Every five years or so, I pull out Rebel Without a Cause and take a deep breath. I know what’s coming- a film with so much tension that I feel wrecked afterward. Why do I watch? Because I like to be reminded of the power of cinema, and the actor’s ability to make emotions resonate with a viewer. James Dean was one such prolific actor, and Rebel Without a Cause (DVD/Download) is his enduring masterpiece.
Before the teen films of John Hughes or Amy Heckerling, even before Splendor in the Grass, there was Rebel. This film is important to our cinematic history because it’s one of the first widely viewed films that gives an honest portrayal of teen angst. That restless feeling of being scared even when you’re not sure what you’re scared of, like you’re crawling out of your own skin (what Holly Golightly categorized as “the mean reds”)- that’s the emotion that this film captures so perfectly. By watching a day in the life of these Los Angeles teens, we start to empathize with the hopeless feelings of being misunderstood and judged for reasons beyond one’s control. Rebel may have been made in 1955, but it will never feel dated because those emotions will never stop being real.
The film opens with a scene of James Dean rolling around drunk on the sidewalk. Eventually his public display of disorderly behavior lands him in a jail cell where he meets fellow delinquents played by Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. I’m not saying you should drink enough to find yourself in the same boat, but if there was ever a movie that needed to be chased with a cocktail, it’s this one. While watching Rebel Without a Cause, I recommend drinking a Toreador.
1 part Spanish red wine (such as Tempranillo)
1 part lemon-lime soda
Slice of lemon
Build drink in a glass over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with the lemon slice.
This cocktail reminds me of that iconic jacket James Dean wears- a fire-engine red number that’s slightly geeky by today’s standards, but on him, with that popped collar, looks effortlessly cool. The color symbolizes the fire and passion churning under his skin, and as bullies and thugs taunt him, he actually becomes that toreador, wielding his switchblade like a spear. Rebel Without a Cause gained notoriety due to Dean’s untimely death just before the picture’s release, but even without the backstory, the film itself is Shakespearean in its tragedy. You might need that full bottle of wine tonight. Cheers!