LIFE is based on the story of Dennis Stock, a photographer who pursued James Dean while his career was still budding in the hopes of capturing photos which conveyed James Dean, the man, rather than simply the public image of the movie star.
To this end, Stock trailed Dean from NYC to the West Coast to his family home in Indiana and back. The movie is about Stock’s pursuit of stardom on the coattails of Dean’s rising star.
Stock had his liaison at the Magnum Photos agency pitch the idea of a photo essay, “Moody New Star,” to Life magazine, and spent a week chasing a still-skeptical Dean around the city. And then in Times Square, in crummy weather, Stock caught his subject in a long coat, with his collar upturned and shoulders shrugged, and a cigarette dangling from pursed lips.
Meanwhile, in the life of Dennis Stock, the man, his ex-wife and young son live in New York City, and while the boy’s mother has custody, he has visitation. On one such visit, he picks up the boy from a building with fire escapes (implied to be his home) in a clearly urban setting. It is also abundantly clear that this occurs during a snow-covered New York winter.
He shows trouble relating to his son, and knowing what to do with him during that particular visit shown in the movie. “Take him to the park”, his mother suggests, while snow covers the ground and coats the trees.
They go to the park and sit on a park bench while surrounded by snow, and evidencing New Yorkers’ ingrained tolerance for cold weather, they stay long enough for the boy to eat at least part of a sandwich while his father takes some candid snapshots, and wistfully expresses a wish that he could take his son to LA, “where it’s sunny”.
But that is unrealistic, because besides the custody arrangements of the divorce, New York City, specifically Manhattan, where the headquarters of LIFE magazine was located, was of necessity a regular destination, if not home base, to a man who was trying to get his photographs into that then widely-read mass market publication.