Just finished reading Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause, by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel. Incredible book. Oh, it has the gossip that you would expect in a book like that, but it also has some fresh and interesting insights into the making of the film and the personalities that made it possible in the first place.
It sets the film in its time, but also looks at how it has come down through the years, continuing to speak to generation after generation of kids and adults.
I didn’t see Rebel until I was well into my 20s. I’d avoided it purposely, fairly sure that it couldn’t ever live up to its hype. But then it came on a local television station one night, and there was nothing else to do, so I watched it. Actually, I had it on in the kitchen while I was baking something, convinced that I wouldn’t actually watch the thing but just glance in on it every once in awhile. Good thing there was a timer on the oven, or I would have very likely let whatever it was I was baking burn.
I was mesmerized by the film. It was really that good. James Dean really was that good. It was impossible, but there it was.
Of course, there was the extra added attraction of the role played by the Griffith Park Observatory, a place where I had grown up and have always adored. I hadn’t realized it was in the movie, just as I had had no clue when I was a kid going there on Sunday afternoons that something so amazing had gone on there. I had been up those steps. I had leaned right there. I had stopped to get a glimpse of the planetarium controls, just as Jim Stark, James Dean’s character did in the film.
But, even absent that echo of my own childhood, I would have loved the movie.
Yeah, it is very ‘50s, and awfully cheesy in places. But for all that, it is perhaps the most authentic piece of film making I’ve ever seen, am ever likely to see. It soars. It aches.
Maybe it speaks to me because I was the outsider as a teenager. Not in the same way as Jim Stark or Judy or Plato, but an outsider all the same.
So, when I found this book in the library, I had to check it out and read it. It doesn’t sugarcoat any of the people involved in the production, but it makes it clear that while most of them had the usual foibles and faults inherent in those who practice a self-absorbed art like film making, those same characteristics helped make the movie what it is.
My recommendation? If you have ever seen Rebel Without a Cause and loved it, this book is probably your cup of tea.
If you haven’t ever seen the film? What are you waiting for? Get thee to a DVD rental or sales outlet, or to your local library to borrow a copy and watch it. It’s one of the greats.