Film Bitch History
Oscar History

The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R. Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. All material herein is written and copyrighted by Nathaniel or a member of our team as noted.

Powered by Squarespace
Don't Miss This!
Comment Fun

Big Little Lies "The Bad Mother"

"It's actually uncanny how much the dropoff in quality mirrors Game of Thrones. Juicy work of fiction is adapted—acclaim, success, perfection!  Showrunner runs out of book to adapt. Source author writes an outline for how the plot advances. Showrunner adapts outline into new season. It's a terrible recipe!" - H

"I don’t think Kidman deserves a second Emmy... I feel like her performance is really inconsistent this season." -Beyaccount

Keep TFE Strong

We're looking for 500... no 461 Patron SaintsIf you read us daily, please be one.  Your suscription dimes make an enormous difference. Consider...

I ♥ The Film Experience



LULU WANG on The Farewell



Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)

What'cha Looking For?
« First and Last, "Out of the City" | Main | Tilda Androgyne »

Hit Me: Natalie Wood and "Rebel Without a Cause"

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.

Best Shot

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"

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (16)

I love her in this film, too. But isn't "Sex and the Single Girl" the worst??? It's so fun and entertaining, though, because it's just terrible.

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWhitney

I don't think you remember my total love for Natalie... If you think you had it bad, I was 13 years old when Rebel came out ... I was instantly in love with her ... and still am... through the horrible movies she made and the great ones...

By the way, she would have been 72 years old today ... as she was born in 1938.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I am sorry .. i meant she would have been 73 years old....

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I liked Rebel Without a Cause but have a problem with it: the characters played by Dean and Wood have met for, what, two days? I don't buy all that intimacy and their relationship is unbelievable, especially considering Wood's Judy was a real bitch at first.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

It's Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve, not Gary Cooper!

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColin Low


July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJIM RICK

whitney -- i don't remember that one that well but i've been thinking i should do a start from beginning to the end with her it's been so long since i've seen so many of the movies. and there's still some i haven't seen. last year i saw two of the lesser known ones and it was so fun to see her in obscure movies.

rick -- fixed! i am brain dead lately. oy. so i guess i was right that the movie was mesmerizing when it came out, too? :)

colin -- speaking of brain dead. fixed. god, i obviously need this vacation i'm about to take.

jim -- i know. that made the death extra eery

July 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Lucky -- but that's part of what i was getting. Like Romeo & Juliet there's an element of both movies that the teenagers are constructing and fantasizing intimacy rather than actually experiencing it. which is why i love the "i love somebody" speech so much, i think. They barely know each other.

July 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I get Natalie's beauty, which is boundless, but I don't quite get her acting. What I remember about "Rebel" is the contrast between her style and Dean's. Her acting seemed stilted and conventional, with that pre-Method, slightly British lilt that you hear in American movies from the 30's to the 50's (and even later). He remains thoroughly modern. If they were sitcoms, she would be a laugh-track, and he would be a single-camera masterpiece. But I don't want to get too down on her. I'm more puzzled than critical. I thought she was very good in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," which I saw last year, though she was more of a straight man to Eliott Gould and Dyan Cannon.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

Owen -- i think Bob & Carol is one of her very best performances myself. And it's a tricky part, really. but yes the showy roles are Eliott's and Dyan's. she's not a perfect actress, no, but when she really connected to a part there was magic. and sometimes her lack of technical control really helped those angsty emotions feel raw and alive.

anyway. i love her. but i understand why a lot of people have reservations.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R


I was a high school teacher and principal for my entire career.... the relationship is NOT unbelievable Many of the "top shelf" girls put on an act to be considered Miss Popular, but at the heart of it all, they were nice girls and often would let their guard down and form friends with others .. of a not so high class.

Also, remember her situation with her father... both Judy and Plato were looking for a father figure... Judy was "in love" with that about Jim.... if the story had continued, I am sure they would not have ended up together, but would have had a lifetime friendship/.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Just one more thought on natalie ... she was not a great actress,although she could rise to the occasion with good directors. I think she was a"self-conscious" actress and was afraid to let loose. I, personally, think her most natural acting performance was in "Love with the Proper Stranger"... she seemed so much "looser' in her acting style.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I have to disagree with you Whitney, I think she's done worse than "Sex and the Single Girl". That film was light and fun, sure it's no masterpiece but I don't think it's a bad movie.

Owen - I get what you're saying about her acting, but I think she does a slightly better job than Dean in this film.

I grow even more fond of her as time goes by, I think she's one of the few actors (past or present) who absolutely earned each one of her Oscar nominations.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Argh! I meant to send in shots for both this and Aliens, since they're a couple of my favourite films. I will never overcome my tendency towards procrastination. Perhaps next season. ;)

I love the shot you've picked, although it'd be hard to pick a bad shot in a film like this. Even the ones that aren't technically impressive are just loaded with character detail. I may not have participated, but I'll probably go back and watch it tonight.

Sidenote: This is the only film I've seen Natalie Wood in. I own Splendor in the Grass on DVD so I'll get to that sometime. Any recommendations?

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMD


You should see Splendor, Gypsy, West Side Story, Love with the Proper Stranger, This Property is Condemned and Bob, Carol Ted and Alice.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I'm always amazed at how Natalie Wood looks like Nicole Kidman in this movie.

July 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzn3v6
Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.