Chicken Run sequence analysis, Rebel Without a Cause (2022)

Chicken Run sequence analysis, Rebel Without a Cause (1)

“It was all in the script” a disillusioned writer will tell you. But it was never all in the script. If it were, why make the movie?’[1] Nicholas Ray is known as a ‘rebel auteur.’[2] During the rise of the youthquake[3], Ray accurately depicts the distorted, dark, confused world of the new generation, fighting against a sense of self emerging in an alienated industrial era (arguably definable as the start of the postmodernist époque), as opposed to a constructed identity imposed by the values of the older generation unconsciously trapping them in a sort of platonic cave. In Rebel without a Cause, the ‘chicken run’ sequence serves as a culmination point and marks the disentanglement of action after a progressive buildup of tension towards the explosion provided by the death of Buzz. Ray masters the use of cinematography in order to submerge the viewer in the chaotic and often incomprehensible world of adolescents.

The 1950s mark a période charnière in the Hollywood film industry. Television was rapidly affirming its dominance, post war migrations increasingly directed the population towards the suburbs, protectionist precautions threatened Hollywood’s dominance across the globe, and ‘the morality and patriotism of Hollywood films and filmmakers’[4], which was once taken as sacred, was no longer unquestionable. ‘Actors are afraid to act, writers are afraid to write, and producers are afraid to produce.’[5] In a desperate desire to compete with the rise of the television industry, directors experimented through cinematography in order to satisfy the ‘less loyal and more demanding audiences of the 1950s.’[6] The democratic shift and affirmation of the pop- culture, created material targeting American youth.

The greatness of Ray’s widescreen promises the treatment of great themes by simultaneously introducing elements ‘which intrude into the frame and at the same time disrupt and unify his images.’[7] Ray manages to assemble compositions in which many narrative strings are interwoven. The separation of the frame and the creation of depth, accompanied by an unsettling choice of music, increase the building up of tension by allowing the viewer to notice multiple details at once through anticipating shots. Only seconds before the confrontation between Ray and Buzz, the audience’s attention is captured by the filling of the foreground through the movement provided by Buzz’s supporters surrounding his vehicle. Yet the audience does not fail to notice Ray’s prudent gesture testing the opening of his door, a detail demonstrating the fear assailing the protagonist, juxtaposed to the overconfidence of his rival. The widescreen experimentation distinguishes the cinema screen from the competition of the television screen through a greater representation of space, allowing the creation of complex compositions. This increase in perception sensitivity allows the viewer to experience the enhanced stimuli comparable to the overwhelming manner in which adolescents gather information and experience the world. Many (at the time) inexplicable details are assembled in order to foreshadow a tragic fate.

It is possible to argue however that Ray’s use of ‘“incomplete” shots, so that the montage becomes a ‘pattern of interruptions in which each image seems to force its way on to the screen at the expense of its predecessor’[8], draws the viewer’s attention to elements of cinematography through an awareness of his work without however allowing the audience to uncover the overall meaning it is willing to portray. This rapid ensemble of edited images, provides various representations of the same scene through different and often improbable angles and points of view. The car explosion is experienced through behind the shoulder shots allowing a certain intimacy to create a connection with the victim, while overhead shots, comparable to the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg[9], are juxtaposed to low angle shots, following the dramatic reaction provoked in the crowd. Ray adapts cinema through unusual angles and modern compositions in order to provide new ways of depicting a modernised world and a space to fit the perspectives of the new generation. Ultimately, ‘the world he creates on the screen is the world seen by his characters. His dislocated editing style reflects the dislocated lives which many of his characters lead…The abrupt cut contributes to a feeling of dislocation, of disharmony. But, through its integration of an apparently extraneous element it suggests also a hidden unity.’[10]

  • Chicken Run sequence analysis, Rebel Without a Cause (2)
  • Chicken Run sequence analysis, Rebel Without a Cause (3)

The unintended, yet nevertheless effective connotations, established by James Dean’s proximity to a vehicle, highly contribute to the creation of tension. He was killed in a car accident six months after the release of his first film, East Of Eden, and days before the premiere of his second, Rebel Without A Cause; while his third, Giant, had only just finished being shot. Similarly to Buzz’s entanglement to the door handle, James Dean’s death was known to have been provoked by the entanglement of his feet in the clutch and brake pedals. The intensity and reception of the scene must have had a more violent impact to the audience of the time. Yet James Dean’s performance seems relevant to this day. Although well before Elvis gave birth to the rock and roll era, Dean’s image was one of a ‘rock star.’[11] In an interview, a sculptor and collector of Dean memorabilia, Kenneth Kendall, is known to have stated that “there’s one wonderful thing about dead movie stars – they can’t disappoint you, which is about all the live ones are capable of.”[12]

(Video) Preparing for the Chicken Run: Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

Chicken Run sequence analysis, Rebel Without a Cause (4)

It is difficult to imagine Rebel without a Cause in the absence of Jim’s symbolic red jacket and the extraordinary use of colour, either in complete harmony or vigorously in contrast to the background. The film had been planned as a low budget black and white film, and a week’s shooting had taken place in monochrome before, following positive studio reaction to East of Eden, it was decided to begin again in colour.[13] The appearance of the iconic red jacket first occurs in the ‘chicken run sequence.’ Although no character is ultimately portrayed as a villain and a connection is established through the intimate sharing of the cigarette and the hidden presence of red in the interior design of Buzz’s leather jacket, the characters are clearly in competition. Close up shots juxtapose two approaches, two attitudes towards society. Buzz and his company seem to unconsciously embrace and not question to the slightest degree the new norms of society. The crowd seems undistinguishable, all characters seem to blend with the colour palette of the environment which surrounds them. There seems to be no particular will to distinguish one’s self. Industrialisation has provoked the standardisation of people, not only machines. Through incredible symmetrical shots and architecture, the crowd is confused with the movement of cars. The post-modernist era seems to have dehumanized society as longshots of cars replace close ups of characters portraying emotion. Each individual remains enclosed to himself.

