Vancouver Queer Film Festival: James Dean portrait imagines untold side of screen legend
Legendary actor James Dean’s sexual orientation has been debated in the decades since his untimely death in a car accident in 1955. Among the relationships subject to speculation has been the actor’s connection with his UCLA roommate, William Bast.
While Bast, portrayed by Dan Glenn in Matthew Mishory’s film Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean, isn’t named, the character appears to be based in part on the screenwriter, who said in a recent book that his relationship with the actor consisted of more than just a friendship.
Mishory’s imagined version of Dean’s life just before he moved to New York and made his break as an actor includes beautifully shot scenes of Joshua Tree National Park in California. Dean’s character, played by James Preston, discusses Hollywood with struggling actress Violet (Dalilah Rain) while his roommate films the actor through an old Kodak Brownie that depicts him in colour, juxtaposed with the black and white landscape of the desert.
Punctuating these scenes are depictions of a literature-loving Dean, as he quotes lines of French poetry, or passages from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s novel Le Petit Prince.
Regardless of how accurate this portrait of the ‘outsider’ actor is, the well-shot film is an intriguing dramatization of the icon’s life in the moments before he shot to fame, as seen through the eyes of a character who will always remember him vividly in colour.
The Vancouver Queer Film Festival presents film Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean on Friday (August 24) at 7 p.m. and on Saturday (August 25) at 6:30 p.m.