Category Archives: Μπράντο Μάρλον

‘Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando’ by Stefan Kanfer

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando


By Jonathan Shapiro
November 27, 2008

Writing for actors is a privilege and a pain. Good actors elevate the material, finding truths the writer never intended. But their process, the means by which they are able to breathe life into a character, is an infuriating mystery. Articulate actors rhapsodize about their craft. Honest ones admit not even they can explain how they do it.

That’s why writing about acting is so difficult, why biographies of actors so often lapse into celebrity tell-all and about addiction, sex and other irrelevancies unrelated to the actor’s talents. And no actor has had as much written about his elusive art as Marlon Brando, who was the greatest actor of his time, or the most overrated — or both.

«Before Brando, actors acted. After Brando, they behaved,» director Michael Winner famously intoned, but Brando’s critics only saw bad behavior masquerading as acting. Over a long and tortured career, Brando provided sufficient evidence to support both views.

Stefan Kanfer’s new biography, «Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando,» is a serious effort to explain the man, his gifts as an actor, his influence on the profession, and how an acting innovator ended up as such a celebrity cliché. As Kanfer makes clear, no one was more perplexed by this trajectory than Brando himself.

Or more conflicted. «What everyone missed,» Kanfer argues, «. . . was Marlon’s deep-seated ambivalence toward fame, and much more significant, toward acting itself. Was it art? A craft? Or was it just another ego trip, a part of the big American publicity machine?» Brando often disparaged acting as an unseemly con: «Acting is an illusion, a histrionic form of sleight of hand . . . it’s a bum’s life,» he said. On the set, he rarely learned his lines, followed direction or respected his colleagues.

Yet Kanfer argues persuasively that that while Brando lacked discipline and judgment, could be craven when it came to money and cruel when it came to commitments, he believed deeply in the actor’s ability to achieve truth, and in so doing, change the world.

Well-researched and beautifully written, the book is as fascinating and frustrating as the subject himself. Not even the gifted Kanfer («Groucho,» «Ball of Fire») can untangle the contradictions and confusions that explain what made Brando great. Whatever it is exists on the screen in Brando’s performances, though not always (the man made more turkeys than Louis Rich); like God and obscenity, you know it when you see it.

It all began with such promise. Physically beautiful, explosively charismatic, Brando’s early stage work, brought to the screen with «A Streetcar Named Desire,» and his performance in «On the Waterfront» are mesmerizing. British legend John Gielgud was so impressed with Brando’s performance as Marc Antony in «Julius Caesar» that he offered him a full season of repertory in London.

Sadly, it never happened. Instead, Brando threw his talent away on material that was awful («The Young Lions»), dreadful («The Countess From Hong Kong») and prurient («Last Tango in Paris»). Along the way Brando bumbled through a series of ill-advised marriages, fathered children he was emotionally ill-equipped to raise, and embraced the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement and the plight of Pacific Islanders with lunatic sincerity.

«The Godfather» resurrected Brando’s career, in no small part because of the supporting work of a generation of actors Brando helped create. Al Pacino, James Caan and Robert Duvall viewed their costar as a god, the man who remade acting and actors in his own brooding image. Brando’s performance as Don Corleone was transcendent, as was his Col. Kurtz in «Apocalypse Now.» But his odd behavior and outright laziness convinced even his most devoted acolytes that what lay behind the Method actor’s genius was not method but madness.

Kanfer argues persuasively that it was mental illness rather than character flaws that bedeviled Brando. The product of a miserably dysfunctional Omaha, Neb., family, Brando was a hostile youth, «burning insects, slashing tires» and killing birds. A man of limited intelligence but enormous sensitivity and emotional need, Brando was ill-suited for the rough-and-tumble of celebrity and show business. Indeed, Kanfer makes a strong case that Brando’s decamping to an island in the South Seas was more an attempt to forswear his profession than a search for Nirvana.

In the end, the most Kanfer can decipher is that Brando thought long and hard about Brando, yet not even Brando could solve the mystery of his own talent. And because he could not understand it or summon it at will, or always know where and how to use it, Brando distrusted and abused it.

They have a name for great actors who can summon their craft with technical expertise without destroying themselves or those around them. The term is «British.» If only Brando had taken Gielgud up on his offer, the world of acting might have been more complete.

