The James Dean Story/The Bells Of Cockaigne

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Rebel Without A Cause 2.35:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1998 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time The James Dean Story: 79:42
The Bells Of Cockaigne: 29:36 
Other Extras Introduction by Tony Curtis, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Various
Laserlight/Delta Entertainment
MRA Entertainment
Starring James Dean
RRP $19.95 Music Unknown
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192 kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio ?
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles Spanish
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    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 The Bells Of Cockaigne. Because these two titles are presented as a single "special edition" disc, I shall dissect them both in one shot.

Transfer Quality


    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 DVD.

    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 of colour.

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 of Cockaigne.

    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 to abysmal.

    The extras are of no value.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Dean McIntosh
January 18, 2000
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D
Display Panasonic 51cm and 68 cm models, via composite input
Audio Decoder None
Amplification Sony STR-DE535
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D front speakers, Sharp CP-303A back speakers, Sony SS-CN120 centre speaker, Yamaha B100-115SE subwoofer