It's time to wrap up the Hit Me With Your Best Shot season with a 1955 classic. Why this one? Well, today would've been Natalie Wood's 73rd birthday and we love ourselves some Natalie Wood. She was, in fact, Nathaniel's first actress obsession, an obsession formed in the late 70s while watching TV airings of various 50s & 60s movies (with an emphasis on West Side Story which has its 50th anniversary this fall!).
Natalie suddenly died in 1981, drowning as you know, after falling from a yacht during a break from filming her last picture Brainstorm (which was later released in 1983). Wee Nathaniel was heartbroken. Enough with the third person but I needed the distance; this one hits so close to home. Let it suffice to say that it was the first time I'd ever lost anyone I loved, virtual or otherwise. I hadn't even lost a pet at that point in life! The heartache maybe felt as formative as Natalie's in Splendor in the Grass; a first love never to be forgotten if you will.
Today we're talking about Rebel Without a Cause (1955) because it gave Natalie her first of three Oscar nominations and because we've been thinking about "first love" and high school lately. (See, we've recently started rewatching Angela Chase falling for Jordan Catalano on Netflix.)
The Nicholas Ray movie -- part of that unassailable James Dean Trinity -- is a spectacularly enduring piece of teen angst. It's as mesmerizing and febrile with feeling today as we assume it was in 1955 even though it's now most decidedly a period piece. But this happens to all contemporary entertainments... the period part I mean. (The enduring part only happens to the lucky or the brilliant. Have you seen My So Called Life lately? It's just as great 17 years later only now it's as much a period piece as Rebel -- it's soooo '90s.) Time marches on.
This beautifully sustained shot (it lasts for over a minute) captures two era-defining icons of youth in what can accurately be described as langurous mutual auto-eroticism. Judy (Wood) and Jim (Dean) barely ever look at each other in this sequence, letting their bodies and their voices do all the communicating. But aren't they still in their own little worlds, only dreaming of colliding?
Directors rarely hold the camera on two faces simultaneously anymore and that's nothing but one of the greatest losses for the cinema. All great movie stars are auto-erotic, their principal love affair being with the camera rather than co-stars, but when they share a frame the power can feel infinite. (For a comic counterpoint example of this same face-pressing double whammy magic, see The Lady Eve with that sensationally funny scene where Barbara Stanwyck babbles incessantly while rubbing her face against an overheated Henry Fonda.) In this case the dual star magnetism doubles as youthful dreaming, disconnected from reality, though Judy and Jim are, in fact, speaking about connection. Judy is philosophizing about friendship, character, and love. She's about to launch into her famous "I love somebody" speech, the "somebody" is telling as she's caressing a man who is still more of an abstraction than a reality to her. Jimmy interjects.
We're not going to be lonely anymore. Ever ever. Not you or me.
The scene is heartbreaking for any number of reasons both for what precedes it and for what follows (poor Plato!), but mostly because you recognize it as a false prophecy, born of the loneliness it's trying to banish. Judy & Jim have long long lives ahead of them even if Dean and Wood didn't. Loneliness never stays away for good.
Rebels of the 'Best Shot' Cause
- Film Actually sees Rebel for the first time and contemplates that issue-heavy love triangle.
- Movies Kick Ass "Let's not ask the moon" is there a world larger than teenage problems?
- Clearly Up To No Good --- this is really cool. It's four themed photo folders. I love "Plato's Closet" and "Living on the Edge". Lovely
- Awww the Movies the looks.
- Stale Popcorn a dynamic shift in "family"