The Disciples of James Dean meet up on the anniversary of his death and mull over their lives in the present and in flashback, revealing the truth behind their complicated lives. Who is the...
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Harry Dean Stanton
The Disciples of James Dean meet up on the anniversary of his death and mull over their lives in the present and in flashback, revealing the truth behind their complicated lives. Who is the mysterious Joanne and what's the real story behind Mona's son, James Dean Junior ?Written by
David Gibson <email@example.com>
Though pains were no doubt made to ensure that the "mirror-image" flashback set for all 1955 scenes appears to be the exact opposite of the set for 1975 scenes, packaging for the many GE light bulbs stored on a back shelf in 1955 are not reversed as they should be (though the large GE sign above is correctly reversed). See more »
Jimmy Dean? Jimmy Dean! Come on back here to the five-and-dime now, Jimmy Dean. Jimmy Dean, you're out here, I know you are.
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Behind the closing credits, the camera pans around the abandoned building. We hear the wind blowing, with doors banging in the background. See more »
The critique of social institutions and the portrayal of social outsiders remain Altman's central preoccupations in one of his more minor, less genuine attempts to revise our sense of American history by subverting some of its most trenchant myths. He's definitely better with a cast of hundreds, painting broad pictures of their complex interactions and entanglements by inventively using overlapping sound and dialogue, documentary realism and improvisation than he is with a cast of only a handful, each taking turns to ramble on with romantic soliloquys while the rest look on. This was made no clearer than in the embarrassing dud he shot next, Streamers. But there are some touching moments and themes in this obsessively nostalgic period piece about flashbacks, memories and disabused denial about the past, though they arguably have less to do with the substance on the screen than with Altman's tenacious devotion to the project. This first of numerous play adaptations by post-Hollywood Altman in the '80s comes to pass within a petite retail variety store in parched McCarthy, Texas, where a James Dean fan club reunites in 1975. The movie flits between then and 1955, the year Dean died, as the six members divulge skeletons in the cupboard hearkening back to then. The store is not far from where the great Dean film Giant was shot that year.
Those there are an unhinged Sandy Dennis, who leaped at the opportunity to be an extra when Giant was on location and who, nine months later, gave birth to a son she maintains is Dean's. She's taken the late bus. Then there's Cher, the acerbic five-and-dime waitress, who boasts relentlessly about the size of her breasts. She shows up late after lending a hand at the truck stop. And Karen Black, whose skeleton in the closet is the film's biggest culminating beat. The others who float in and out of the story are the newly well-heeled oil wife Kathy Bates, supplying ironic echoes of Liz Taylor in the epic movie playing such a pivotal role in the plot; crushingly meek woman Marta Heflin, now pregnant for the umpteenth time; Mark Patton, who prefers the fashion wear of the opposite sex, and Sudie Bond, who runs the joint. She opens the film by preparing for yet another day on the job, swatting flies and listening to gospel hymns on the radio, and also calls after young Jimmy Dean by name.
What Altman does with his ensemble is emphasize the script's relationship between the repression of women and male-dominated society's fear of sexual variation and gender uncertainty. The film's one male character to appear is implicitly, and sensitively, viewed as feminine, rather than the archetypally effeminate, woman-identified, and gay. The film also implies, in one of its most creative and penetrating story elements, that he's become something much more socially unacceptable for the reason that his social order had no place for a gay man.
The film is otherwise little if not distended with surprises that seem like they came from a very heartfelt writer's legal pad. As the women largely rotate, literally, going at each other in monologue prose, spoken in deep-Texas country drawl, we learn of emotionally demanding surgeries and the difficult realities of Dennis' eponymous son. Altman is extraordinarily efficient at keeping things moving, even when you're unsure whether you're watching something occurring in 1975 or 1955.
What makes this minor exercise noteworthy is that Altman shot it in 16 mm, and made do with merely 800 large on the whole project. Altman continually employs mirrors as a way to connect scenes like a dream between the present and the past. Manifestations in mirrors are part of the film's various frame compositions. The effect was seamlessly accomplished with a double set with two-way mirrors controlled by computerized lighting techniques. They become a window into 1955, allowing the characters to stare into the past, until that's what it all is, punctuated by hypnotically poignant shots of the decaying, abandoned five-and-dime store, while the song fades and the wind blows.
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