Brando: A Chronicle of Greatness

The Sixth Annual Tribeca Film Festival recently presented the World Premiere of Brando the film tribute that chronicled the life and legacy of one of the greatest acting talents to have ever existed.  The film was what I have titled this review: A Chronicle of Greatness.

The Tribeca Film Festival Presents . . . "Brando."

The film 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 went here, to someone's home and there to someone elses and would be gone for days without care as an alcoholic binge left his mother deadened to reality. These tragic experiences shaped by the refiners fire into gold, and for us and future generations of talent, these tragedies were the life, the fuel, the force that became Marlon Brando.

The images of Marlon Brando: A Hollywood Icon.

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 of 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." This type of vagueness in his public responses were standard for Brando and proved exasperating to both colleagues and press.

Brando at his screen test for "A Street Car Named Desire."

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 it from the 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 name, Stanley Kowalski will always be synonymous with Marlon Brando.  The stage version of A Street Car Named Desire propelled Brando to the big screen and his career took off with the revival of Stanley Kowalski.

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

The rebel without a cause Brando in "The Wild Ones."

Mr. 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 that he performed with genuine emotions.  These emotions came from the deep tragic hurts, usually childhood experiences, or happiness or places of fulfillment and yet he was always able to project the right emotion at the right time and gave to the audience the ability to see realism in art. 

Marlon Brando stuns the industry with his classic perfomance of "Julius Ceasar."

This began the Brando generation. Brando 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 the power of his talent.

"On the Waterfront," one of the six pack that made Brando a name for generations.

The film highlighted scenes from each of these movies. The famous scene from On the Waterfront where Brando was talking to his friend and explaining that he knew from a place within himself that "I could have been somebody, I could have been a contender."  I cried. The emotion was as powerful edited into a second film as in its original form. 

Brando and Jack Nicholson in "Missouri Breaks."

The film details Brando's relationships with friends and as a lover of the ladies. In the film, 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.

Brando and co-star, Maria Schneider in "Last Tango In Paris."

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 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!

The movie poster for "Apocalypse Now" a movie that defined the Vietnam War.


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

James Cann, Marlon Brando, Director Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino and the late John Cazale, a family photo from "The Godfather."

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

Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone with Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen in "The Godfather."

By the time, Brando was under consideration for the role of Vito Corleone the studios and studio executives were done with him. They had put up with his over the top antics and he was not the classic six pack talent anymore. The six-pack he delivered with Elia Kazan was a distant memory. Still Brando 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

Marlon Brando stuns the industry with his snub for Best Actor Oscar instead bringing attention to Wounded Knee and the plight of the American Indians.

This action, after the commercial success of The Godfather, was taken as a personal slight against the industry that felt it supported Mr. Brando during his exploits. His use of a Native American female who was asked by Mr. Brando to present a rambling lengthy letter of the issues surrounding the plight of these people and the industry's flaws were taken as a "bite the hand that feeds you" action.

To say, Brando was not understood by his associates is also not an understatement. His passions took him to many different causes such as standing for Civil Rights for African Americans in a time when it was not a Hollywood cause and the plight of the Native American. The film depicted the intensity of Brando's passions equally present in his devotions. 

Charlton Heston, James Baldwin, and Marlon Brando at a Civil Rights March.

He championed, in the 1960's, The Civil Rights Movement 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.

His greatness, the talent that defined a generation and moved a future one has to be available through another. If there was one talent, Brando, that captured the essence heart, soul, being and personified what is the Method than the impossible can be conquered again. And yet, to date, there was only one Brando.


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