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SCRIPTWRITER LUKE DAVIES TALKS ABOUT 'LIFE'

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SCRIPTWRITER LUKE DAVIES TALKS ABOUT 'LIFE'






It’s a moment frozen in time. James Dean walks through a deserted Times Square, hunched against the rain in a woollen trench coat, a cigarette clamped between his teeth. First published in Life magazine in March 1955, only six months before Dean was killed in a car accident, the image forever cast the actor as an angst-ridden young man.

The photo is just one in a series photographer Dennis Stock took, following Dean from Los Angeles film premieres to New York movement classes and family dinners at Dean’s uncle’s farm in Indiana. Taken over three months, Dean was a relative unknown at the time (his position in popular consciousness largely came posthumously). And while these photographs became famous, not much is known about what happened to the two men between the frames.

Speaking on the line from Los Angeles, Australian author and screenwriter Luke Davies says it was this that he wanted to explore in the new film Life, starring Dane DeHaan as Dean and Robert Pattinson as Stock. He was approached by producer Iain Canning of See-Saw films, the team behind another unlikely male friendship film, The King’s Speech, who wanted to tell a “big iconic American story” about Dean.

During his research into Dean’s life, Davies discovered the improbable friendship that developed between the two men. “What a lot of people don’t realise is that at that moment Dennis Stock was the powerful figure who had something to offer to James Dean, who was conflicted about what it was that was being offered: a doorway into the fame machine.” A regular Life magazine contributor, the photographer met the actor at a Hollywood party. At Dean’s invitation, he saw an early screening of the film East of Eden and instantly recognised the charisma and incandescence that would see the actor explode into pop cultural consciousness.

The two men came from different backgrounds: one a restless actor from the country, the other an ambitious city-slicker photographer, so Davies imagined the relationship could have been fraught, at least to begin with. Dean was known to be unreliable; Stock took himself very seriously, and would have been frustrated by Dean’s evasiveness. Yet the photographs became increasingly personal as their friendship deepened.

Although much has been written about Dean, Davies found insight in unexpected sources, like the love letters he wrote to actress Barbara Glenn when he was 21. He also spoke to actor Martin Landau, one of Dean’s close friends. Landau told him the perception of Dean as brooding and long-suffering was a myth, based on his performances in East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant, rather than reality. “The real Jimmy was a bit more mischievous,” he was told.

It’s something actor DeHaan captures in his onscreen performance, says Davies. “[DeHaan] retained some of the bumbling innocent who had a power that he could somewhat harness and somewhat had no control over it.”

Stock’s personality was easier to uncover. Davies says his ex-wives described the photographer as “a classic old school misogynist”. While the film has depicted him in a more flattering light, Pattinson retains a certain hard-done-by attitude. “It was great casting him as the angular Dennis character, always a little bit on edge, by not feeling that he was getting recognised in the right way.

“I’m sure that’s not Rob Pattinson’s experience, [of] not getting recognised, but there is a discomfort, which he got to channel.”

Stock had mixed feelings about the Life photographs, says Davies. “He went through his life with a real chip on his shoulder that the thing that paid his rent for the next 40 years was that moment in time, not all the other stuff he did. I think it was both a curse and a blessing.”

Having shot to national fame for his autobiographical debut novel Candy: A Life of Love and Addiction, about a pair of heroin-addicted lovers, being defined by one’s early work is something Davies would know a little about. He also co-wrote the 2006 film version with director Neil Armfield, which starred Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish.

More recently Davies has seen filming completed on Lion, his script about a young Indian boy who gets lost on a train, is adopted by an Australian couple, and then goes in search of his birth family. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Dev Patel and David Wenham, and is due for release in 2016.

There is plenty of anticipation around the film, and Davies says Lion and Life are the only types of film he wants to work on. “I don’t want to write the bullshit film. I don’t want to write the ones that are the vast majority of the experiences in the cinema that are like, ‘that was obvious, that was loud and in your face in an uninteresting way’.

“The only films that really matter to me are the ones where there are characters whose interactions are moving.”

He’s also working on Sunday Girl, a biopic about Blondie’s Deborah Harry. His excitement about the film is palpable. “Without Deborah Harry, there’s no Madonna, there’s no Lady Gaga and beyond. There was something that she did that was very new and powerful in pop, and she was responsible for a change in the way the world acted.”

He likens Harry to Dean, and the powerful effect his films had. “It was an expression of raw teen angst that made the youth of the world suddenly feel like they had a voice.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/02/luke-davies-on-mischievous-james-dean-and-the-myth-of-a-broody-youth
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