Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean is lazy pretentious filmmaking and is a waste of time to watch. The film is more like a homosexual hipster’s fantastic imagination of what James Dean’s life was like, glorifying his sexual escapades rather than presenting a real human being. Instead of having anything to say about the Hollywood icon, the film is just a jumble of non-linear segments showing various points in James Dean’s life, while having almost no connection between them besides the fact that the main character is James Dean. The filmmakers show us snippets of Dean’s life both in his acting school days and when he is on the cusp of becoming famous, yet are unable to show him as a fleshed out character. The scenes detailing his pre-fame life show him in his acting class learning the craft and with his roommate/boyfriend whom he slowly starts to detach from as he begins striving for fame and then jumps forward to when he is a cocky wanna-be movie star who is willing to do anything and sleep with anyone to get fame. The story has almost no conflict and none of the characters (including James Dean) have any depth to them.
The acting in the film ranges from student film acting to just downright horrible. The cinematography is atrocious, with many mistakes in the lighting such as having shadows in frame that should not be there. The sound quality is also sub par due to wind noise in outdoor scenes and audio levels apparently not adjusted properly. While there are many talented directors who have made great films without having ever gone to any film school, I would say that the makers of Joshua Tree, 1951 should’ve probably gone (or gone back) to learn some basic filmmaking techniques. Good acting, writing, cinematography and direction are all missing from this movie that is an insult to James Dean’s life.
Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean screens Friday, July 13 at 5:00 PM and Monday, July 16 at 7:15 PM as part of the 2012 QFest.