James Dean Story… how did Altman get away with it?

This blog has begun due to my interest in film and film making… well that should be the reason. It is mostly to do with having just watched the first 20 minutes of Robert Altman’s ‘James Dean Story’ and not believing that he got away with it.

I will try and watch the whole thing maybe if I can stand it. But in the first 20mins it is plain enough to see what is going on. My blogging muscles are just warming up so here are some words from the IMDB board. The post below mentions many of the points I pondered whilst watching this ‘documentry’.
From user’housebluehill’ on 16th Sept 2004,

‘I watched the movie because Robert Altman directed it, but I’d assumed it was going to be a straight forward documentary of Dean’s life. Then about half way through it something didn’t feel right. The people being interviewed spoke like they were on automatic pilot and the childhood photographs chosen for the movie had the quality of a spoof. I watched it a second time and realized it was Altman’s documentary of the American Celebrity Cult, not James Dean. Our devotion to movie actors was reaching a new zenith in the 1950’s and the life and death of Dean was a timely example of it. It’s a movie about us in the same way Nashville is, or A Wedding, or Short Cuts.’

So yeah, it is a spoof, Altman is blatantly taking the piss. At the time the film was made I can understand why this attitude was not detected by most, but with our knowledge of Altman’s susbsequent films we can now see it for what it is.

The thing is, I’m not very comfortable with this realisation.

So Robert Altman made a satirical film in 1957 about the phenonmenon of Celebrity in the guise of a heart-felt money-making homage to a movie star.

Altman is affronted at the very thought of making a sentimental ornament to oil the movie industry machine. He persues his own agenda.
But pushing his agenda makes a fool out of everyone interviewed in the film, the majority of the viewing public and of course, the movie producers.
It seems to be in very poor taste, considering the suposed subject of the film, but also incredibly risky for Altman. To ridicule the entire establishment at such an early stage of his career has got to be admired, but as I say, it does a bad taste in the mouth.

The problem is that it becomes propaganda just like the propaganda of Celebrity (aka Capitalism) that it is criticising. This propaganda being overtly cynical and astute under the veil of the establishment aesthetic (in order to provoke ideas). The establishment is cynical and astute under the veil of entertainment aesthetic (in order to make money).
Is this then Altman’s response to the McCarthyism of the 50s?

I need to watch the rest of it

But I hate how preachy Altman can be, and it is beginning to annoy me.

Altman has his cake, eats it, then sells it to the other guy as a pork pie.

I will grin and bear it, and report back on my findings.
to be continued …}


other thoughts

The Great Dictator (1940) > http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032553/

Citizen Kane  (1941) > http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033467/?ref_=nv_sr_2

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988) > http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094075/

McCabe and Mrs Miller ( 1971) > http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067411/

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