It was supposed to be filmed in black and white. Rebel without a Cause was already in production when the studio made the decision to switch to color Cinemascope, introducing entirely new concepts for the cinematographer and costume designer. Thanks to the inexplicable change of plans, when Rebel was released on this day in 1955, audiences were able to drink in James Dean’s saturated red jacket, bright white shirt and deep indigo blue jeans. These three everyday items of clothing worn together by Dean have become the most iconic jean-and-T-shirt combination in movie history, and literally changed the way teenagers perceived what was cool. For the first time, dressing down was suddenly more favorable than dressing up.
The film about a troubled new heartthrob in town looking for a little love and respect followed the success of Blackboard Jungle and The Wild One, the first films to depict young people as complicated and unhappy rather than obedient and cheerful. Director Nicholas Ray was passionate about wanting to depict the teenagers as realistically as possible, and he obsessed over every minutia of detail, even homing in on the symbolic use of color and how the costumes interacted in a landscape of primary tones.
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