Why are films about 1950s hipsters so boring? The beatniks, jazzers and rebels never cease to hold a fascination for film makers in thrall, I guess, to the fashionable iconography of a simpler time but, from On The Road to Howl to Kill Your Darlings, films about the thrilling iconoclasm of Ginsberg, Kerouac, Jimmy Dean et al are insufferably dull.
It’s like a rule and Anton Corbjin’s Life ** sticks rigidly to it. Robert Pattinson plays freelance Hollywood photographer Dennis Stock who strikes up a tentative friendship with young actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan, who was actually in Kill Your Darlings).
While Dean struggles with studio boss Jack Warner (Sir Ben Kingsley) and the all-controlling star system, Stock thinks he’s found the new subject for his breakthrough spread in Life magazine.
it becomes a very stylish but dramatically inert cigarette-dangling exercise in recreating Stock’s now-iconic snaps, particularly the one with the upturned coat collar in Times Square that went on to adorn a million student bedroom walls, next to a poster of Betty Blue and those kissing lovers at Paris Hotel de Ville by Robert Doisneau.
Yes, of course, the real pics are shown over the final credits, with the flashed up epitaphs of how Dean died just months after.
Corbijn, an acclaimed photographer himself before the hit with Control made him a film maker, clearly identifies with the soul-searching, stressed-out snapper Stock, while the undoubted artistry of Magnum photographers such as Ernst Haas and Elliott Erwitt is duly name checked.
However, it’s all so po-faced and serious, and even has the compulsory “dancing feverishly to a juke box in a mixed race crowd” scene signalling hedonism and liberal thought amid the strangulation convention and religion of post-war austerity hit America. Strangely, none of these films, no matter how good the styling and set design or cinematography, ever give you the feeling of what it must have been like to live through those times. They make hipsters look so square, daddy-o.