MARLON BRANDO

Biography

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Biography
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When Marlon Brando went to Hollywood his challenging style ofacting became the controversial symbol of new hopes for Americanculture. From the Fifties onwards, he brought to the screen a range ofmemorable characters - from Stanley Kowalski to Superman's father

For many years in the 60s and 70s, one approached a performance by Marlon Brando with a certain trepidation. You would go to see him perform in his latest movie and the questions were thus: willhe have bothered to learn his lines, or will he pin bits and pieces of thescript to the set, so that the problem ofmemorization will not, as he claimed, interferewith the process of creation? Will he be merelyoverweight, or will he be completely grossedout - as he was in Apocalypse Now (1979)? Willhe focus his full concentration on the role, orwill he content himself with what amounts toself-parody?...
Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando - Apocalypse Now, 1976
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It seemed for a short time in the earlySeventies, after The Godfather (1972) and Ultimo Tango a Parigi (1972, Last Tango inParis), that he had not merely returned toform, but attained a new one - an ability toliterally act his age - and that such tensequestions might finally be rendered moot. Ah,foolish optimism! How could we have forgotten that the very basis of his screen character,the source of its fascination, lied in his childishly erratic, entirely anarchical nature.

Brando would not be Brando if you couldcount on him. From the beginning we attended his work not in search of seemlesstechnical perfection, but as we do a thrill act ata carnival. We went to see him dive down into thedepths of himself, to see if he surfaced withsome new pearls of existential awareness or aheap of rusting mannerism or, more likely, a couple of the former mixed with a lot of thelatter. If you could not stand the sometimesinstantaneous alternations between exasperation and exhilaration which he thus induced,then you had no business at a Brando film -which was, of course, a position many haveadopted.

About the deepest sources of his wild waysone can only speculate. But about one of thematters that drove him crazy, right fromthe start of his career, there can be no doubt.That is his unsought position as a hero of aspecial modern sort, a cultural hero, burdenedwith the large, if ill-defined, hopes of at leasttwo generations for the renewal of Americanacting, and through it, of the Americantheatre, American films, perhaps even ofAmerican culture. It was not a role he sought!It was, indeed, a role he fought. And yet,somehow, it settled upon him.

BRANDO'S METHOD:

Brando, a high-school dropout, came moreor less accidentally to acting, and he enjoyedan early success in it before developing a senseof vocation. He was thus forced to confront thepersonal and public demands of his professionwithout an aesthetic or a sense of culturaltradition. This gap was filled by the 'Method',that American variation on Stanislavky'stheories, which was very much in the air in New York when Brando was breaking into thetheatre. Emerging from small parts into theunforgettable glory of his Stanley in A StreetcarNamed Desire, he was seen as the personification of 'Method' principles (though, in truth,he had passed only briefly through its cathedral, the Actors' Studio). And since his owninstinctive method - a search throughmemory for psychological truth, a rejection ofclassic manner and technique, squared withthe 'Method', ('You have to upset yourself!Unless you do you cannot act'), the role ofleader in a generational revolt was imposedupon him. American provincialism was to beshaken off: English acting standards would nolonger go unchallenged.

Many in the older generation were appalled,but if you were young and cared about themystery of acting, then Brando's singularity -there really never had been anyone quite likehim - exercized a powerful symbolic hold onyour imgination. Indeed, some part of youbecame his forever. And when he went out toHollywood, hope mingled with fear over whatwould result. Would he revolutionize theplace, or succumb to it. In the event, heremained . . . himself. That is to say, volatileand difficult, brilliant and indifferent. But therewas no gainsaying the impact of his work inthose first films, which were widely variable intheir overall quality: the crippled war veteranin The Men (1950), the brutal Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire (1951), the Mexicanrevolutionary in Viva Zapata! (1952), themotorbike rebel in The Wild One (1953) and theex-boxer in On the Waterfront (1954) - in these pictures he gave us moments which had neverbeen seen on the screen before. For young people his sullen, inarticulate rebelliousnesswon them to him forever. Even when he wasplaying brutes and dummies you sensed hisvulnerability, his tentativeness, and, even, hisunderlying sweetness and sense of comedy. Hewas the first movie star who showed, rightthere on the screen, the truth behind the image- the insecurity and the nagging, peculiiiaarrrllyAmerican fear that acting may not be suitablework for a grown-up heterosexual male. Hewas exploring what no-one else had explored.


Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando - Apocalypse Now, 1976
Marlon Brando autographs, photographs and more @ ebay.com (direct link to signed items) - just checked and a great selection

In his first great role, that of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, people identified Brando with the image he played. Fewheard him when he said:

'Kowalski was always right, and neverafraid ... He never wondered, he never doubted. His ego was very secure. And he had thatkind of brutal aggressiveness I hate ... I'mafraid of it. I detest the character.'

Stanley was crass, calculating and materialist - a type who was a factor in every aspectof American life in this century. The power of Brando's performance derives from his hatredand fear of the character, though manifestlythere is something of Brando's own egotismand rudeness in Stanley too.

WINDS OF CHANGE:

Brando found Hollywood - a town always fullof Kowalskis - in a state of transition. Thereliable mass market was slipping away totelevision; the factory system, ruled by ahandful of industry 'pioneers', was losing itssovereignty to stars and directors who were,with the help of powerful agencies, creatingtheir own packages. Brando had a long-termcontract with Fox, but he fought the studioconstantly and, unlike the older generation ofstars, had the option to make independentfilms, so he could not be disciplined by suspensions or blacklisting. In addition he did notdress like a star, could not be coerced intointerviews or publicity gimmicks he founddemeaning. He declared:

'The only thing an actor owes hispublic is not to bore them'

The men who ruled Hollywood, quite rightly,distrusted Brando. They might talk about hismanner and style (or lack of it) but deep down,they knew he was on to them, was parodyingthem on the screen. Still, through On the Waterfront an uneasy truce was maintainedbetween Brando and Hollywood, if onlybecause until that picture was finished - andthey rewarded him with an Oscar - he stuckclose to the type they had decided was correctfor him and which was easily saleable -brooding, capable of brutality, yet gropinglysensitive and rebelious. Indeed, Terry Malloy,the ex-boxer, betrayed by his brother in On theWaterfront, seemed to many at the time apainfully accurate projection of Brando's ownmood. When he says 'I could have been acontender . . . instead of a bum', some tookthis as an admission that the great roles werenot for him. Others saw it as a generational lament, a declaration of betrayal not merely byan institution, but by the whole society inwhich humane, liberal values now seemedinadequate to a monstrously complex age.

Nevertheless, he won an Academy Awardfor On the Waterfront and continued to maintain himself as his contemporaries hoped hewould-- an inner-directed man in an other-directed world. There was, however, one bigchange in him. He no longer wanted to playroles that were projections of himself or even ofhis earlier image. In Terry Malloy he hadachieved a kind of apotheosis; he now wantedto prove he could submerge self in characters.He undertook a staggering variety of roles from1954 onwards: a Damon Runyon gambler in Guys and Dolls (1955); Napoleon in Desiree (1954); Sakini, the Japanese interpreter in TheTeahouse of the August Moon (1956); the Southern soldier fighting his own racial prejudicein Sayonara (1957): the German soldier undergoing self-induced de-Nazification in The YoungLions (1958); the vengeful good-bad man in One Eyed Jacks (1961) and Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).

Some of these pictures were successful at thebox-office; some were not. There was a steadymuttering about his waste of himself in subjects that, for the most part, were drawn fromthe less exalted ranges of popular fiction. Infact, he was playing a higher risk game thanthe critics knew, for his price was now something like a million dollars a picture in returnfor which he was supposed, by his presence, toguarantee a profit. What other actor wouldhave risked that status in roles which weredeliberately off-type and which caused him touse weird makeups and strange accents?


Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando - Apocalypse Now Poster, 1976
Marlon Brando autographs, photographs and more @ ebay.com (direct link to signed items) - just checked and a great selection

Gillo Pontecorvo, who directed him in Queimada! (1969, Burn), declared:

'I never sawan actor before who was so afraid of thecamera.'

His hatred of publicity, his desire tohide-out in roles was based, in part, on simpleshyness. Moreover, the kind of acting he wasnow doing demanded less of him emotionally,if more of him technically. As he said:

'There comes a time in one's life when youdon't want to do it anymore. You know a sceneis coming where you'll have to cry and screamand all those things, and it's always botheringyou, always eating away at you . . . and youjust can't walk through it ... it would bedisrespectful not to try to do your best.'

