About four months ago, I saw Giant (both the movie and the musical) and it dawned upon me that I hadn’t seen James Dean’s other two movies, East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. Over the past couple days, I have filled in this cinematic lacuna.
I can dispatch with Eden pretty quickly by referring to Dan Callahan’s review at Slant Magazine (except I’m sure that Mr. Callahan meant to refer to Leonard Rosenman’s painfully overt score as “pseudo-Schoenberg” rather than “pseudo-Stravinsky“). He’s got it all right – Dean acts like an overwrought Brando impersonator, Kazan’s direction is flaccid, and the story is reduced to a rather trite fable.
Then we come to Rebel Without a Cause. Here, I’m perfectly willing to go along with Roger Ebert’s analysis, but we’ve got to take a step back on this one, because watching this movie brought me to a horrible, gut-wrenching realization: West Side Story is, in many respects, a Knock Off of this movie.
That’s sacrilege of the highest order, and something that pains me — PAINS me — to write, but there’s really no denying it. OK, maybe “knock off” isn’t quite right, but WSS definitely owes a lot to Rebel. Even, to a minor extent, the score. Sort of.
There, I said it… breathe deeply… BUT, the good thing is that whatever debts WSS owes to Rebel, it in every way improves upon its predecessor. And obviously, Romeo and Juliet was the true model for West Side, but there are so many elements of Rebel that it’s impossible to ignore them. I mean, Hello – Knife Fight? [See above.]
As to what I said about the score, first off, Sondheim, thankfully, denies it. And it may be wholly a coincidence given the subject matter and settings, but there’s no denying that this:
does sound in some ways like this:
Although upon further review, the latter possesses such a greater sophistication that the point is rendered almost moot. Lenny’s score is a masterpiece and there are traces of everyone (“Hey, we’re having a party – why not invite the Black Panthers?”) so I guess it shouldn’t bother me too much that Rosenman has a small say in the dialogue.
Frankly I think very little prevents Rebel overall from being MST3K movie fodder… in fact, it largely resembles my absolute favorite episode thereof: “I Accuse My Parents“.
Speaking of movies, tonight is of course Inglourious Basterds night, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. Quentin’s media saturation has reached monumental proportions even by his standards. But it’s like, Quent, dawg, if you would just make movies a little more often, there wouldn’t be quite so much pressure on the success of the few that you do make. I think, and I think most creative types would agree with me here, that it’s maybe the most important thing that an artist produce. All the time. Although there’s got to be some kind of limit to that, because even Stravinsky jumped the shark, and Lord Knows he was poppin’ ‘em out all the time.
Speaking of which, I really ought to compose before taking in the cinema.
Oh, P.S. The trauma from my Rebel-WSS related psychoses was totally outweighed by the awesomeness of getting to see Mr. Howell in an apron!!