The James Dean Story/The Bells Of Cockaigne
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Details At A Glance
||Yes, 1 - Rebel Without A Cause 2.35:1, Dolby Digital
||The James Dean Story: 79:42
The Bells Of Cockaigne: 29:36
||Introduction by Tony Curtis, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Cast & Crew
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio
||English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192 kb/s)
|Theatrical Aspect Ratio
|Annoying Product Placement
|Action In or After Credits
The life of James Dean has been the subject of
some fascination for nearly half a century now, although I am still somewhat
hard-pressed to find exactly what the fuss is about. Another long-forgotten
film about his life's story has an allegedly authentic radio commentary
comparing him with fellow actor Marlon Brando, but I cannot honestly
imagine the man playing any role in The Godfather, to name
an example. Most of his legend comes from not having lived long enough
to get such roles, in my ever-so-humble view. This double feature, however,
is meant to offer an insight into the man and his life, for what it's worth.
Whether it succeeds or not depends at what level you are looking at it
from. If you're looking at it from my level, it has little success because
it fails to make his life's story of any interest. If you're looking at
it from the level of the average fan, however, I suppose this is telling
a fascinating enough story. I have to plead ignorance, I am afraid, because
I had never before seen anything with James Dean in it. He did,
however, seem to have a lot more appeal than most of the other actors of
his time, despite the fact that Mickey Rourke describes James and
his ilk as "little brats" that should be thankful they never had to live
on the street. In any case, this DVD can be divided in two halves: a documentary
called The James Dean Story, and a one hour TV drama called
Bells Of Cockaigne. Because these two titles are presented as a
single "special edition" disc, I shall dissect them both in one shot.
According to the blurb on the packaging, the content
of this DVD has been "digitally mastered from the best available sources
for the highest quality possible". If this is true, then The James
Dean Story must have been found buried in a backyard somewhere
in the vicinity of Hollywood. The vintage of The James Dean Story
is the only saving grace in the video transfer. It exhibits artefacts of
every kind except the MPEG variety, which is just as well because the source
material must have been in truly awful shape. Film specks and vertical
lines are very prevalent during at least half of the footage, as are aliasing
and what appears to be telecine wobble as the result of poor zooming techniques.
Film grain and vertical wobble are especially noticeable during still shots,
when the zoom outs make vertical wobble more interesting than the shot
itself, which is grainy and speckled anyway. I'd estimate the age of the
film itself to be between thirty and forty years, which makes the quality
all the more disappointing when you consider that Jason
And The Argonauts is of similar vintage.
The video quality of The Bells Of Cockaigne
is even worse. Film spots, film grain, and even smudges of dirt are so
prevalent in this feature that it makes me sorely wish someone else had
been selected to do this review. Well, actually, I don't - I think the
other reviewers have copped enough titles with this kind of video quality
for the time being. In any case, I sure hope that more care is taken with
other James Dean features when they are eventually transferred to
Both features are presented in Full Frame mode, and
they are not 16x9 enhanced. I somehow doubt that this feature would have
made much difference in the video quality, because there isn't much one
could really do for either half of this double feature.
The audio for both features is presented in Dolby Digital
2.0 mono. Which is fair enough, given that stereo sound as a concept was
restricted to the imagination and large wallet when both features were
shot. The James Dean Story, however, is abysmal in this regard,
with the narrator asking interviewees questions which they answer after
a noticeable pause. There is no smooth flow to the interviews at all, and
they seem to interview everyone who knew James Dean except those
who fulfil two conditions: they a) might have actually worked with him
and b) would be memorable to any audience. An interview with fellow rising
star Marlon Brando would have done this particular feature wonders.
Annoyingly, the narration gives a sense of being recorded both before and
after Dean's death, and it is impossible to pick exactly when it was made
by listening to it. Thankfully, the sound in The Bells Of Cockaigne
is restricted to the dialogue, score music, and limited sound effects,
which is the kindest thing that can be really said for it.
Only one audio track is included
with this DVD - English in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Given that this disc
is playable in all regions, it makes me wonder exactly what sort of marketing
strategy the distributors plan to follow in non-English speaking communities.
I simply cannot imagine this disc being offered for sale anywhere where
there isn't a large contingent of James Dean fanatics, which rules
out everywhere except America, Australasia, and the UK.
You know a presentation is in trouble when the extras
are more watchable than the feature they accompany, even when they are
so ordinary by the standards of other extras.
The menu is basically a photograph of James Dean
with some options displayed over it. It is not 16x9 enhanced and has no
audio. It is far more pleasant to look at than the artefact-riddled features.
Introduction by Tony Curtis
Like the menu, this extra is far more pleasant to look
at than the features.
Theatrical Trailer - Rebel Without A Cause
This trailer is also much easier on the eyes than the
features (are we picking up a pattern yet?). It is presented at an aspect
ratio of 2.35:1, with Dolby Digital mono sound. It also has the advantage
R4 vs R1
Because this is a multiple-region disc, I am assuming
that either this disc's extras are the same all over the world, or it hasn't
been released in Region 1 [Ed. Same disc worldwide].
Either way, this disc's quality is so terrible I would not bother anyway.
I simply cannot imagine any serious James Dean fan doing anything
with this disc other than demanding better quality.
The James Dean Story validates that old
saying that some things are better left buried. Ditto for The Bells
The video transfer has to be the worst I've ever
seen, even given the content's incredible age.
The audio quality ranges from ordinary by mono standards
The extras are of no value.
© Dean McIntosh
January 18, 2000
||Grundig GDV 100 D
||Panasonic 51cm and 68 cm models, via composite input
||Panasonic S-J1500D front speakers, Sharp CP-303A back
speakers, Sony SS-CN120 centre speaker, Yamaha B100-115SE subwoofer