I watched Rebel Without A Cause a couple times in my early twenties and not again until last week. I had a few clear memories from the movie: James Dean crying at the end, “I had the bullets”; James Dean crying at the beginning, “You’re tearing me apart!”; and then this scene: Dean has been pulled into the office of the guy who played The Chief in Get Smart. The Chief is playing a cop who specializes in juvenile delinquency. He’s tough but with a good heart. I remembered that Dean was drunk and a little belligerent, and at one point The Chief pulls back his jacket to expose his own midsection. “You want to hit something,” he tells Dean. “Hit me.” Dean does, and hurts his hand. That’s exactly what I remembered. I remembered it very clearly. It made a big impression on me at the time.
Here’s what actually happened in the scene: Dean is pulled into The Chief’s office. He’s drunk and belligerent. The Chief is egging him on a little and so Dean takes a swing at him. The Chief easily avoids the wild hook and throws Dean into a chair by his desk. He, The Chief, then removes his jacket. There is a mild threat in how he removes the jacket, puffing up his midsection as if to say, “I’m a man, remember – not just some authority figure.” Then he says to Dean, “You want to hit something, hit the desk.” Dean does, and hurts his hand.
The memoirist in me took note. That I turned the desk into The Chief’s body is precisely the sort of dreamlike cannibalism for which the imagination is notorious. How resourceful it is, and how undaunted by something as trivial as factual truth. All the facts of my life will be devoured by time, leaving within me with their rich nutrients, the actual truth from which all stories grow.
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