James Dean

Vivre Vite, Philippe Besson

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The Book

This novel is a choral novel (romanticized biography) written by Philippe Besson and released in 2015. It traces James Dean’s story through various testimonies of those who have known him.

What about James Dean ?
James Byron Dean – nicknamed Jimmy Dean – better knownby his stage name James Dean, born on the 8th, February 1931 in Marion (Indiana) and dead on the 30th September 1955 in Cholame (California) is an american actor.

He begins his career with a walk-on on Pepsi-Cola advertising in 1950.

He also appears in various TV series such as Studio One, General Electric Theatre, Danger etc…

Since he is a child, he dabbles in theatre. That leads him to act in a play of Andre Gide, called L’immoraliste. Thanks to it, he knows a big success in Broadway, New York, and he is rewarded with the price of the most promising young actor of the year which propels him in the cinema world.

He was not mentionned in the credits for his four first films. It is from East Of Eden directed by Elia Kazan (1955) that he knows his first true movie success :

And it will continue with Rebel Without a Cause, Nicholas Ray (1955)

…and with his last film : Giant by George Stevens (1956)

His untimely demise reinforces the myth around him and his career. That’s why I decided to explain precisely his tragic death :

James Dean always been fascinated by motor racing : he wants to participate in a race in North California. He leaves on the morning, driving a Porsche 550 Spyder with his mechanic Rolf Wutherich. During the trip, a police control fines him for exceeding the speed limit.

James Dean is driving for four hours and suddenly, at a crossroad, near Cholame, a student called Donald Tumupseed pull out in front of him. The two cars collide violently. James Dean dies instantly, Rolf Wutherich is projected out of the vehicle whereas the student gets away only with bruises.

The « irony » of his death is that he has just finished the shooting of Giant, during which a term of his contract forbids him to participate in any motor racing and to drive dangerously. Just before his accident, he was requested for a short film about road safety, encouraging people to drive carefully.

James Dean is a figurehead of the 50's and that is why I decided to read this book. I wanted to learn more about him and to understand the infatuation around him.

There are so much interesting things in this book :
First, there are many striking sentences. Metaphors, expressions, short sentences, coarse language or great turns of phrase. I like the way of writing of the author : he takes testimonies that he has sublimated with many sentences. These ones are interesting because it exposes different point of view about James Dean. There is also fictitious « testimonies » of James Dean : pure invention of the author, which refer to various periods of his life : some trace his child's gaze on significant events such as his mother's death. This passage was really moving... others were touching for their symbolism, by the words used. The testimonies make us feel so close to his life : we are a kind of stalker. Sometimes, we can identify us to certain moments of his life.

I got the impression to learn so much thing in one book, but I couldn't remember all. Once the book finished, I should have liked it to continue. That's the only negative point according to me : it is too short. Such as James Dean's life.

« Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse » Willard Motley, Knock on Any Door

2 thoughts on “James Dean

  1. I don’t know much about James Dean, I have never seen any film in which he played, but there is such a mystery or some kind of legendary atmosphere around him that I can’t wait to know more 🙂 I liked your article a lot!

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