Dean festival shatters the myth of a soul in torment

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The Independent Culture

He was the original rebel without a cause, the beautiful screen icon whose premature death ensured that his reputation never dimmed.

He was the original rebel without a cause, the beautiful screen icon whose premature death ensured that his reputation never dimmed.

The crash that killed James Dean at the age of 24 happened 50 years ago this September, and a host of special events are now being planned to commemorate his short, but brilliant, career.

The National Film Theatre in London will host a retrospective next month including an extended run of a new print of Rebel Without a Cause, Dean's second movie, which was released a month after his death. A new documentary, James Dean: Forever Young, containing previously unreleased material from Warner Bros studios, to whom he was signed when he died, is to premiere at the Cannes film festival. It includes Dean's screen tests for his first film, East of Eden. And in June, Warner will release the complete trio of his films on DVD for the first time while the actor's home state of Indiana will host a huge festival involving rock concerts, screenings and lookalike competitions.

An exhibition of photographs of the young actor by Phil Stern has already opened at the Sony Ericsson Proud Central gallery in London. And George Perry, author and journalist, has produced the first biography of the young star to be authorised by his estate. Thanks to previously unseen letters and co-operation from members of the actor's family, the book, entitled simply James Dean, claims to disprove the perceived wisdom that Dean was a soul tortured by an estrangement from his father. Perry said there was "an extraordinary timeless appeal" that helped to explain the star's continuing fame. "He had this completely classless, almost sexless face. He had this pretty-boy appeal to girls but guys liked him too. He had universal appeal. And he's an emblem of being young.

"When Jimmy came on the scene 50 years ago, teenagers were a downtrodden species who were looked at as unformed adults who didn't really know how to behave properly and had to be taught. But he anticipated the Sixties, when attitudes towards the young totally changed."

Perry said he believed James Dean was a great actor and would have continued to be had he lived. Even though Dean made just three films, each was with a brilliant director and they were classics of 1950s cinema, he said.

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