Sunday, December 28, 2008


Movie of the Month Club: the Ninth Month. Woody Allen gets screen time in September with his movie September. MMC members also settle in for autumnal viewing of September Affair, a 1950 romance drama which includes Walter Huston's recording of September Song. Written by Kurt Weill, September Song has been recorded by many artists - Frank Sinatra, Betty Carter, Willie Nelson and the best: "Schnozzola" aka Jimmy Durante. Lou Reed turned in an especially boring rendition for the film September Songs which MMC members like to watch as part of that month's line up, although they fast forward through Lou and a few others that didn't quite hit the Weill mark. One worth sitting through, or drinking and smoking through, is Nick Cave's Mac the Knife.

Also up for the ninth month viewing is September 30, 1955, a film about a James Dean fan who goes crazy when his idol dies (the film title is JD's DOD).

It's been 53 years since that fatal car crash and still fans from all over the world flock to Fairmount, Indiana where Dean was raised by his aunt and uncle after his mother died. They come to honour him, enamoured as they are of the farm boy turned actor who tore up the screen in a mere 3 movies and was dead at the age of 24 before 2 of those flicks had even been released.

Fairmount plays host to Dean festivals and celebrations year round but September finds it crawling with fans attending parties, walking tours and memorials. There's Jimmy Dean Jeopardy, Best Car contests and Best Look-a-like contests. Fans have their snapshots taken wearing signature red jackets or cowboy hats in front of Dean's old high school or in front of a brick wall where there used to be a window that Jimmy once posed next to for a photo. There are memorial luncheons and dinners and services at his graveside.

They purchase JD t-shirts, wind breakers, plates, salt and pepper shakers, dolls. And of course, lighters and ashtrays. After all, cigarettes were practically a part of Jimmy's wardrobe, a smokin' symbol of his smouldering sexuality. And cigarettes were apparently the medium by which James communicated after his death with his old pal Maila Nurmi (who died earlier this year). Known to the public as Vampira, this waif of the occult hung out with JD in Hollywood coffee shops during his stay in Lalaland.

In an interview from a few years back Nurmi claimed that Jimmy had been contacting her from the other side by causing nearby ashtrays to spontaneously combust. Appropriate paranormal behaviour for an actor who set a generation of adolescents on fire in the mid 50s and whose performances often still ignite passionate responses more than 50 years later.

It's not as if this admiration and devotion is unfounded. Dean had a gift and a way and great hair to boot. And before he came along all the kids had was Andy Hardy whose popular refrain "Let's put on a show!" was supposed to be a solution to all their problems. Personally I still think it's a pretty good remedy but when Dean cried out "You're tearing me apart!" in Rebel Without a Cause it resonated throughout the land with the disenchanted and restless post war youth.

Whatever mysterious alchemy brought forth the shooting star that was James Dean, public behaviour since his death mystifies even more. Shortly after his death one of his closest friends went to visit his grave. As he drove past a sign saying "Fairmount - birthplace of James Dean" he realized that they were going to turn his pal into something he "would never recognize again".

R.I.P James Byron Dean. (I don't know, do you think he's resting in peace or rolling in his grave?)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jelly Donuts

When I was small, it seemed to take forever before I got to the prize inside the jelly donuts my mother brought home from the bakery. My mouth was little then and I had to munch through a whole lot of powdery doughy stuff to get to the strawberry gold. But when I did my taste buds stood up and cheered; they danced, they sang!

The movie Giant directed by George Stevens (1956) is a jelly donut. This is the kind of movie where you have to chew through and try to digest a lot of white doughy footage before you get to the magic.*

Edna Ferber didn't write a jelly donut book and George Stevens translated it well enough to the screen. But it just doesn't pop, at least not until the jelly walks on screen. Which is ironic since Stevens loathed everything about the Indiana farm boy turned actor that was the jelly that saved his movie.

Liz Taylor is good as the beautiful Leslie. Rock Hudson does a good job with his character, Bic, but together they are bland - amusing and occasionally sexy but mostly bland. If you watch Liz with Monty Clift in No Place in the Sun (another Stevens flick - but all jelly, no dough) they sizzle, they pop. Giant has no such s & p.

At least not until Dean illuminates the screen as Jett Rink. Half hidden beneath a cowboy hat, lariat in hand, mumbling, shy, Dean gives this ignorant bigoted character a depth that goes deeper than the oil drill he labours over.

Savour the jelly as he:

- plays with his lariat while the fat cats try to swindle him.

- surveys his land (one of my fave scenes in all cinema; best on the big screen)

-drives up covered in black crude to Bic and Leslie's doorstep, boasting: "I'm a rich 'un." Then makes a pass at Leslie, telling her in front of her husband that she looks "pert nar good enough to eat."

- ages into a slick 'n' sleezy rich dude in his late 50s then makes a pass at Leslie and Bic's teenaged daughter Luz (played by newcomer Carol Baker).

Jelly Dean, pert nar good enough to eat.

* the jelly donut movie classification is not based on the kind of jelly donut you get at Tim Horton's. That isn't jelly, that's artificial sweet goop, which is also a movie classification but Vargas does not wish to go there.