Perhaps the most bizarre news I have read recently is the announcement by Magic City Films of their plan to film “Finding Jack” based on the novel by Gareth Crocker. On its own this would be something of a non-news item. Another Vietnam film. Yawn. Isn’t it time to put that subject to bed?
But Magic City Films have found a way to make that seem newsworthy. The stroke of genius? To cast James Dean in a supporting role. Yes, that James Dean.
James Dean was born in 1931, making him currently 88. Of course, extreme age is no bar to acting. Look at Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and so on. No, age is no impediment to acting. The principal objection to James Dean taking the role of Rogan in the forthcoming film is simple.
And he’s been dead for a long time.
To be more specific, he died in 1955 in a motor accident.
As far as I know, no attempt has been made at any stage to clone him. Nor, unlike Elvis, is there any significant support for the notion that he faked his death. I have yet to see my first “James Dean is alive” T-shirt.
No, as far as James Dean is concerned, dead means dead.
So how exactly are the filmmakers going to get round this? I’m not sure how many modern actors would be comfortable acting opposite a dead person. Having said that, there are probably plenty of modern actors who are as good as dead, such is the premium that the movie industry places on looks over, say, any acting ability. Who knows – maybe a dead James Dean is probably a better actor than a living… (Fill in the name of your choice).
Having said that of course I should acknowledge that star quality is only a vague reflection of acting ability. Take Humphrey Bogart for instance – one of the more wooden actors of the silver screen, and a shortass to boot. Yet he was also one of the most charismatic stars of his generation. Casablanca remains my all time favourite film.
That still doesn’t explain Dean’s casting, 64 years after his death.
The truth is that this is not the actual Jimmy Dean. Well, not in any form that we would understand. This is a mess of electrons converted into some kind of visual representation of the great man. Apparently he has been digitised. His every facial gesture has been rendered to a series of coordinates. Every sneer, snarl, smile and squint reduced to numbers.
I saw the results of this kind of process in 2016 in Rogue One, a Star Wars spin-off. Peter Cushing was berating some other minor character over inappropriate use of Death Stars or running in the corridor. Or he would have done, had he not died in 1994. No, this was not old footage of Peter Cushing. It was his electronic stunt double. Or something like that. And to be honest he was pretty good, if anything rather more animated in death than he had ever been in life. But then of course his long and glittering career with Hammer films lent him a certain authority when portraying the dead or undead.
Apparently Dean’s family are okay about having him electronically resurrected. Well, they haven’t actually said that they don’t like it. So maybe that’s the same thing. Personally, I don’t know whether to express my condolences or congratulations. I’m sure when his family buried him so long ago they cannot have envisaged his electronic exhumation. Can we really be sure that Dean would have taken this role?
The irony is that James Dean is immortal on celluloid. Bringing him artificially back to life on the cinema screen just might kill his legend off for good.