  • Shapiro is a writer and producer on the NBC television drama «Life.»

Method and Madness

Hulton Archive/Getty Images (1951). Marlon Brando

In the end, of course, Brando never played Hamlet, nor did he exhaust the “great possibilities” that Williams and so many others detected. Though he liberated generations of actors when he brought a fresh vulnerability to his early film roles — a majestic four-year run culminating in his 1954 portrayal of Terry Malloy, the anguished ex-boxer in “On the Waterfront” — Brando had barely reached his 30s before he entered his ­Elvis-in-the-jumpsuit phase. He picked bad projects and gave indifferent performances, however speckled they might be with astonishing ­flashes. His weight ballooned, and he refused to learn his lines. Acting itself seemed ridiculous to him: “a bum’s life,” useful primarily as a way to pay his shrink’s bills. After more than a decade of this dud work, Brando made an astounding comeback, putting out “The Godfather” and “Last Tango in Paris” in 1972. But the eccentric decay soon resumed. Nobody needed to see his lip-lock with Larry King, or his various family tragedies, or “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

Why do the great ones so rarely have the capacity to handle their genius? Brando is not the first talent to invite the question — his contemporary Orson Welles preceded him on the path of brilliant promise, wobbly mature work and self-sabotaging obesity — but Stefan Kanfer helps establish him as the all-time Exhibit A. His new biography, “Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando,” is not as exhaustive as Peter Manso’s 1,100-page endeavor, or as concisely illuminating as Patricia Bosworth’s more recent short book, or as engaging as Brando’s own memoir. But it is the first serious biography to appear since Brando’s death in 2004, and therefore the first account to corral in one place the whole story of what Kanfer aptly calls “a life of ludicrous excess, outlandish triumphs and appalling sorrows.”

The combination didn’t take long to emerge. Brando arrived in New York in 1943 at the age of 19, a military-school dropout from a busted Midwestern family. (His mother, a frustrated actress, drank; his father derided and brutalized him, reacting to his 4-F status in the war by sneering, “Is there anything else you could fail at?”) But Brando found his way to the classes of the legendary Stella Adler, who soon declared that “this puppy thing will be America’s finest actor.”

His time at the New School is important and poorly understood. Though Brando’s talent is frequently treated as a vindication of the Method, the memory-mining technique that Lee Strasberg sloppily adopted from the great Russian director Konstantin Stanislavsky, Kanfer points out that Brando despised Strasberg. He learned much more from Adler, though she knew better than to take credit for his success. Stanislavsky’s system is meant to help actors find the inspiration that gen­iuses feel with no system at all. Even as a novice, Brando made other actors look as if they were painting with rollers.

Radical as Brando’s charismatic immediacy seemed to people on Broadway — and, beginning in 1950, to movie audiences — he wasn’t the only one making such a breakthrough. Around the same time, Jackson Pollock’s art and Charlie Parker’s music reflected a similar mix of casualness and intensity, technique and spontaneity. His personal life also grew chaotic enough to rival those of his fellow modernist giants, as he roamed nocturnal New York (particularly its minority neighborhoods), tended a pet raccoon named Russell and bedded everything that moved. But unlike Parker and Pollock — or his only acting rivals in those years, James Dean (who revered him) and Montgomery Clift — Brando didn’t destroy himself, at least not all at once. He let himself be humiliated by Truman Capote in a 1957 interview in The New Yorker; unwisely entrusted his money to his father, who lost it; and collected enough lovers and children (at least 11, by the end) to keep him in almost constant need of cash.

It is customary at this point to tut-tut about the ways that American culture ­forces its leading lights to work on execrable junk to remain solvent. But Kanfer, who has written biographies of Groucho Marx and Lucille Ball, notes that Brando made dumb choices, turning down premieres of “The Iceman Cometh” and “Present Laughter” on Broadway and “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” on screen. The most tantalizing offer of all came from John Gielgud. After playing Cassius to Brando’s Marc Antony in the film of “Julius Caesar,” he invited the young American to join him and Paul Scofield for a full season in London. Here, in Brando’s prime, and with the best collaborators imaginable, was a path that led to the long-awaited Hamlet. Instead, he made “The Wild One” — an iconic film, but still laughably unworthy of his talent.

