James Franco offers a new spin on “Rebel Without a Cause”

May 12, 2012

Ed Ruscha, Rebel, 2011, acrylic on canvas, courtesy of the artist Credit: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

When filming began on “Rebel Without a Cause,” Warner Brothers considered it nothing more than a B-movie about delinquent teenagers, allotting it the usual black-and-white stock. But along the way someone made the realization that the film’s lead actor, James Dean, was set for stardom, and the studio switched over to full-color. The film went on to earn a place in the country’s cultural history, as well as on the National Film Registry.

While much of the praise and attention focused on Dean’s performance, the plot and subplots – which involves strained family relations, a certain kind of claustrophobia felt by white, disaffected suburban youth, homoeroticism, and questions about masculinity – tapped deep into a certain zeitgeist amongst American youth. Whether or not these themes remain relevant has been taken for granted, but a new art show co-curated by the actor, filmmaker and artist James Franco for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) will likely bring these questions to the fore.

In an interview with Flaunt magazine, Franco explained that his intent was to use “the original film as material inspiration and as a connection to the history of Hollywood [and] mass entertainment.” Franco commissioned pieces by artists like Ed Ruscha, Paul McCarthy, and Harmony Korine, and appears in many of the video works, including Korine’s reinterpretation of the film’s knife fight, using female gang members on BMX bikes. The exhibit, called “Rebel,” opens on May 15 and has already been both lauded and panned.


What do you take from “Rebel Without A Cause”? Is the film still relevant? Will you be going to see the exhibit?


James Franco, actor, filmmaker and artist; Franco has just co-curated a group show about “Rebel Without a Cause” for MOCA here in Los Angeles, which opens 5/15.

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