Archive for June 22nd, 2016


by James Clark

     Life (2015), a film about a desultory movie star in tandem with an ambitious photojournalist, appears to be absorbed in the delivery of visual liveliness, charisma. Put into play by Anton Corbijn, a major photographer in his own right, dating from long before his movie work, there is one other aspect which changes everything: Corbijn’s photography has been focused upon rock and roll—videos, band promotional photos and portraits. The star, James Dean, could be treated as a glamorous, gifted “discovery” like that of so many others in the history of Hollywood, which is to say, a heart-throb in the mold of Adonis or Venus, having no significant historical mooring. However, if we keep our ears as well as our eyes open, we will, I think, have to accommodate James Dean’s being a fairly alert sensibility at the dawning of rock music, a participant of that restlessness being touted, in the words of an LA disc jockey listened to by the photojournalist, Dennis Stock, as he works in his darkroom at the film’s very beginning, “…new country blues song… everyone’s talking about…” Stock completes his processing the print, the DJ yells, “Don’t touch that dial, ’cause now we’ve got Lightnin’ Hopkins!” And Lightnin’ (a rock guitarist [“country blues” being his tag] ahead of his time and an inspiration for hordes of killer guitarists in subsequent decades) detonates a note which sets off an A-bomb flash of white void to magisterially dovetail with: the red glow of the lab (and its faintly grinding sonic atmosphere) and its glowing electrical red filament jumping into view like a nasty alien approaching a space-ship wall; and, moreover, the red flames of the title, Life. A cut to Stock’s driving along night-time LA streets includes Lightnin’s razor-sharp pop which puts to shame the tepid torch-singer polluting the event he sees fit to attend, making sure that his camera and supply of flash-bulbs are tip-top before exiting his black sedan (black sedan; and it’s the year 1955), and approaching the party mall where Hollywood director, Nicholas Ray, is staging a party with a view to future movie magic we soon doubt could withstand the Lightnin’ test. (more…)

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