Wild at heart
An actors’ actor and a star combined, Marlon Brando has a screen presence that for many has never been matched. As Channel 4 begins a season of Brando films, Allan Hunter looks back on a long and uneven career.
Woody Allen once said he would trade everything to be him, to Barbra Streisand he is ‘the finest actor who ever lived‘; in a 1979 Playboy interview Al Pacino said: ‘When I first saw ()n The Waterfront I couldn‘t move. I couldn‘t leave the theatre. I‘d never seen the like of it.’
The man with the ability to turn fellow superstars into gibbering, weak-kneed fans, worshipping at the shrine of his reputation, is Marlon Brando. the godfather of modern screen acting. In A Streetcar Named Desire (195]) when he stood, a hulking mass of inaniculate rage. and bellowed the name of Stella. a tempest was unleashed that would change cinema acting forever. Dashing heroes with skin-deep emotions were out, sweat-stained realism was in. Everyone from Elvis Presley to Robert De Niro owes him a debt of gratitude.
Iran“ as civil right: lawyer lan McKenzie in A Dry White Season with Donald Sutherland
year. an event that passed without tmtch in the way of
media fuss or celebration. Now Channel 4 makes amends with a Cinefile documentary, Brando — Wild
One, and an eclectic seven-week season of his films that includes such obvious landmarks as The
Godfather (1972) and lxtst 'Iitttgo ltt PUNK ( l973). as well as oddities like The Missouri Breaks ( l‘)7t’)). which features one of his most eccentric performances.
In an age accustomed to De Niro gaining ()0 pounds or Daniel Day-Lewis learning to paint with his left foot. it‘s easy to forget just how much of a pioneer Brando was. 'l‘hose. like Shelley Winters and Kevin McCaithy. who witnessed his early stage performances still talk in awe of an animalistic intensity. raw sexuality and excoriating ability to possess the very soul of a character. Along with Montgomery Clift he was one of the most visible early advocates ofthe Method. striving to find within hituself an emotional and psychological truth that could illuminate the character and the text.
in the 195(Js. Brando‘s versatility was astonishing. He brought an oalish charm to Sky Masterson in the musical Guys Atu/ Dolls (1955), won his first ()scar in ()n The Water/rout (1954). played broad comedy in Yea/muse ()t”l‘lte August Moo/t ( 1956). defined the rebellious leather-clad biker in The Wild (Me i l‘)53)
' and even tnade a thoroughly respectable stab at Shakespeare as Mark Antony in Julius ('uesur
(1953). Detractors commented on how a classical
actor like John Gielgud was more at ease and more i mellifluous in the film. Supporters pointed to
Brando's extraordinary range and asked critics to
imagine (iielgud playing Stanley Kowalski.
There was a time when there seemed no limit to
: Brando's talents. Turning director when Stanley
Kubrick walked off the set of ()ne-liyetl Jacks ( I‘Jol ) he created a fascinating psychological western that indulged his own propensity for masochistic roles. Even after several years in the wilderness, he could
Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godlather
; still return in triumph, winning an embrace from the
I establishment for his Oscar-winning characterisation
in The Godfather and giving one of the most ; agonising. self-revelatory performances the screen f has ever seen in Last 'litntgo [II Parts.
‘When I first saw On The Waterfront I couldn’t move. I couldn’t leave the theatre. I’d never seen the like of it.’
The last twenty years are the problematic ones for the Brando fan. as he has shown an increasing contempt for the medium. demanding extortionate fees for disposable catneos in films like .X'ttpertttutt ( [978) and (‘ltt‘tsto/tlter ('tt/utn/tus ~- T/H‘ /)t'st'ot'erv (1992). Channel 4's sketchy television documentary. made without the participation of the media-shy Brando. uses comments from friends and colleagues to hint at the sense of disillusion and self—loathing that have made him want to keep his profession and his colleagues at arm‘s length. He. after all. is a man who once called Hollywood a ‘cultural boneyard' and described acting as ‘an empty and useless
Fascinating for its glimpses of the original make-up tests for his (itulfitI/u'r role and rare home-mm ie
E footage of Brando and Montgomery Clift hamming it
up for the cameras. Brunt/o -- Wild One includes
interviews with the likes of l‘rancis Coppola. Dennis
Hopper and a clearly besotted Sir Anthony Hopkins.
The good news for all concerned is that Brando is
currently back in front of the cameras playing a
leading role as psychiatrist to a disturbed Johnny
Depp in Don Juan [)e Mano (HIr/ I/Ir’ ('r'tttt‘efit/tl.
Maybe the old maestro still has a few more acting
' lessons to deliver.
I Bram/o — Wild One is mt C/tutttte/ 4 on 'l‘ltttrxtlut' //
August (1/ 9pm. fit/loner! by [us] 'litttgnt in Parts (I!
The List 2‘) July -ll August l9()4 69