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More than just an icon of Fonz-like cool

Life fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse. The first two aren’t so difficult, but the third? No matter how pretty you die, your corpse won’t look good for long. Except in film, of course. It can keep you young forever.

The Astor Theatre presents a digitally remastered retrospective of James Dean’s ‘Big Three’: East of Eden (1955), Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and Giant (1956). Only Elia Kazan’s East of Eden was released while Dean was still alive, and watching it now – when Dean’s been the epitome of cool for so long – his performance seems more raw than ever. As Cal, a self-proclaimed ‘bad son’ desperate for his father’s approval, he throws himself around scenes like an animal, straightjackets himself in his overalls, and sits hunched over like a gargoyle. Others talk about him like he’s a monster (though, inevitably, can’t help but mention he’s a pretty-boy, too).

Cal’s drunk on his emotions: screaming, crying, lusting. He says “pain” like he’s just invented the word to describe how he’s feeling inside. Just like in Rebel’s famous wail of “you’re tearing me apart!”, Dean gives larger-than-life performances capturing adolescent fury, and they drag these melodramas to wrenching new places.

Dean’s death in 1955 is such an integral part of his screen presence that it can’t help weigh his movies down – especially in Giant, where he eventually plays an older man he’d never become. And they’re haunted, too, with afterimages of all the actors who desperately tried to be Dean in the decades that followed, for better or worse.

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By Martyn Pedler   |  

James Dean retrospective video

James Dean retrospective details

1 Chapel St, St Kilda 3182

Telephone 03 9510 1414

Nearby Stations: Windsor

Price $13.00 to $15.00

Date Sun 23 Mar 2014

Open 7pm

Director: Elia Kazan

Cast: James Dean, Julie Harris

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