However much he abused them, Brando’s gifts survived the rot of his later films. Watch, in “The Godfather,” how he sniffs a rose, or strokes a cat, or slaps a co-star — all on-the-spot inventions of a fertile creative mind. To the end, he was “the same man with the same extraordinary aptitude for inhabiting a character, just older and heavier,” Kanfer writes. Having outgrown the handsome distress of youth, he “still allowed viewers to see the whole Brando, a man at risk, a vastly overweight, compulsive figure for whom meals had become what strong drink had been to his parents.” Here, as elsewhere, Kanfer is respectful toward his subject’s quest — “perhaps an Ahabian one” — to act, as Brando put it, “the way it’s never been done before.” But he doesn’t coddle Brando for taking up the causes of the Black Panthers, Native Americans and the rest of life’s oppressed: “The off-screen efforts he made on their behalf had no lasting effect.”

These attempts at philanthropy invite a pretty obvious contrast to a fine actor who did manage to be a fine citizen: Paul Newman. Alas, it’s so obvious a contrast that, as Kanfer acknowledges, Richard Schickel already made it in his own Brando biography nearly 20 years ago. Here lies the real limitation of Kanfer’s book. Though it provides a thorough account of Brando’s life, it features little fresh insight, no matter how up-to-date its diagnoses — “oppositional defiant disorder,” “narcissistic personality disorder” and the old standby “oral fixation” — may be. In fact, it’s precisely when Kanfer offers what should be the book’s punch line that its limitations lie most plain: “If there was a ‘Rosebud’ in Brando’s life,” he writes in his concluding chapter, “it was the mental illness that had dogged him for decades, probably from early childhood.” No kidding.

Kanfer’s survey of Brando’s post­humous legacy also feels a little wanting, reaching as it does to obscure Web sites and pop lyrics to round out the picture. But he had the good sense to include in his book the definitive remembrance of Brando, one delivered with a perfect blend of awe and chagrin. “There was never anyone remotely like Marlon Brando,” his New School classmate Elaine Stritch once said. “Thank God.”

But his legacy is, in a real sense, on every stage and screen in the world. You can see it when gifted actors follow their intuition to create something fresh (e.g., early Pacino) and when self-absorbed actors preen and wallow in excess (e.g., late Pacino). Even today, actors go on discovering what musicians found when they followed Charlie Parker into heroin addiction, or what you learn when you test the proposition that your kid can paint like Pollock by letting him actually try: geniuses like Brando strike self and material together in a way that sets off some incomparable spark, radiating so much charisma that they get away with choices that would seem asinine from anyone else.

Thinking about Brando’s legacy now leads to one name above all others: Heath Ledger. As an introverted gay ranch hand in “Brokeback Mountain” and the quivering, maniacal Joker in “The Dark Knight,” he touched the far extremes of a film actor’s range, and made both look as natural as Brando in his prime. There’s little point in wondering if he might have been the new Brando had he lived. As Elaine Stritch knew, there could be no such thing. Better simply to marvel that an actor so young found a way, as Brando did, to disappear into his art while remaining originally and brilliantly himself.

Jeremy McCarter writes for Newsweek and is the editor of “Bite the Hand That Feeds You: Essays and Provocations,” by Henry Fairlie, to be published in June.

On the night “A Streetcar Named Desire” opened on Broadway, Tennessee Williams sent his young leading man a rapturous telegram: “From the greasy Polack you will someday arrive at the gloomy Dane for you have something that makes the theater a world of great possibilities.” Looking back now, you might describe that as, word for word, the most poignant couple of lines Williams ever wrote. For one thing, “greasy Polack” reflects a pinched view of what Marlon Brando achieved. Stanley Ko­walski is a brute, a vulgarian and a rapist, but Brando also gave him a canny intelligence and enough charm that the play’s audiences joined him in laughing at Williams’s heroine, Blanche DuBois, every night. Brando’s looks also helped: thanks to the poetic face he carried atop his muscled body, his loutish Stanley could have passed for a slumming demigod.