In an extraordinary shot after Buzz’s fall, his company in uniform is aligned in an unbalanced low angle shot until Jim enters the frame, and although at a vulnerable height, compared to the others, distinguishes himself and demonstrates a non-alignment spirit through his red jacket, allowing him to remain central to the shot. The colour red, symbol of a passionate youth, is a recurring motif throughout the film. Jim’s red jacket represents his shield from society, echoing all that he desires, including Judy’s red lips presented in the opening shot of the film. The sequence seems to highly revolve around Judy, distinguishable by her brighter light shade pink ensemble, defining a less prominent, still unclear sense of self, she organises the choreography of the sequence acting like a chef d’orchestre culminating in the moment in which the camera drastically zooms out from a medium close up to an extreme long shot, proving light to the scene and signaling the start of the modern version of a dual for honour and love.

The dark motif is also a recurring theme in Rebel without a Cause. ‘It is Ray’s intense sensitivity to time that makes one feel the night as something more than the absence of sunlight… Night is the time of confusion and insecurity, the time when parents are asleep.’[14] It is interesting to note that the film was originally entitled ‘The Blind Run.’ The recurring absence of light and constant references to it, from Judy’s signal which illuminates the scenery to Jim’s last cry to ‘turn off the lights’, may be connected to Plato’s allegory of the Cave. Ray’s portrayal of adolescents is comparable to the prisoners ‘enslaved thus, since childhood’ perceiving ‘the insubstantial shadows and the echoes of things reverberating from the cave wall as reality; with no other experience, they understand this as the totality of being.’[15] This parallelism is evident in Plato’s character (John Crawford), whose exposure to light terrifies him and is emphasized through close ups, building tension and delaying the progression of the sequence, ultimately foreshadowing his tragic death. Plato’s allegory of the cave is therefore directly linked to children confined by the views and experiences of previous generations and the rules and expectations imposed by society. Essentially, children experience projected shadows of the world, a constructed world reflecting an image of the ‘real world’.

To conclude, Nicholas Ray adapts cinematography to the needs of the new generation, depicting concerns emerging from the affirmation of a new period in history: the postmodern era. Comparable to the role of the final act of Shakespeare plays, the ‘chicken run’ sequence serves as a culmination point to the buildup of tension and progressive delay, leading to the explosion of Buzz’s car, paralleled to the explosion of the star in the planetarium. Setting the trajectory towards the film’s action and denouement, Ray captivates the audience through an absolute mastery of the widescreen which the viewer is able to notice yet is unable to explain, precisely portraying the world experienced by adolescents.

Chicken Run sequence analysis, Rebel Without a Cause (5)

Bibliography

Connoly, Ray. James Dean – Fifty Nine Years Later and Still Contemporary (2014)

(Video) The Chicken Run: Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1925), chapter 2

Fraser, Lauren. James Dean: Film Inquiry (2016)

Kirshner Jonathan. Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America p.11 (2012)

Perkins, V.F. 1936-2016: A Tribute: ‘The Cinema of Nicholas Ray.’ Ray, Cameron Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism (1962-2000) Issue 7

Ray, Nicholas. ‘I was interrupted.’ (1995). p.191

Reich, James. Plato’s cave: Platonic allegory in Rebel without a Cause, (2017)

Scheibel, Will. ‘Journal of Gender Studies’: Rebel masculinities of star (2014)

(Video) Rebel without a Cause (1955) Film Analysis

Thomson, Gale. ‘History of the American Cinema’ (1990)

Vreeland, Diana. Youthquake: Vogue magazine (July, 1965)

[1] Ray, Nicholas. ‘I was interrupted.’ (1995). p.191

[2] Scheibel, Will. ‘Journal of Gender Studies’: Rebel masculinities of star (2014)

[3] Vreeland, Diana. Youthquake: Vogue magazine (July, 1965)

[4] Thomson, Gale. History of the American Cinema’ (1990)

[5] On Kazan Elia, 1952: Kirshner Jonathan. Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America p.11

(Video) Rebel Without a Cause but it's just all the gay shit

[6] Thomson, Gale. ‘History of the American Cinema’ (1990)

[7] Perkins, V.F. 1936-2016: A Tribute: ‘The Cinema of Nicholas Ray.’ Ray, Cameron Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism (1962-2000) Issue 7

[8] Perkins, V.F. 1936-2016: A Tribute: ‘The Cinema of Nicholas Ray.’ Ray, Cameron Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism (1962-2000) Issue 7

[9] ‘But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.’ Fitzgerald, F. Scott. ‘The Great Gatsby’ (1925), chapter 2

[10] Perkins, V.F. 1936-2016: A Tribute: ‘The Cinema of Nicholas Ray.’ Ray, Cameron Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism (1962-2000) Issue 7

[11] Connoly, Ray. James Dean – Fifty Nine Years Later And Still Contemporary (2014)

[12] Fraser, Lauren. James Dean: Film Inquiry (2016)

(Video) Mini Documentary about 'Rebel' & James Dean (My Book&App "In Love With James Dean")

[13] Connoly, Ray. James Dean – Fifty Nine Years Later And Still Contemporary (2014)

[14] Perkins, V.F. 1936-2016: A Tribute: ‘The Cinema of Nicholas Ray.’ Ray, Cameron Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism (1962-2000) Issue 7

[15] Reich, James. Plato’s cave: Platonic allegory in Rebel without a Cause, (2017)

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