So he settled for imitations of life, which wasnot only easy for him, but fun. Acting at thislevel, he has been heard to say, is:

'a perfectlyreasonable way to make your living. You'renot stealing money, and you're entertainingpeople.'

Other pressures came from the financialexpectations of the industry. Directing OneEyed Jacks, he went way over budget, perhapsbecause he thought directing was a way ofmaking an artistic statement without exposingso much of himself. The result was a lovely andviolent film but still, to most people, justanother Western.

MUTINY ON 'MUTINY':

He might have escaped that set-back unscathed had he not followed it with Mutiny onthe Bounty. There was a certain logic in thecasting - Brando, the famous rebel, playing Fletcher Christian, the famous rebel. Thetrouble was that Brando insisted on playing Christian, not as a he-man of principle, asClark Gable had, but as a foppish idler, withhomosexual overtones, a character whosepreviously dormant sense of class difference,the basis of order in the British navy, turnstorpid under Tahiti's tropical skies. It was notat all what the producers had in mind for amulti-million-dollar film on which MGM wasdepending for survival.

They claimed it was Brando's temperamentthat cost them an extra S10 million, but hewas, in fact, taking the rap for all kinds ofmismanagement, which included sending castand crew off to shoot in the rainy seasonwithout a finished script in hand. Of course, Brando was angry and of course he turned asmutinous as Christian himself had.

What got lost in the resulting controversywas the fact that Brando's Christian was one ofhis finest sustained performances, a daringattempt to blend the humorous with theheroic, a projection of a modern, ironic sensibility backward into history. There was nothing cool or held back in thischaracterization: Brando took it right up to the hot edge of farce. If he was out of key with the rest of the players and the square-rigged plot, he actually did what a star is supposed to do, hold our interest in a big dumb remake - while risking comparison with the remembered performance of a beloved actor in a beloved rule.


Marlon Brando

Mary Ellen Mark: Marlon Brando Kurtz (Apocalypse Now) 1976
Marlon Brando autographs, photographs and more @ ebay.com (direct link to signed items) - just checked and a grat selection

After Mutiny on the Bounty, came the deluge poor parts, not a few of which he walked outon. In some of these films one can see the germof the idea that attracted Brando: the chance toconfront comedy directly in Bedtime Story (1964) and A Countess From Hong Kong (1967);the opportunity to make social comments heconsidered worthy in The Ugly American (1963), The Chase (1966) and>b> Queimada!; evenroles that matched his gift, despite their flawedcontext, notably that of the repressed homosexual army officer in Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967).

There are in these films isolated momentswhere Brando shines through. There is thescene in Sayonara, for example, when heconfesses to his commanding general (andwould-be father-in-law) that he is throwing over his fiance for a Japanese girl. He conveys his anguish over this decision by picking up a cushion and concentrating on it the entire time they talk - a perfectly observed banal gesture. In Reflections in a Golden Eye, there is the scene when he thinks Robert Forster is coming to pay a homosexual call on him and he absurdly pats down his hair and smiles vainly to himself. Then there is The Nightcomers (1971) in which he hides out behind an Irish brogue and spends s lot of time indulging a bondage fetish with the governess, when, in the midst of it, he tells the children a long tall story and suddenly he's alive and playful and inventive, giving himself pleasure and making us share in it.

But it was The Godfather that provided thelong-awaited proof that he could still domost of it as an actor. He went after the part;even submitted to the indignity of a test. Theresult was a sustained characterization thatdepended for its success on more than a raspyvoice and a clever old man's makeup. Therewere in his very movements, the hints ofmortality that men in their forties begin to feelno matter how youthfully they maintain theirspirits. His manner epitomized all the old menof power who had leaned across their desks tobend the young actor to their will - their wileand strength sheathed in reasonableness,commands presented in the guise of offers it is hard to refuse. It was the culmination of hissecond career as a character man.

What one really wondered, though, waswhether he had it in him to go all the waydown the well again, come out from behind themasks and show again the primitiveness andpower of his youth. That, quite simply, is whathe did in Last Tango in Paris. Brando wasplaying physically what he was psychologically, an expatriate from his native land. Moreover,he was playing a man passing through the'male menopause'. Yet in his sexual brutalitythere is something of Stanley Kowalski, and,like Terry Malloy, he is a one-time boxer,vulnerable in his mourning for lost opportunities. There is also in him something of theyouthful, public Brando - self-romanticizing,self-pitying, yet self-satirizing too. All Brando'scharacter Paul does in the film is have arestorative affair with a much youngerwoman. In the last sequences he is restored toa handsomeness that can be termed nothingless than beauty, a vitality, even a romanticenergy, that is both miraculous and moving.