Μάρλον Μπράντο… απ΄ την καλή κι απ΄ την ανάποδη

Ο Μάρλον Μπράντο ως Στάνλεϊ Κοβάλσκι στην περίφημη κινηματογραφική μεταφορά του «Λεωφορείου ο Πόθος» του Τενεσί Γουίλιαμς, σε σκηνοθεσία Ελία Καζάν (1951)

Κυκλοφόρησε η πρώτη, σύμφωνα με τους «Τimes», σοβαρή βιογραφία μετά τον θάνατο του μεγάλου αμερικανού ηθοποιού

Άλλαξε τους κανόνες της υποκριτικής, ενέπνευσε γενιές ολόκληρες ηθοποιών και παραμένει πρότυπο προς μίμηση. Ωστόσο ο Μάρλον Μπράντο«δεν κατάφερε να χειριστεί την ιδιοφυΐα του», σύμφωνα με την τελευταία βιογραφία του «Τhe reckless life and remarkable carreer of Μarlon Βrando».

Η 350 σελίδων εικονογραφημένη βιογραφία που υπογράφει ο Στέφαν Κάνφερ κυκλοφόρησε προσφάτως από τις εκδόσεις Faber and Faber και, σύμφωνα με τους «Τimes» της Νέας Υόρκης, είναι «η πρώτη σοβαρή βιογραφία που έχει γραφεί για τον Μπράντο μετά τον θάνατό του το 2004».

Ο Κάνφερ χαρακτηρίζει τη ζωή του Μπράντο συνδυασμό «γελοίας υπερβολής, απίστευτων θριάμβων και τρομερών θλίψεων», αρχής γενομένης από τα παιδικά χρόνια του, όταν ο Μπράντο (γεννημένος το 1924) μεγάλωνε δίπλα σε μια μέθυσο μητέρα και σε έναν πατέρα που τον κακοποιούσε. Εχοντας αποτύχει στη στρατιωτική σχολή, σε ηλικία 19 χρόνων βρήκε τον δρόμο του στη Νέα Υόρκη μαθητεύοντας δίπλα στη θρυλική Στέλλα Αντλερ, η οποία είδε πάνω του «τον καλύτερο ηθοποιό της Αμερικής».

Μία από τις αποκαλύψεις της βιογραφίας είναι ότι στην πραγματικότητα ο Μπράντο μισούσε τον δάσκαλο υποκριτικής Λι Στράσμπεργκ, ο οποίος είχε υιοθετήσει τη μέθοδο Στανισλάφσκι.

Το φαινόμενο Μάρλον Μπράντο εμφανίστηκε σε μια εποχή που η τέχνη άλλαζε γενικώς. Ο Τσάρλι Πάρκερ στην τζαζ και ο Τζάκσον Πόλοκ στις εικαστικές τέχνες αντανακλούσαν παρόμοιο ηλεκτρισμό και ένταση.

Σε αντίθεση, όμως, με αυτούς ή με άλλους ριζοσπαστικούς ηθοποιούς της γενιάς του, όπως ο Μοντγκόμερι Κλιφτ και ο Τζέιμς Ντιν, ο Μπράντο δεν καταστράφηκε- τουλάχιστον όχι αμέσως.

Ο Κάνφερ αναφέρεται σε γνωστά ή λιγότερο γνωστά περιστατικά της επαγγελματικής και της προσωπικής ζωής του εστιάζοντας στον άστατο χαρακτήρα του. Μετά τη συνεργασία του με τον Τζον Γκίλγκουντ στον «Ιούλιο Καίσαρα» του Τζόζεφ Μάνκεβιτς, ο άγγλος ηθοποιός τού πρότεινε να παίξει «Αμλετ» στο Λονδίνο για μια ολόκληρη σεζόν. Εκείνος όμως αρνήθηκε την πρόταση επιλέγοντας να υποδυθεί τον «Ατίθασο», μια όχι σπουδαία ταινία, η οποία όμως έφτιαξε το είδωλό του.

Λάθος στην καριέρα του αποδείχθηκε επίσης η άρνησή του να υποδυθεί ρόλους όπως του «Λόρενς της Αραβίας» και του Μπουτς Κάσιντι στους «Δυο ληστές», ταινίες που έγιναν τεράστιες επιτυχίες. [Το Βήμα, 06/01/2009]