Total Films 2015: A portrait of James Dean and the man who took portraits of James Dean.
DIRECTOR ANTON CORBIJN STARRING DANE DEHAAN, ROBERT PATTINSON, JOEL EDGERTON, BEN KINGSLEY ETA 25 SEPTEMBER
When the script for Life – the story of photographer Dennis Stock and his relationship with an unknown James Dean – landed on Anton Corbijn’s desk, it resonated at once. “For over 40 years, that’s what I’ve been doing,” says the Dutch director who, long before making Control and The American, plied his trade snapping musicians, most notably Joy Division, U2, Depeche Mode and REM. “That’s why I did this film,” he insists.
“I didn’t do the film because of James Dean.” Maybe not, but the aura around the Rebel Without A Cause star remains strong 60 years after he died, aged just 24, in a car crash. So much so that Dane DeHaan (29 but far younger looking), who worshipped Dean when he was in college, was “unbelievably nervous” about the role.
“I was really afraid of it,” he says.
“I think I said ‘no’ to the movie five times before I eventually realised I was operating out of fear, and I needed to put that aside and take this gift being handed to me.”
When he finally signed on, one of his first acts was to e-mail Sarah Rubano, the make-up artist who helped turn him into the Green Goblin for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. “I said, ‘Do you think you can make me look like James Dean?”’ She did. DeHaan wore a dark hairpiece and contact lenses to darken his piercing blue eyes, while Rubano re-sculpted his eyebrows. He even wore prosthetic ear lobes, “as my ear-lobes are connected and his weren’t and I felt like it would change my profile”.
As authentic as DeHaan’s work is, his is a depiction of Dean before Elia Kazan’s East Of Eden turned him into a star. Assisting that transition was Stock, assigned by Life magazine to shoot him in a now-classic editorial, played by Robert Pattinson. “You look at the photos of James Dean and you can see he was trying to elevate this guy,” he says. “He was obsessed with him. Unintentionally, it’s the most successful PR campaign ever! More people have seen his photos than his movies, I’d say.”
Google the pics and you’ll soon see the classic image of Dean, cigarette in mouth, in a rain-drenched Times Square, shoulders hunched in a black overcoat buttoned up against the squall. But there are plenty of others – practising ballet or playing a recorder – where “he looks nerdy and intellectual. He doesn’t look cool at all,” laughs DeHaan. “I think the whole collection of photos is pretty impressive… If you really look at all of them, it shows many sides of James Dean – not just what the Times Square photo represents.”
Scripted by Luke Davies, Life is not really a story about star-making, even if the film is peppered with Hollywood icons, from Judy Garland to Rebel Without A Cause director Nicholas Ray. “It becomes a film about two guys who become friends and the effect it has on each other’s lives,” says Corbijn. In the case of Stock, he’s shown as an absentee father who comes across as mildly dysfunctional, says Pattinson. “He was someone
It shows many sides of James Dean
who felt he couldn’t feel and couldn’t love properly and he felt he had almost a disability.” Corbijn loaned Pattinson a Leica before the shoot, which he used while in Morocco filming Werner Herzog’s Queen Of Desert, saying “I wanted Rob to become familiar with it as part of his body language.”
“It was a perverse pleasure, from my end, to drop [him] behind the camera instead of in front of it,” says Corbijn. For Pattinson, seeing life from the other side of the lens did indeed make a refreshing change. “It’s this weird power-trip, in a way,” he nods. “You can have this power over everyone else and you can hide. It’s such a strange art form.” Corbijn sees “parallels” between Pattinson and Stock, who somewhat lucked out by landing the Dean gig so early in his career. “I think he struggles to get accepted as an actor because of Twilight. He was very successful in that and it came quite easy to him, and people sometimes don’t want him to be that successful.”
While Pattinson’s presence may bring Twi-Hards into cinemas, DeHaan – who gained 25lbs to replicate Dean’s “soft, farmboy body” – hopes Life will inspire a revival amongst younger viewers, in particular for favourites East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause. “If they watch this film and go back and watch James Dean’s movies,” he says, “then I feel like it’s mission accomplished.” That’s the meaning of Life.
Thanks to ROBERT PATTINSON LIFE for scans!