Brando: A Chronicle of Greatness

by on December 30th, 2010
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Brando the film tribute, that showcased the life and legacy of one of the greatest acting talents to have ever existed, his life on-screen and his demons off, was a chronicle of greatness.

Brando begins with, and is punctuated throughout by, colleagues, friends and family offering personal insight, stories and never before exposed secrets of their lives and interactions with Mr. Brando. The multi-faceted Brando dealt his entire life with the demons of being himself, the passions that he consumed, and those that consumed him.

Without knowing the beginnings of Marlon Brando’s life and experiences, that were without exception a private affair, an audience would never know the despair that was part of his everyday existence. The son of an alcoholic mother and an absent father left him a child of the wind. He would be gone for days without concern as repeated alcoholic binges left his mother deadened to reality. These tragic experiences shaped his talent, for us and future generations, these tragedies were the life, the fuel, the force that became Marlon Brando.

The Beginnings

Brando’s explosion as an actor in essence created the Hollywood we know today. The film details the beginnings of his acting career that began on the stage as well as his collaboration with the great acting teacher and his mentor Stella Adler and the equally talented Director Elia Kazan. He credits both individuals as instrumental in his successes. The film, without a direct answer from Mr. Brando, implies very clearly of a love, in a parental sense, for both Ms. Adler and Mr. Kazan.

Stella Adler, as the film explained, was the only American to study privately with the founder of Method Acting, Constantine Stanislavski. She taught Marlon Brando as a first generation student of a Master and opened through him what became a phenomenon in the acting profession. The film is a chronicle of greatness nurtured. The depth of Brando’s talent became available through his parental love for and the nurturing by Adler and Kazan.

When questioned about what is the Method, Mr. Brando explained that Method style of acting, if it could be explained, would be one of the greatest questions answered. These types of vague response were standard and proved exasperating to both colleagues and press.

It is not an understatement to say Marlon Brando was the greatest acting talent of the 20th century. A preview of the depth of his talent, and what was hoped for by understudies to be a fluke, was evident in Brando’s first play, Truckline Cafe. The film details the reactions of the cast members associated with this production who doubted his talent. The film details the memoires of those associated with Truckline Café from understudy, who was chomping at the bit waiting to show everyone just how this role was to be played, to his co-star who did not know how she could work with ‘this.’ Then after a lunch hour session with Elia Kazan the former stuttering, stammering Brando exploded with such emotion that it left his colleagues and audiences stunned.

His realistic performance landed him the role that this generation and every acting student will always remember: Stanley Kowalski, in Tennessee Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire. This character, Stanley Kowalski, will always be synonymous with Marlon Brando. The stage version of propelled him to the big screen and his career took off with the revival of Stanley Kowalski.

We saw him as Stanley Kowalski, reduced and cornered by the pseudo-heiress Blanche Dubois, mocking his ethnicity for the last time, he explodes finally marking his territory and then in the same vein intertwining humor with anger that had stunning quality.

Brando chose to perform by using the method of calling on the worst experiences in his life, the most tragic experiences, using sense memory recall, and fueling the scenes he performed with genuine emotions. These emotions came from the deep tragic hurts, usually childhood experiences, or happiness or places of fulfillment but he was able to project the exact right emotion at the right time and gave to the audience the ability to see realism in art.

The Brando Generation

Thus began the Brando generation. Scholars and colleagues agree that A Street Car Named Desire was followed in succession with five of the greatest films Brando ever made. These films are examined in the documentary and should be an assignment for any film studies student, filmmaker or actor. Viva Sapota!, On the Waterfront, The Wild Ones, Julius Cesar and One Eyed Jacks. His ability to capture a generation and move with the same strength into the next one is a testament of his talent. The emotion was as powerful edited into this film as in its original form.

Personal Demons

Brando details personal relationships with friends and depicts him as a lover of the ladies. A revolving door was used to symbolize his man about town image. He appeared escorting a bevy of beauties and practically every recognizable female starlet of the day. A host of famous females were included: Cloris Leachman, Ellen Adler and Grace Kelly, were shown and it was Angie Dickinson who stated and I paraphrase that Brando was as dangerous as he was magnetic and Ms. Leachman added “he was certainly skilled at breaking hearts.” His relationship with male friends were less strenuous and provided intellectual guidance as they would always listen to his newest project that seemed slightly askew in mainstream thought.

His love life along with his professional career changed after Mutiny on the Bounty. In both the 1935 and 1962 version of this film he fell in love, and married, his leading ladies. The movies were filmed in the South Pacific and Brando’s love for the Tahitian Island and lifestyle remained with him throughout the rest of his life. Passion is a funny thing and it has been said that those who love with great intense passion can hate with the same. Brando’s marriages when they were good were intensely good. The film showcased rarely seen footage that was remarkably intact from a UNICEF Fund Raiser in Paris where he performed a traditional Tahitian Dance with flair and precision accompanied by his first wife. He danced as a man with fire. He was an F-5 force and he was good!

Apocalypse Now depicts the deep jungles of war and became, up to that point, the defining Vietnam War film. In my opinion, Brando personified Satan. This war, Vietnam, become his reality and He found a home, a perfectly peaceful home in the midst of the ravages, dismembered bodies, napalm, and the smell of death.

Creating Vito Corleone

While film scholars have analyzed his early work, each subsequent film is a new chapter and could be analyzed as an indicator of personal growth and development as a talent. Some will remember him for Last Tango in Paris, a film whose name alone brings images of eroticism, Apocalypse Now or On The Waterfront and yet he will always be immortalized as Vito Corleone, the Boss of Bosses in Francis Ford Coppola’s saga, The Godfather.

By the time, he was under consideration for the role of Vito Corleone the studios and studio executives were done with him. They had tolerated his over the top antics and he was not the classic six pack talent anymore. The punch he delivered with Elia Kazan was a distant memory. Still he got the role and created an icon. The strength of his performance earned him his second Academy Award. Brando stunned the industry and the public by refusing the Oscar.

His refusal on live television, after the commercial success of The Godfather, was taken as a personal slight against an industry that felt it supported him during his exploits. His use of a Native American female who presented, at Brando’s request, a rambling lengthy letter of the issues surrounding the plight of these people and the industry’s flaws were taken as ‘a slap the face that feeds you’ action.

To say, Brando was not understood by his associates is not an understatement. His passions led him to popular and unpopular social and political causes. He championed, in the 1960’s, The Civil Rights Movement protesting with Charlton Heston and Harry Belafonte Jr. and went to the extreme of visiting the Black Panthers Camp. In the 1970’s, with the antics and the media attention created by his Oscar snub, he brought national attention to Wounded Knee, the Rights of the Native American, and prevented a massacre. He was a visionary and like most visionaries not understood.

Brando’s greatness which captured the essence, the heart, and soul, and personified Stanislavsky’s The Method, the talent that defined a generation and moved a future one, the incomparable: Brando.


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