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James Dean:The First American Teenager

James Dean:The First American Teenager

By Patrick Samuel • September 29th, 2011
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
JAMES DEAN: THE FIRST AMERICAN TEENAGER (VHS)
Warner Home Video

Release date: Unknown
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 80 minutes

Year of production: 1976

Director: Ray Connolly
Narrator: Stacy Keach

Cast: Vampira, Corey Allen, Sammy Davis Jr., Dennis Hopper, Jack Larson, Sal Mineo and James Dean (archive footage)

Ray Connolly’s Website

What can you say about James Dean? He’s the epitome of cool, the ultimate rebel and even though his life and career was cut so short on September 30th 1955 when a Ford pulled across the path of his Porsche, he still burns as one of the brightest stars to have ever graced the screen.

I remember watching Rebel Without A Cause back when I was about 4 or 5 years old and not really understanding what it was about. The same with East Of Eden, which I watched when I was around 10 years old.

James Dean:The First American Teenager

That all changed when I reached 13, but it wasn’t because of a film, it was because of a book. For some reason I decided to pick up James Dean: Little Boy Lost by Joe and Jay Hyams at the library and I consumed it within one night.

Something changed. I realised there was someone else like me, who felt things the way I did and saw the world the way I did and no one else could understand that. I had become a teenager, complete with angst, feelings of alienation and living in a world I couldn’t relate to, and who better to cling to but an idol like James Dean who lived fast and died young. I went back to the library the next day, rented his three films and hunted around London’s libraries and bookshops for any other books I could find on this rebel who had given me a cause.

James Dean:The First American Teenager

During that time I came across James Dean: The First American Teenager, at the same Buy, Sell & Exchange shop in Camden where I found Hollywood Idols, Montgomery Clift. Directed by Ray Connolly, it includes some really magnificent insights into Dean’s life, from his early years as a boy growing up on a farm in Fairmount, Indiana, and then later on as he broke into theatre, television and films.

We get to hear Dennis Hopper telling the story of how Dean walked up to a crowd of fans who were watching them film outside for Giant, and proceeded to unzip and urinate in front of them. This and many more stories are relived by the likes of Sal Mineo, Corey Allen, Jack Larson and many others.

James Dean:The First American Teenager

Connolly, on his website, talks about The First American Teenager and points to Dean’s influence over the decades when he says:

“For years after Dean’s death young film actors aped his mannerisms, not least Warren Beatty in Splendour In The Grass and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, while later Martin Sheen, a huge fan, based his performance in the movie Badlands on Dean. So although you may not have realised it you’ve probably been watching Dean’s influence on cinema for years.”

James Dean:The First American Teenager

While The First American Teenager touches on his sexuality briefly, thankfully it never stays on the subject but gives more time to exploring Dean’s career and what those who knew him thought fuelled his desire to act, create, explore and learn. It also contains footage from Robert Altman’s documentary, The James Dean Story (1957), but this one is back by music from Bad Company (Movin’ On), David Bowie (Rebel Rebel), The Eagles (James Dean), Bachman – Turner Overdrive (Let It Ride), Neil Sedaka (The Immigrrant), Mike Oldfield (Tubular Bells)Lou Reed, Eric Clapton (Layla), Lou Reed (Walk On The Wild Side) and Elton John (Funeral For A Friend) which gives it a real edge, and a vintage rock ‘n’ roll feel to it.

Although there have been films and documentaries made both before and after this one, The First American Teenager really captures the spirit of what Dean-ism is about while at the same paying tribute to his life. As each newcomer in Hollywood is hailed as the next James Dean, none of have ever matched the depth and quality as Dean displayed in his performances, which makes him not only the first of his kind, but quite possibly the last.

James Dean:The First American Teenager

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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