A Classic Movie and a Christmas Movie
This past week I watched two films that at first glance may not seem to have any connection.
I had never seen “Rebel Without a Cause.” In all my days of training in method acting, James Dean was known as a legend even though he had such a short career, dying at 24 while driving his beloved Porsche.
One of my current favorite method actors is Sam Elliot who I saw recently in the Christmas classic “Prancer.”
Elliot and Dean both represent a kind of rugged male actor. They each bring their own machismo and appeal to whatever role they appear in, even though Dean was in so few.
Although the two films seem opposite, with “Prancer” a kid’s Christmas fantasy and “Rebel Without a Cause” a true, serious, angst-ridden classic, Elliot as a widower trying to save his farm and family is an Everyman figure with a cause.
When I was studying acting, the Bibles for acting were “Acting is Believing” and “An Actor Prepares,” both by Constantin Stanislavski, the father of all method acting.
I remember getting these books my first year at the Indiana University bookstore. “An Actor Prepares” was a bright red book and “Acting is Believing” was a smaller hard-back book as well with a brown paper jacket. They were like a Bible to us and both teachers and students referred to them daily with great interest in detail.
In both Elliot and Dean you see a gut-wrenching belief in the truth of each scene they are in and both have the tormented angst-ridden quality in their characters.
I remember being in a play, “The Member of the Wedding,” where I played a character named Frankie. Frankie was torn apart by her mixed feelings about her role with respect to being a member of the wedding. Frankie’s brother was getting married in the play by Carson McCullers and he and his bride represented perfection in her imperfect world.
In Jessica Rigg’s world, “Prancer” represented perfection which she wants to see come to reality.
In “Rebel Without a Cause,” Dean’s character’s parents represent the iconic perfection of society at the time, which Dean sees as being plastic, but he is grasping for what to replace it with.
Each actor is able to make the role his or her own while not being traditional with “sense memory” by putting themselves in each situation and feeling how each person would feel in that role.
Elliot, as a widower who feels he can’t be a proper father, finally connects with his daughter through the fantasy figure of Prancer. They find each other and become closer through the symbol of Prancer as the spirit of Christmas.
Now I know most people would never connect these two movies, but because of my past acting studies, I see the strong connection.