James Dean: A New Film Tells the Sexual Truth

Filmmaker Matthew Mishory discusses his provocative new movie, Joshua Tree 1951, and explains why we’re still fascinated by the late screen icon.



When you were writing the screenplay and developing the film, was there a conscious attempt to create something really unique?
Because we didn’t make the film within the studio system, there was nobody looking over our shoulder telling us, “You can’t do that.” We had a very specific idea about the film we wanted to make, and while we are certainly humbled by the exposure and attention it has received, it started out as a very modest project, and we were able to carve out a very specific niche for ourselves within the greater historiography surrounding James Dean. We wanted to create a very intimate and perhaps unexpected portrait of who this man was. And that is the core of James Preston’s performance — actually conveying who James Dean was, not as an icon but as a person.

As a Dean fan, I appreciate that. I found James Preston’s performance brave. He doesn’t go for easy imitation.
It was never our intention or James’s to portray Dean via mimicry or to create an impersonation of Dean as people know him through popular culture.  James plays the character as he was, as a young man who comes to Los Angeles and is developing new and interesting ideas about what performance should be and how it relates to other art forms and who is finding himself as a person.  I don’t believe that has ever really been done before.

What’s the response been so far?
We’ve been so pleased to have shared the film with audiences all over the world, and our experience has overwhelmingly been that people are finding a lot to connect to in the movie — especially once they recognize that we have taken a very different approach and open themselves up to a nonconventional experience. This is not a cookie-cutter biopic. That has been done and been done well before. We have tried something very different, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people after screenings who appreciate that approach. I suppose we’ve also stirred up a bit of controversy, but that was never really our intention.

Tags: film