, he brought to the role of Bloody Clifford in a production of Henry VI, where his homemade “severed head of the last Plantagenet I killed” drew both gasps and raves. I did manage to ask some of my prepared questions, yet in a roundabout way, Rebel, as you’ll see, won out.