James Dean & the Silver Screen

photo of James Dean courtesy of Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans

Yes, we have Netflix.

It’s in my dad’s name, so he mans our household queue; of course, this really makes sense when you know how few nights my brother and I are actually around, or if you’ve ever watched a movie with my mom (that would be half a movie, since that’s all the industrious woman makes it through without falling asleep). It was last semester that Dad decided to watch the apparently truly significant classics. Doctor Zhivago, The Graduate, and several others all got their fair share of screening time, but the James Dean films were by far my favorites.

Now don’t get me wrong – in my youth, I was a lover of old films; well, more specifically, I was a lover of Old Hollywood. Not only could I actually identify the stars of by-gone years, but I could even give you a general idea of what they had starred in and what awards had been bestowed upon them. Clearly, I knew who James Dean was.

Kind of. I knew what he looked like. I knew the oft-touted “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today” quote to be his own. And, eventually, I knew that he died young.

Despite this last bit not being truly surprising to me in light of his aforementioned motto, his death was nonetheless devastating, and the youth of 1955 must have been shocked. After seeing him perform and understanding some of who he was as a person, I , too, was shocked.

I’ll admit that I entered the James Dean viewing a bit late, missing the first of his films in our queue; sadly, it was the iconic Rebel Without a Cause. The next weekend, not only did I watch East of Eden, but I also fell in love. Yes, it’s clichè. Cheesy. Overly sentimental. I don’t care. That weekend, Cal Trask was it. The swagger. The sly, sometimes shy smile. How could you not love James Dean?

The following weekend, we watched Giant, which featured the radiant Liz Taylor as well, and by then the sparkle of James Dean had, sadly, started to fade. He was no longer the rebellious boy, but the bitter, hardened man. I didn’t buy a poster or research his life like I thought I would. I had loved him and moved on.

Or so I thought. Months have elapsed. Today, I pulled up The Very Best of the Eagles in my iTunes library, starting with “Desperado,” of course. Several songs in, I heard “James Dean, James Dean…” – and I remembered. His walk, his smile, his very essence as a man and as an actor.

James Dean, James Dean
I know just what you mean
James Dean, you said it all so clean
And I know my life would look alright
If I could see it on the silver screen

James Dean is an icon. Sure, some may say he was only a movie star, but again – I don’t care. In some distanced way, separated by decades and his untimely death, he still signifies something in my life. Maybe it is an unhealthy form of infatuation; after all, he’s that bad boy telling me to loosen up and have some fun. But still, is that such a bad thing? Too fast to live, too young to die. And, if I could see it on the silver screen, maybe my life would look alright.  Maybe I’d finally see that I still have quite a bit of life to live, and that I need to start living it before it’s too late.

2 Responses to “James Dean & the Silver Screen”
  1. Levi Sikes says:

    Excellently written, Janie.
    Still, don’t let Dean be too much of your muse with regards to having fun. You were made for joy and gladness. Loosened-up fun is as much of a betrayal of cultivating a deeply-set, joyful emancipation as is tightly-wound detachment.
    Your little brother is going to stop writing now and let you off the hook with this one, though!

  2. Ray Sikes says:


    You write so fine, but don’t go pulling a James Dean by doing anything stupid!

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