A true legend is gone. Marlon Brando, the man single-handedly responsible for changing the face of American acting, is dead at the age of 80. Of course, this is hardly a shock, as few could believe that a body that massive could ever hope to be supported by an old man’s fragile heart. And as we all know, he has been largely irrelevant as an actor in recent years, more famous for his pathological brood than anything he committed to celluloid. Since Apocalypse Now, really, he has been a colossal, ever-expanding joke — phoning in less-than-stellar performances in such duds as Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and Don Juan DeMarco. He seemed to lose all interest in the craft, no doubt cackling with delight as he was able to extract exorbitant sums for cameo roles, more for his status as an icon than any quality he brought to the film. Like Coppola, his legend would have been far better served by a sudden death in the jungle. But like Francis is currently doing, Brando insisted on spending his remaining years embarrassing the hell out of himself and insisting that there was anyone left alive who still cared.
Despite the fall from grace in later years, Brando’s status must endure for his Don Corleone in The Godfather, as well as a string of hits in the 1950s that altered our perception of Hollywood. A Streetcar Named Desire started it all, and to this day I’d rank his Stanley with George C. Scott’s Patton as the best performance I’ve ever seen. He followed that masterpiece with Viva Zapata!, Julius Caesar, The Wild One, and On the Waterfront (his first Oscar). He made other, lesser films — Desiree, Guys and Dolls, Sayonara, The Young Lions, One-Eyed Jacks (the only film he directed) — but he was never anything less than the most interesting person on screen. He had a unique way of rising above the material, even when we were asked to accept him as a Mexican or even Napoleon. No one was more natural; and few could match his ability to project a coiled, unpredictable sexuality, as if it made perfect sense why he could get anything he wanted.
His run of Oscar nominations and box office hits ended abruptly in the 1960s, as he made a series of bad choices in films that few will remember in the decades to come. He did make Burn!, which near the end of his life (and in his autobiography) he said was his personal favorite, I imagine because it tackled racism, social justice, and economic exploitation, issues he continued to discuss as a social activist. And we all remember his childish behavior at the 1973 Oscars, where he sent up an actress he claimed was a Native American, all in the hope that we’d own up to our genocide. We laughed like hyenas instead. But such a stunt was pure Brando.
And then in 1973, he gave us a towering achievement once again with Last Tango in Paris, a role that matches his Vito and Stanley for intensity and lasting impact. His performance was so raw and so watchable that even the unfamiliar are somehow aware of the scene with the butter. As I’ve read in several reviews of that film, only Brando could have played the role, as no one else would have been so willing to suffer such indignities and vulnerability. Such a performance was all too rare for Brando, but few actors can point to the few successes he did have.
Sure, he was a bit nutty, most certainly a pig, and one of Hollywood’s greediest assholes. He sold his talents by the yard and was so contemptuous of the process that he rarely read scripts or showed up prepared. He knew that his very presence was intimidating, so he played along to make up for a decided lack of interest in what he was doing. His laziness could be confused for “craft” and his maniacal ramblings could be excused as “method.” But his impact remains undeniable and when he was on, no one did it better. And because he didn’t give a fuck, or believe in God, or kiss the ass of the Hollywood elite, he has my enduring respect. Even if he did appear in The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Fun Internet Brando Stuff
“When you deal with someone like Marlon, you expect quirkiness,” Frank Oz said. “He is an extraordinary human being and an extraordinary actor. Were there problems? Sure, but not just Marlon. With Marlon, you just expect the fact that he’s quirky. That’s what happens with genius. They’re not normal people. But he was gracious and very caring. Was it perfect? No. It was just out of differences of opinion on the creative aspect. Marlon’s not the only person I’ve ever differed with. Marlon gets better press because he’s more well known. He’s a good hook for the press. It’s unfair to him really.”
Director Sets The Score Straight About Brando
11 July 2001 (WENN)
Movie director Frank Oz has slammed reports of Marlon Brando’s crazy behavior on the set of The Score as greatly exaggerated. Brando has been accused of referring to Oz as Miss Piggy – after the Muppet Show character that Oz voiced – during filming, of refusing to wear pants to force the cameramen to film him from the waist up only, and of refusing to be directed by Oz and taking his directions from co-star Robert De Niro instead. Oz retorts, “You always have tricky moments with any movie, with any actors. Going in you know damn well you’re going to have them, but that’s what you look forward to because out of those moments come good stuff.” But while the director says the 77-year-old didn’t test his patience too badly, he concedes that movies can become all the better for off-screen conflict. And the film’s producer Gary Foster agrees, saying, “Everybody was trying to make the movie as great as it could be. “When you have that kind of creative power, there’s bound to be arguments. It’s normal.”
Brando Clashes With Muppet Man
10 July 2001 (WENN)
Screen legend Marlon Brando has clashed with his latest director on the set of The Score. According to reports in Time, the movie giant would refuse to come to the set if director Frank Oz was present, leaving co-star Robert De Niro to direct one of Brando’s scenes. Oz – who started with Jim Henson and has voiced such famous Muppets as Grover and Miss Piggy, as well as Jedi master Yoda – watched from an offsite monitor and sent instructions to De Niro via an assistant director. When they were in the same room, Brando called Oz ‘Miss Piggy.’ The film stars Brando as an elderly gay crook orchestrating the biggest heist of his career, DeNiro as a thief ready for retirement and Edward Norton as an aspiring young thug. The 77-year-old Brando earned about $3 million for three weeks of work. The film cost nearly $70 million.
When Yoda And The Godfather Clashed
9 July 2001 (StudioBriefing)
If any of the high drama that played out behind the scenes of the upcoming The Score was captured by set photographers, the ensuing “making of” feature ought to make the DVD a best seller. As reported in the current issue of Time, feuding between costar Marlon Brando and director Frank Oz began shortly after Brando, who plays a homosexual crook, arrived on set made up, in Time’s words, “like Barbara Bush doing her best Truman Capote impression.” Oz told Time that he repeatedly asked Brando to tone down his performance. Although Brando obliged, Time reported, he often responded with a curt “F*** you” and sometimes referred to Oz on set as “Miss Piggy,” one of the many characters the director performed in his younger days as Jim Henson’s closest Muppet collaborator. In a separate interview with today’s (Monday) Los Angeles Times, Oz remarked, “We had a difference in creative interpretation of the role … and the producers backed me, which I’m grateful for. But that caused a rift between us. … I think it was as much my fault as his fault.”
Marlon Brando apparently brought in a note from his doctor saying that he was “allergic” to director Frank Oz on the set of the movie The Score because he didn’t want the guy in the same room.