Method to His Madness

BAMPFA screens a Marlon Brandon retrospective this fall.


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See Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalsky in "Streetcar Named Desire" and other films at the fall retropsective.

At this late date, it requires some dedication to appreciate Marlon Brando through the lacquered layers of parody, self-parody, real-life melodrama, and generation upon generation of mumbling copycats. Viewed with a clear eye and a clean slate, the blistering BAMPFA retrospective, Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind, gives us the silver screen’s greatest raw talent in his undiluted, cut-the-crap brilliance. The man inhabited his characters like a beast, dealing head-on with the brutal expectations and contradictions of being a man in postwar America.

The series begins with Brando’s indelible portrayal of Stanley Kowalski, translating his galvanizing Broadway performance in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (Sept. 1) for the tight framing of Elia Kazan’s camera. Another claustrophobic Williams script, The Fugitive Kind (Sept. 17), locked Brando in a small Southern town with the equally impassioned Anna Magnani, along with Joanne Woodward and Maureen Stapleton. Brando made his screen debut in The Men (Sept. 9) with a remarkable physical—and emotional—performance as a paralyzed World War II vet struggling to find the way forward for himself and his fiancée.

Brando was the quintessential Method actor, dedicated to and consumed by the uncompromising pursuit of inner truth. Earnestness invites mockery, alas, and his work was denigrated as a calculated collection of neurotic tics and unduly hesitant line readings. (Truman Capote’s infamous 1957 New Yorker profile, drawn from an alcohol-fueled, unwittingly revealing interview while Brando was shooting Sayonara in Japan, contributed to the public perception of the actor.) Years later, his monumental work in The Godfather and Apocalypse Now Redux (the extended 2001 director’s cut), both screening in October, won Brando a clutch of younger admirers. Courageous and contradictory, mercurial and mercenary, Brando was made for the movies.

Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind, Sept. 1-Oct. 28, BAMPFA, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, 510-642-0808, BAMPFA.org.

 

This report appears in the September edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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