February has exited stage-past, wagging its sheepish tail, and we see false spring all about us. What will March bring us? Well, for one thing it will certainly bring us the TFC James Dean Tribute. This very Friday, 3/6/10, the Club is very proud to screen Dean’s first film, EAST OF EDEN (1955). Ironically, this was the only film released before his death in September 1955. It was directed by the legend, Elia Kazan, a man much respected–yet much reviled by many in Hollywood. He was never fully forgiven for “naming names” to HUAC in 1952. He was one of the founders of the Actor’s Studio in the late 40’s, and had built a reputation as a theater director on Broadway; winner of 3 Tonys, and nominated four other times. Some of his early film directing successes included GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT (1947), winning an Oscar as Best Director, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951), VIVA ZAPATA (1952), and ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), winning an Oscar as Best Director. EDEN was kind of a creative watershed moment for him–he never really captured the lightning or the magic after that film; with the possible exceptions of A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957), or the esoteric and biographical AMERICA, AMERICA (1963). It is said that he toyed with the idea of casting Marlon Brando as Cal, and Montgomery Clift as Aaron, but at 30 and 34 years old, they never could have pulled off the teenage angst. Embracing more irony, he died in September 2003, the same month as James Dean. Kazan was 94 years old.
Kazan said of James Dean: “His body was very graphic–it was almost writhing in pain sometimes. I felt he was like a cripple inside, moody, sad, and sulky–like he was going to cry at any moment.”
John Steinbeck co-wrote the screenplay for EDEN, and Kazan was only interested in the last 80 pages of the novel. A more complete rendering of the book was done as a mini-series for television, EAST OF EDEN (1981), as a showcase for Jane Seymour as harlot femme Cathy, and Timothy Bottoms as patriarch Adam; Sam Bottom played son, Cal, and Hart Bochner played Aaron. Steinbeck had already collaborated successfully with Kazan on VIVA ZAPATA (1952). The writer, after he met James Dean, did not like him personally, but reported Dean was “It–the embodiment of Cal “.
Julie Harris played Abra, and EDEN was only her second film, following MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (1952). She had worked with Kazan at the Actor’s Studio, and in theater, and she was receptive to Dean’s constant need for improvising. Most of her distinguished career was on the stage and in a myriad of television roles. One of her most memorable film roles was in REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1962). One very successful role was that of Emily Dickinson, filmed for television as THE BELLE OF AMHERST (1976).
Abra: “I love you, Cal, even though I am afraid of you.”
Somewhere there is supposed to be a copy of the screen test for EDEN, with James Dean and Paul Newman playing rival brothers, with Dean playing Aaron. Paul Newman came very close to winning the part of Cal. Dean was disliked by Raymond Massey, and he provoked Massey off-camera, to Kazan’s delight, to heighten the antagonism between their characters on screen. Dean did not show for the EDEN premiere party, and this moody stunt almost caused him the lead role in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). Taking a supporting, but pivotal role in GIANT (1956), Dean was trying to break out of the teenage angst role mold.
EAST OF EDEN (1955) Directed by Elia Kazan @ 115 minutes.
The film starred James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet, Burl Ives, Albert Dekker, Nick Dennis, and Timothy Carey. Tagline: “Of what a girl did…what a boy did…of ecstasy and revenge.” Synopsis: This is John Steinbeck’s contemporary retelling of the biblical Cain and Abel saga. Dean in his first starring role, hailed as the New Brando, shares with us a young man’s search for love and acceptance–that defines adolescent angst. Based on the award-winning best seller by Steinbeck, this film won an Oscar for Jo Van Fleet, two awards at Cannes for Elia Kazan, and a Golden Globe as “Best Picture”.
The musical score for EDEN was written by Leonard Rosenman, a personal friend of James Dean from New York. Dean introduced him to Elia Kazan. EDEN was his first credit for film scoring. His 60 year career included 103 other film scores; movies like REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), PORK CHOP HILL (1959), HELL IS FOR HEROES (1962), FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966), A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970), and yet another irony, SEPTEMBER 30, 1955 (1977).
Ted McCord was the veteran studio cinematographer hired to shoot EAST OF EDEN. This was his 136th film already, starting his career 1921. He also shot THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1947), THE HANGING TREE (1959), and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).
So kick your March in the pants and join us this Friday, March 6, 2010, for an important screening of Elia Kazan’s EAST OF EDEN (1955), at the Center for Spiritual Living, at 206 North J Street, located at the corner of Division and J streets in Tacoma. Furthering our club mission of “Films, Fellowship, and Fun”, arrive early, come downstairs to the kitchen area and join the rest of we early comers who will already be engaged in conversation and banter about films and life, or life in films, or life as film, or life as a dream, or dreams in film. The Phantom Director and Farishta will have prepared a sumptuous meal for us, and they will serve it around 6:15pm. We will have the old standby raffle, for those who like to purchase a chance at winning cash or a quality DVD. At around 7pm, we will adjourn upstairs to watch a short; a film, or comedy, or cartoon. Then we will enjoy the raffle results, and be privy to the host’s introduction of our main feature, EAST OF EDEN, which will screen around 7:20pm (for you late comers). See you at the movies!