Cinerama: Brando on Brando

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama

Brando on Brando

By Mike Derderian

“Hey, Stella, Stella,” shouts a feisty and loud Stanley Kowalski to his baffled wife, who is preoccupied with the childish needs and demands of her half-sane sister Blanch DuBoix, who is staying at their love-blest home.

The 1951 silver screen reprisal of Tennesee Williams’ play A Street Car Named Desire wouldn’t have found a better Kowalski than the one portrayed by Hollywood’s greatest raw talent Marlon Brando.

After electrifying audiences all over the world with his on screen realistic personifications of characters whom we all shall remember, the 80-year-old American actor passed away on July 1 in a Los Angeles hospital, leaving behind a legacy of glory, defeat, pain and a triumph.

For film lovers the name Brando was always of a musicality that stuck into their minds, an effect attributed to two reasons. One is his fiery and passionate performance; and two is his turbulent off screen personal life.

To me, it wasn’t until 1992 that I was introduced to the legendary actor after watching a VHS version of the 1972 The Godfather portraying the iconic mobster Don Vito Corleone.

Born on April 3, 1924, in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, from a family of French, English and Irish origin whose name spelled Brandeau, young Bud (childhood nickname) would grow up to become the actor who would forever redefine the profession.

Bud’s first exposure to theatre came through his mother’s acting performances at a local theatre after which young Bud displayed a talent for play-acting and proved himself a skilled pantomimist. Little by little the road towards acting was becoming clearer and clearer to the young man, especially after being expelled from the military school he was sent to by his father who was trying to discipline his menace of a son.

After he failed to join the army, the 19-year-old decided to move to the Big Apple in pursuit of his dreams where he studied acting with Stella Adler, who was an enthusiast of Stanislavksy’s “Method” of acting.

Adler had a great influence on Brando’s life and acting techniques, and after a week with her, one acting teacher declared: “Within a year, Marlon Brando will be the best young actor in the American theater.”

Young Brando soon began performing in Broadway musicals, like in the 1944 I Remember Mama, in addition to a number of theatrical performances in plays like A Flag is Born and Truckline Cafe, among which was his unforgettable 1947 portrayal of Stanly Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, a role that he will again portray and immortalize in later years for the silver screen.

Brando’s big break in cinema did not arrive until 1950 when he starred in Fred Zinnemann’s The Men as Ken Wilcheck, an embittered disabled war veteran, in a critically acclaimed role that was soon followed by a more complex character that led to his first Oscar nomination as best leading actor in 1952.

The film was Elia Kazan’s A Street Car Named Desire, that starred Kim Hunter, Karl Malden—who won an Oscar for his best supporting role as Mitch—and Vivien Leigh as the disturbed Blanch, a role to which she won the Oscar for best leading actress.

“Kowalski was always right, and never afraid. He never wondered, he never doubted. His ego was very secure. And he had the kind of brutal aggressiveness that I hate. I’m afraid of it. I detest the character,” was Brando’s answer a few years later to a question on how he felt towards his most famous character.

In the following two years, Brando got two more Oscar best actor nominations, the first for his performance in the 1952 Viva Zapata as the rebel leader Emiliano Zapata and the second in 1954 for his portrayal of Marc Anthony in Julius Caesar (1953).

It wasn’t until 1955 that he earned his first Oscar award for his role in Elia Kazan’s On the Water Front, placing him among the Hollywood elite of genuine dramatic and original actors.

Known for his unorthodox styles of acting, Brando, in 1972, managed to entirely shock the American audience after starring in Last Tango in Paris, which was a graphically explicit sexual film about an old man’s relationship with a young woman.

Even those who weren’t quite familiar with Marlon Brando’s name, they somehow managed to relate it with the name Vito Don Corleone, the well-respected Don in Frances Ford Coppola’s 1973 mafia icon The Godfather, which was based on Mario Puzo’s graphic novel. The role garnered Brando his second academy award.

To-the-not-so great surprise of the Hollywood community, Brando managed to stir more controversy when he did not show up at the awards and refused to accept the Oscar on the grounds that the United States and Hollywood are conducting unjust discrimination against Native American people. He even went all the way by sending a fake Indian woman named Sacheen Littlefeather, who was in fact an actress called Maria Cruz, to receive the award on his behalf.

Despite his tough attitude and not-so-welcomed stances on life-related issues, on screen Brando managed to morph into any character he wanted to portray, capturing the admiration of millions with his roles—like his depicting of officer Christian Fletcher in the 1962 remake of the Mutiny on the Bounty, megalomaniac rouge Colonel called Walter Kurtz in the 1979 Apocalypse Now and an over-weight calm psychiatrist in the 1995 Don Juan DeMarco.

On the personal level Brando’s life was no less turbulent; going through three short-lived marriages that produced nine children; one of Brando’s sons murdered the boyfriend of his sister, who killed herself in 1995 out of depression over the incident; and finally his gaining colossal weight which altered his iconic image of sex symbol into a mere actor with extraordinary acting capabilities.

Brando and Brando, a film by Ridha Behi that was scheduled for release in 2005, will be postponed due to the actor’s sudden death; therefore, the world will have to wait more before knowing the true story behind the legendary actor, who until the moment of his death, treausred his privacy, as he once said: “I don’t want to spread the peanut butter of my personality on the mouldy bread of the commercial press.”


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