Rebel Rousing Sagas
When director Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955) opened 62 years ago today, with James Dean fans still in a state of reeling despair over his tragic death in an auto accident 27 days prior, it became an immediate classic for its depiction of American society’s youth rebellion against the complacent quietude of the older generation that failed to recognize the angst in their children. Written by Stewart Stern from a story by Ray, it paved the way for a succession of movies across subsequent decades in which peer pressure, outlaw hero adulation, class differences and economic inequities would produce delinquent subcultures whose hazing rituals and violent flashpoints made for compelling and revelatory cautionary tales in countries around the world. One such manifestation in the Rebel Without a Cause mode particularly affected audiences in England, where the phenomenon of football (i.e. soccer) hooliganism was prevalent. The Firm was a powerful 1989 telefilm, written by Al Hunter Ashton and directed by Alan Clarke, explored the dangerous world of adversarial gangs of middle-class males whose only empowerment derived through injurious confrontation with other “firms,” all centered around rival football clubs, with a startling performance by the great Gary Oldman (coming next month to theaters, amazingly, as the ultimate rebel establishment figure Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour) as a charismatic firm leader, whose maverick reputation proves dazzlingly attractive to his nihilistic acolytes. Its effect was powerful and abiding, compelling filmmaker Nick Love, himself an ex-criminal alumnus of hooliganism, to remake the story with blunt and uncompromising force 18 years later as the theatrical release The Firm (2009). While preserving the intense allure the magnetic West Ham United firm leader Bex (played in this new version by Paul Anderson, lately of In the Heart of the Sea, The Revenant and the acclaimed TV series Peaky Blinders) held for aimless, impressionable teenager Dom (Calum MacNab), Love, in what may be seen as a partial homage to the relationship between Dean’s Jim Stark and Sal Mineo’s lonely Plato in Rebel, focused more on the young acolyte’s rites of passage, and the potentially scarring consequences of going down a blindly amoral road. Love's screenplay adaptation drew on his own misspent youth sucked in by the intoxicating “glamour” of men at arms in a nihilistic 1970s/1980s haze, concluding, “I wanted to show a kid getting a serious wake-up call.” The bloody and brutal clashes are staged and shot with chaotic immediacy and skillful employment of Steadicam photography by cinematographer Matt Gray (Broadchurch, The Crimson Field), and the homoerotic subtext seethes just under the roiling surface. “Yeah, of course, the erotic subtext is undeniable – their obsession with clothes, the dandyism of it,” Love observed. “They love each other but they can’t fuck, so they fight.” Across 54 years, two stories of disillusioned youth share a powerful connection. On this anniversary of wayward youth as disturbing and heartstopping entertainment, check out the rebels without a cause of The Firm (2009) on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/27062/THE-FIRM-2009/.