In the brilliant monologue at his dead wife'sbier, perhaps the single greatest aria of hiscareer, it all comes together, talent and technique, to express the violent ambivalence of hisrelationship with not merely this woman, butwith himself and the world at large.

It was Brando's art, not director Bertolucci's, that made the highly melodramaticending - in which, for no good reason, the starmust die - a triumph. Brando removes the stingof death by the simple act of removing hischewing gum from his mouth and placing itneatly under the railing of the terrace wherehe takes his final fall - the tiny, perfect bit ofactor's business, neatly undercutting thedirector's strain for a big finish.

Perhaps only a young director, cognizant ofwhat Brando had meant to his generation, adirector who self-consiously stripped from hiswork all intellectual and artistic traditionsother than that of the cinema, could give hisage's great movie actor this unprecedentedopportunity for self-portraiture.

Since delivering the two milestone performances in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, Brando worked less frequently, appearing both in brilliant movies Apocalypse Now (1979) and silly ones Superman (1978); The Formula (1980), based exclusively on a producer's willingness to pay his exorbitant fee. He was again Oscar-nominated in 1989 for A Dry White Season and was been seen in The Freshman (1990, in a comic take off of his Vito Corleone characterization), Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992, as Torquemada), and Don Juan DeMarco (1995).

His private life was as chaotic and restless as his professional. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1924, he was married three times and had nine children from various relationships. His oldest son, Christian, was arrested for murdering his sister's boyfriend in 1990. He was sentenced to 10 years in March 1991 and released in January of 1996. The sister, in question, Cheyenne, committed suicide in 1995. Brando spent a fortune on his son's legal bills.

He fought against weight problems for much of his later life.

Owned a private island off the Pacific coast, the Polynesian atoll known as Tetiaroa, from 1966 until his death. For much of his last years he lived almost reclusively at his mansion in Muholland Drive in Beverly Hills, California. Jack Nicolson was a friend and neighbour.

He died in of pulmonary fibrosis in Los Angeles on the 1st July, 2004. Despite rumours that he was broke by the time he died he in fact left an estate valued at around $20million.

He is considered by many to cinema's greatest actor. Certainly, there was no-one with his impact and his influence on succeeding generations of actors is considerable. Moreover, when he was good, well, no other actor before or since can hold a prayer to him.

But it has to be remembered that between those peaks of greatness there were more bad movies than one cares to remember. The Sixties were a lost decade for Brando. Thus, Brando is rightly considered the greatest actor but the greatest career? No. Others who have come after, who were influenced by him to the very core of their acting being, like DeNiro or Pacino will have more of a claim to that title than the master they owe it all to.

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Filmography
M A R L O N  B R A N D O

1950

- The Men

1951

- A Streetcar Named Desire

1952

- Viva Zapata!

1953

- Julius Caesar
- The Wild One

1954

- On the Waterfront
- Desiree

1955

- Guys and Dolls

1956

- The Teahouse of the August Moon

1957

- Sayonara

1958

- The Young Lions

1960

- The FugitiveKind

1961

- One Eyed Jacks (+prod; +dir)

1962

- Mutiny on the Bounty

1963

- The Ugly American

1964

- Bedtime Story

1965

- Morituri

1966

- The Chase
- The Appaloosa

1967

- ACountess From Hong Kong
- Reflections in aGolden Eye

1968

- Candy
- The Night ofthe Following Day

1969

- Queimada!

1971

- The Nightcomers (GB)

1972

- The Godfather
- LastTango in Paris (IT-FR)

1976

- The Missouri Breaks

1978

- Superman, the Movie

1979

- ApocalypseNow
- Roots: The Next Generations (mini) TV Series

1980

- The Formula

1982

- Jericho

1989

- A Dry White Season

1990

- The Freshman

1992

- Christopher Columbus: The Discovery

1995

- Don Juan DeMarco

1996

- The Island of Dr. Moreau

1997

- The Brave

1998

- Free Money

2001

- The Score

2006

- Big Bug Man (voice)

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