Still under the spell today of the love and death theme. Skyrockets and spectres. Hot cars over the cliff. Romeo and Juliet. Teen Angel, Tell Laura I Love Her and the other mawkish drivel that clogged the charts at the end of the Fifties.
I heard a voice that cried from the deep:
Come join your Baby in the Endless Sleep, Endless Sleep
(That one, if I remember rightly, about a girl who commits suicide by walking out into the ocean, was truly scarey)
It’s rainy and grey on the Rhode Island coast today. My Patrushka is on the other side of the continent seeing her mom through surgery. The perfect day to do some research on love and death among the young of m-m-my generation. The perfect day to watch… Rebel Without A Cause!
I wonder if the video store has it? (The Pig calls Blockbuster) Hmm, their only copy is booked solid because some students have to do a term paper on it. Ahh, my little Rebel, are you reduced to this? Fodder for high school AP English classes? To be analyzed and dissected on the chloroform table by chloroform kids listening to The Bloggers on their ipods? At least you haven’t joined High School Confidential in the endless sleep of forgotten teenager flicks.
OK, I don’t need a stupid videotape! This is the Pondering Pig here! I will gesture hypnotically, look into the mystic reaches of my alternate universe and…there it is…just a few light years away…
Rebel Without A Cause. The best movie ever made. The first and maybe the only movie that told the truth about the adult world. The first movie that took me and my brother seriously. James Dean, the best actor of all time and Sal Mineo, the saddest sidekick of all time, and Jim Backus, the most screwed up father of all time and, bless her, we lost her to the chilly deep, the endless sleep – sixteen year old Natalie Wood.
I seem to be given to hyperbole today and these stupid tears get my trotters wet while I type and I have no idea why, except my mystic memory brings back the feelings as well as the sights of that time.
Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no!
One rainy winter night in 1955, I was 13, my brother Noel 16, three years left till he rounded Dead Man’s Curve, we drove though those rainy suburban streets to the teen-packed Burlingame Theater to see the gospel preached to us all in full-bore Cinemascope, a sight never to equalled again. From the opening scene…Jimmy falling on the sidewalk in his red windbreaker drunk, in close-up 100 feet tall it seemed, fitting, epic, laughing at the little toy monkey he found – alone, was he laughing or was he crying? We didn’t know it but we were about to be shown the world-shaking truth. I don’t use the word gospel lightly. Except it wasn’t good news. Just the truth.
Here it is: Beneath that self-satisfied, prosperous, Rotary Club and martinis adult world we just drove through, inside those little suburban houses just like ours, something is terribly wrong. The adult world is neither happy nor content. Nothing is what it seems to be. And only the teenagers can see it and feel it. Yet they’re powerless, caught in their own ritual webs of tribal violence. Only love can save them. Only love can save us.
If it’s not too late.
In the key scene, Jim Stark (James Dean’s character) and Buzz, enemies, rivals in every way, are going to prove nothing to no one by racing stolen cars off a cliff into the ocean below. The first one to jump before the cars go over is a chicken.
In the most tragic scene ever filmed, Buzz and Jim are talking by the cars before they start and realize that, in another world, another time, another reality, they would be friends. Jim says to Buzz, “Why do we do this?”
Buzz answers, “Well, you gotta do something now…don’t you?”
As the years went on, when I tried to make sense out of my confused young life, the scene replayed in my head again and again.
You probably remember rest, if you’re old enough. Hard to forget. The race. Jim jumping first. Buzz’s leather jacket wrist strap stuck in the door handle. Crashing to his death in the breakers breaking brokenly forever on the rocks below.
We drove around for a while after though the empty wet streets in speechless stunned silence. I thought about all the kids in that theater and what we had been through together and what was this world I was growing into?
I didn’t want to join my baby in the endless sleep. I wanted love to win. I wanted something…I wanted SOMETHING.
In a world gone crazy
Everything seems hazy
I’m a wild one
Ooh yeah I’m a wild one
Little Ivan (1958)