The 1950s - but only from a distance



As incredible and improbable as it sounds, part of me wishes I was 70 rather than 50. Or even 80. Time and again, I am reminded of music and films that I wish I had experienced first hand in the 1950s.

This week, I've had to watch a new film biography of James Dean set in 1951 (my life is a tough one). A little violent, it is nevertheless beautifully shot in black and white and I always imagine my unlived life in the past as being conducted in sepia tones..

Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean comes out on DVD in a couple of months and it is well worth a view. Just don't watch it with your parents or your children. I'm no prude, but some things are best left in the privacy of a relationship. That said, this is truly a beautiful film and one which I intend to watch again.

My favourite scenes are the flashacks to the drama classes at UCLA. It seems important. More than anything, I love the ubiquitous books and the fact that I NEVER knew Dean's middle name was Byron.

The soundtrack is reminiscent of the era and acts as a beautiful echo to the cinematography. Arban Ornelas and Steven Severin create moments of great beauty that do more than fill the silences between dialogue. The references to the literary background and intellect of Dean has to be based on fact. I can't bear the idea of that being fictitious.

I don't want to single out any of the actors, as this is a film where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Clearly a labour of love by writer and director Matthew Mishory, Joshua Tree 1951 evokes the memory of James Dean and recreates him on screen.

If I was approaching 80, as my mother is in reality, I would have lived through that era and maybe heard some of my heroes like Tubby Hayes and even - though I scarcely dare dream it - the immense talent of John Coltrane.

Born as I was in 1963, my musical experience was Pink Floyd and The Stranglers via my older brother and I was never cool. I like to think that the 1950s me would have been cool. I would have worn the right clothes and smoked the right cigarettes (with no sense of guilt). I would have listened to some great music and maybe, just maybe, even played some.

Take me back to 1951 and let me hear the coolest, coolest jazz. Let me see James Dean on the silver screen. If not, then let me forever watch films like Joshua Tree 1951 and delve into the era from a distance. And let me seek out the music that will stand the test of time the way some of that jazz has stood tall.


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