from Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)
"One of my favourite moments in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955) comes early in the film. In a walk-and-talk-scene, very similar to the one in On the Waterfront, my attention is attracted by yet another dropped object. On the morning of his first day at Dawson High, Jim Stark (James Dean) nervously peers through the window. Suddenly his attention is attracted by the appearance of Judy (Natalie Wood), the enigmatic girl he saw the night before at the police office. He approaches her and, as they walk, the camera moves laterally with them. 'I’ve seen you before', he tries. 'Well, stop the world', she answers. 'You don’t have to be unfriendly'. And then it happens. 'Well, that’s true', Judy responds, while she nonchalantly passes her cigarette with her left hand to her right hand, and, only half smoked, drops it, and brings her right hand to her forehead: 'But life is crushing in on me'.
Time and again, this small gesture of Natalie Wood pricks me, as Roland Barthes would put it. The transient moment, on which she apparently accidentally drops her smouldering cigarette, and then, as in an improvised reflex, brings her hand to her head, is the most intense in the whole film. It is a revelation, an uncanny instance of doubling, as I simultaneously encounter an iconic representation of the character Judy and the indexical image of an actress, the late Natalie Wood. This discovery, enabled by the spectatorial posture CinemaScope requires, illustrates for me what Rohmer wrote in 1956 about Ray and Rebel: 'His tempo is so slow, his melody usually monochord, but its delineation is so precise, its progress so compulsive, that we cannot allow our attention to stray for a moment'."