Insights into James Dean’s enduring appeal and commercial projects created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death made for earnest observations Wednesday at the Variety Cannes Conference Series.
A panel of photographers, a critic, filmmaker and Dean’s cousin agreed that Dean connected with teenagers at a time when they were ignored by media and as future generations of young people have sought out an image that personifies their angst, Dean is the icon. Only Marcus Winslow, Dean’s cousin who oversees the estate, recalled the actor as “an ordinary person.”
“In Greek times it was the statue that perpetuated the myth,” said Dennis Stock, who photographed Dean and has published the book “James Dean: 50 Years Ago.” “We all know that today it is the DVD, the video, the poster. And people who are disillusioned with life relate to Jimmy. This is someone who personifies how they feel.”
Panelists are all involved in projects coinciding with the annni of Sept. 30, 1955, when Dean was killed in a car accident in northern California. Panel was sponsored by Warner Home Video.
Michael J. Sheridan has the docu “James Dean: Forever Young” unspooling at Cannes (Warner releases it on DVD in September); John Goldstone is producing a Dean Fest in the actor’s birthplace of Marion, Ind., June 3-5; critic George Perry has penned a Dean estate-authorized bio; and photog Phil Stern has published a collection of photos he shot of Dean. Stern and Dean met after they were involved in a car-motorcycle collision on Sunset Boulevard.
Stern invited Dean to come to his studio, where he had set up with the intention of shooting Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. The stars didn’t show and, as Stern said, “I was a fly on the wall. I didn’t have a great friendship with him. But (as a subject) he had a dimension that others I worked with didn’t have.”
Critic Perry, who pitched the idea of a Dean book three years ago, knew he was onto something when a woman in her early 30s told him she had a poster of Dean on her wall in college and always wanted to know more about him.
“His face is a totem,” Perry said. “There’s a timelessness about him. He was a very naturalistic actor and a lot of actors since have felt he changed screen acting forever. He was a watershed.”