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September 30, 1955
It's been more than 65 years and James Dean's tragic death at 24 remains a moment in time for a lot of people who weren't alive when he was born, much less when he passed. It was such a shock to people that movies have been made, at least two that I'm aware of, and we'll take a peek at September 30, 1955, not the only one based on fictional emotions on a nonfictional event.
Written and directed by James Bridges (The China Syndrome), the film looks at Dean's death and its impact in a small Arkansas town; the film's protagonist Jimmy J. (Richard Thomas, Taking Woodstock) takes Dean's death the hardest, and trying to process it with his friends; Billie Jean (Lisa Blount, An Officer and a Gentleman) takes it almost as hard, and Hanley (Tom Hulce, Amadeus) seems to understand a little of his processing, at least more than Frank (Dennis Quaid, Breaking Away). The film shows us 24 hours in their lives upon hearing the devastating news.
At first, the film kind of focuses on how these kids sort of handle the death of someone so young and who had so much meaning in their lives. And I get it; given what I saw when Kurt Cobain died when I was roughly the same age as James Dean, it can (and did!) shock you to the core. You're not sure what to do and how to act and the feelings Jimmy J. exhibits here are relatable in that they're irrational but understandable. Everyone's had that type of detached loss in their lives and I get it, I just hope folks younger than I are helped by whatever it is that I can do.
The performances are honest and worthwhile; it's crazy to think that two years before Quad had his breakout role and Hulce had his in Animal House, that Thomas was the focus of attention in the film, and he handles things pretty well as someone who's a fan of Dean's work and larger meaning of it, and tries to do what he can to handle his death. Blount was five years before Officer and you can sense the charisma she had on-screen even then, and you kind of wonder why it took so long for someone to give her a bigger break then.
All in all, September 30, 1955 shows us someone who mourns the loss of someone they had no connection to whatsoever and as it turns out, their evolution over the course of the film kind of mirrors Dean's in a weird way. Which I guess is how a lot of people who achieve stardom and die before their time have things happen, whether it's James Dean, Kurt Cobain or who have you.The Video:
The 1.85:1 high-definition presentation of the film was pretty good; you get image detail in sand just in front of a lake, or in grass on a football field or larger, darker makeup in faces. Prosthetics have a bit of detail to them also and black levels are sharp, and things like hair and clothing even include some detail to boot. Not knowing what to expec from the film. It turned out to be OK. Gordon Willis' cinematography gets a chance to stand out.The Sound:
DTS-HD MA two-channel, which includes a nice score and sound effects. Dialogue is placed nicely in the center of the soundtrack, and the film lacks any directional effects, channel panning or low-end fidelity. What it communicates it does fine.Extras:
Save a trailer for this film and a few others, the only other extra is a commentary with Peter Tonguette, who wrote "The Films of James Bridges" which examines the work of the director. On the track he gives some biographical information about himself and the cast, and on character dynamics and motivations in the story. He also gets into how it changed himself and how it changed Bridges' work, and biographical information on the director/topic of his book. It's a nice look at the film, but one that's more focused on the director than the cast.Final Thoughts:
There are moments when September 30, 1955 comes off as more of an After School Special, but it's intentions are heartfelt and its execution almost meets it. But it doesn't have much of a ceiling past lonely stray thoughts of a country teenager (and perhaps a little warped if the final moments are any indication), but it serves as a nice view into what a death can symbolize for a young person, even if that young person is John-Boy. Worth taking a look at.