24 September 2013

Movie Review: Joshua Tree, 1951

When I don't wonder how my life may have been as a poor urban dweller in early nineteenth century Europe, I sometimes wonder if in my previous life I was a human -- a gay man, my grandfather's generation -- who at some point ended up in southern California in the early 1950s before transitioning into a hippie in the 1960s and then dying prematurely in the early 1970s.

This movie, which is titled Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean, is really a cinematic experience. The cinematography is just great. While the script was a little exposition heavy at times, the acting and the cinematography was, well, just great. The formalism of the movie lends itself to a jarring experience of the emotional life of the characters and James Dean in particular. There is a puerile quality to it that help clarify the contours of the tragic experience of James Dean.

There is set of scenes in the film between Dean and the "Boy on the Beach" where the reflection of puerile sexuality peaks in tragedy. There, Dean and the "boy on the beach" hook up. When it is done, Dean, in a flippant and casual way inquires regarding when they will see each other again. The Boy on the Beach hesitates -- a pregnant pause. The I-don't-give-a-shit-macho-fag routine was called out by a fem bottom in a flippant and casual way. Crushing, tragic.

The movie is not an example of realism in any sense. In fact, its formalism helps to make it seem more real in terms of a historical accounting of this person's life. The memories do not nicely flow one into the other and the chronology is disjunctive. The soundtrack reminds me of memories of that moment just before I entered into the intermediate state, into the poetic flux outside of time and order.


  1. Biopics of famous people are, by default, intriguing for me, just because of the imposed constraints of history, especially those that have been chronicled and distorted in many different ways.

    In my mind, there is always this big looming question of narrative — how to tell it? I haven't seen this film, but it reminds me of the recent Monroe and Ginsberg flicks, both of which did not necessarily deviate from (arguably) known facts, but nevertheless tried to circumvent the given, through narrative or cinematic techniques.

  2. Did james dean seriously have a boytoy?