Thursday, September 24, 2015

Coming Attraction: James Dean

September 30 will mark sixty years since James Dean died in a car crash along a California highway. Of his three movies; only one ("East of Eden") had been released. I never saw it. But among the girls in my junior high school, his death was big news. The movie magazines were full of pictures of him, catnip to teenage girls attracted to his mix of the dangerous and vulnerable.

Certainly his performances in those films were equal to those of the young Marlon Brando. Fate determined we would never know if he could sustain or would squander that talent. James Dean not only played the loner, he looked the part and seemed like the real deal. Even today it's hard to put together a picture of who he really was. One thing for sure— he was an original.

Speaking of pictures, Dennis Stock, a young Magnum photographer who worked for Life and other publications, took a series of photos of Dean in New York City and on his family's Indiana farm in 1955. This is one of the best known:

James Dean and Dennis Stock

Since we're talking fashion here, James Dean is a touchstone for men's fashion. He didn't invent the just-got-out-of-bed look, but he may have been the first to get out of bed and go out the door with it. Tousled hair, rumpled shirt, white t-shirt and jeans, black turtleneck, horn-rimmed glasses, sailor t-shirt, black dress shirt and always nearby, the cigarette. He could wear work boots with a tuxedo jacket or a navy surplus overcoat with a dress suit. We need to remember these looks were very new for the 1950s. 

His "slouchy, artfully dishevelled way [of dressing] feels very contemporary", says Dan Rookwood, the US editor of the men's style journal Mr. Porter. It's inspired countless designers, most recently Marc Jacobs for AW15, with untucked shirts and too long trousers worn with workboots. 

A movie is in the works, called "Life", starring Robert Pattinson as Stock and Dale DeHaan as James Dean. By the looks of the trailer, I'll keep my fingers crossed. In some cases I don't think pictures need to move to tell the story.

PS  If you get Turner Classics on your cable or satellite, tune in tomorrow (September 25) for an evening of programs featuring James Dean in his early, pre Hollywood, television performances, starting at 8 PM Eastern.

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