Enigma of celebrity, persistence of solitude. "I don't know... He was hard to understand, you know?" Robert Altman 25 years later scrutinizes the theme ("a hero made of their loneliness") from another angle (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean), not long after his subject's demise he assembles a sober rumination with George W. George. Posthumous Hollywood premiere then rewind to rural Indiana, a continuous death-ringed wander—tilt up from railroad tracks, pan left to hearse. Grandpa and Grandma Winslow remember baby Jimmy, high school teachers and UCLA chums weigh in until it's time for the restless comet to head East, to New York and the Actors Studio. The performer's oceanic side, some solace with a Paterian tree, "spiritual values" on the margins. Alongside Chris Marker, "a dynamic exploration of the still photograph" (it lists Russ Meyer among the contributors) to chart the bohemian's hunger and emptiness. The brisk sketch of a modest Midwestern town has a dormant Army cannon and a Chinese doll and a glimpse of the auctioneer's art (cp. Herzog's How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck...). From the Rebel Without a Cause screenwriter, a portfolio of personas in search of the self: Biker, hepcat-naif, bullfighter, Little Prince, joker, faceless sculpture. "What is the summation of this life?" Martin Gabel's narration gropes for answers, but Altman already understands the value of human mysteries. A barreling POV and a freeze-frame register that fateful day on the freeway, a screen test for East of Eden leaves the star suspended in the shadows. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce