It physically pains me to know that I’ll never get to sleep with Marlon Brando. I’ve lusted after many unattainable celebrities in my life, but Brando isn’t just any unattainable celebrity — he’s Brando. And he’s dead.
The most painful aspect of my predicament is that I know he would have taken me to his bed if I had been around to make advances. He was a self-proclaimed sex addict — if you made him an offer, he wouldn’t refuse. Of course, he’d only allow a woman to stay for two, maybe three nights in a row before he asked her to leave so he could “be alone,” IE: call another broad. This sort of bargain does not typically appeal to me, but a fling with Brando would be anything but typical. In fact, those two or three days would be the best damn days ever, especially if they took place before Brando reached 200+ pounds. We’d stay in bed eating ice-cream and popping Valium. He’d entertain me by playing his bongo drums or reciting Shakespeare. We’d hang out with Tim, his pet ocelot who knew how to use the toilet. We’d sing old songs at the top of our lungs. We’d dance. We’d talk about global issues and about how corporate fat cats were destroying the environment. We’d make love. We’d eat more ice- cream.
I find it interesting that despite being considered one of the greatest actors of all time (if not TheGreatest, until Meryl Streep kicks the bucket), Brando is only associated with a handful of classic films. Because this is my blog, I am going to go ahead and say that those films are (a) The Godfather, (b) On The Waterfront, and (c) A Streetcar Named Desire.
Only three films? Well, yeah, actually. Now, I’m not saying that these are the only films in which Brando is brilliant, because he’s brilliant in everything. I’ve simply listed his most iconic films. For example,just because his role in Mutiny on the Bounty isn’t as famous as his role in The Godfather, that does not mean it was not an astounding performance. Apocalypse Now, anyone?I first saw that movie in my film appreciation class in 12th grade. We watched it on a huge projector screen in a very dark room. George W. Bush had been re-elected six months earlier, and the terror (rather, “The Horror,”) of the Iraq War rarely left my mind. After watching this scene, it took me several minutes before I could formulate sentences:
Furthermore, Brando wasn’t exactly Lawrence Olivier when it came to performing Shakespeare, but did you seeJulius Caesar? Not only was Brando a huge Hollywood star at that point, he was a Hollywood hottie. Ya think the hottest hottie in Hollywood today could play Mark Antony? Leo’s great, but remember his Romeo?Brad’s hunky, but remember his Achilles? Robert Downey Jr would just be Tony Stark in a toga; Johnny Depp would insist on painting himself blue.
And have you seen THIS? This is, as young kids say today, full of win.
I’m not rambling. This is all very important.
All right. So even if you haven’t seen The Godfather, hearing the movie title most likely inspires you to think of a puffy old dude holding a cat. You may even be able to do a botched Don Corleone impression.
Haven’t seen On the Waterfront? You really should. At any rate, you’ve still heard someone say, “I coulda been a contender” (pronounced con-ten-deh).
No Streetcar? No problem. Does, “STELLAAAAAAA!!!” ring any bells?
“Steff, what are your favorite Brando films?” Gee. My favorites? I’d have to say The Godfather (funny accent), On the Waterfront (“contendeh”), A Streetcar Named Desire (“STELLA!”), and one more film which, in my personal opinion, is one of the best films of the 1970’s (and if it’s one of the best of the 1970’s, it’s one of the best ever made), Last Tango in Paris. What image does that movie usually conjure in a person’s mind? The scene that Last Tango is infamous for may be only half as well known as the “I coulda been a contender” monologue, but to the people who have seen the film, the words “Go get the butter” are quite significant.
Before I proceed, I have to say that while I LOVE this film, and while I believe that it is a work of art and not pornography, I must clarify that I would never show Last Tango to anyone who hasn’t seen worse. For example, while browsing through a Barnes and Noble with my Yia-yia (Greek grandma) last month, I picked up a copy of Last Tango on DVD so I could examine the price. My Yia-yia spent the next several minutes trying to convince me that we should watch it together. I let her know that that was not going to happen. “Is it too risqué?” she asked, grinning deviously. “It’s beyond risqué,” I said. My Yia-yia didn’t grow up during a time when you could type “tits” in to Google and get 45,600,000 results in 0.19 seconds. (Examine that sentence for a moment.) She has definitely not “seen worse.” I would also never show Last Tango to someone who wasn’t at least somewhat of a film enthusiast, or to someone who had zero interest in acting. If a person were to name Transformers, Eat, Pray, Love, or Talladega Nights as his or her favorite movie, the next words out of my mouth would not be, “Then you have to see Last Tango.” While I, Stephanie Callas, may possess the ability to watch the infamous Butter Scene and only focus on how great Brando’s dialogue is, I absolutely understand how other people could find the scene repulsive and upsetting. That being said, I am about to tell you why I, personally, think Last Tango is one of the most romantic films I have ever seen. If my writing inspires you to go out and find a copy of the film, that’s great. If you do a little research on your own and determine that you’d rather skip it, that’s fine, too. I get it.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, allow me to be frank: the romantic movies of today totally suck. They suck, and they’re all the same. There’s a formula out there that’s been used so many times that I don’t even have to see these Goddamn movies to know exactly what happens in them: there’s a young woman who is on her cell phone all the time who meets a young man who likes beer and boobs and they bicker until they finally kiss at the one hour mark and then the girl goes to visit him the next day and he’s being whipped with a dead fish by a beautiful blonde woman but he can “explain everything” but the young woman runs away crying and then in the last ten minutes the young man charters a plane and jumps out of it and lands on the young woman’s roof and his parachute says “I LOVE YOU” and he sings “The Way You Look Tonight” with the Count Basie Orchestra in the background and all is right with the fucking world.
Did I miss anything?
I’m tired of female protagonists who are all supposed to be tight-assed workaholics who only learn how to enjoy life after meeting happy-go-lucky Matthew McConaughey. I’m tired of male love interests who have no redeeming qualities whatsoever until they start to show tenderness during some bullshit Now-They’re-In-Love-Montage. I’m tired of flawless hair and supernatural abs. I’m tired of bleached teeth and fake tans. I’m tired of bad soundtracks. I’m even tired of happy endings. Thankfully, Last Tango features none of these things.
The movie is about 20 year old Jeanne, a beautiful Parisienne, who has a passionate love affair with Paul, an American ex-patriot whose wife has just committed suicide. Paul and Jeanne promise each other that their affair will remain completely anonymous — they won’t even tell each other their names. This arrangement works out fine in the beginning, but soon their feelings for each other grow strong. As Jeanne falls in love with Paul, she yearns to tell him more and more about herself, as well as learn more about him. At the same time, Paul’s behavior spirals out of control as he struggles not only to make sense of his love for Jeanne, but also to cope with his wife’s suicide. There are many ups and downs as Jeanne realizes she is in love with a man who does not want to know her at all. Meanwhile, Paul makes every attempt to push Jeanne away, but what he really wants is to be close to her. (Raise your hand if you’ve experienced THAT.) The sadness is believable, the frustration is palpable, the sex is truthful, and the pillow talk is hauntingly familiar. The last ten minutes of the movie, while not at all happy, are absolutely beautiful. Mind-blowingly beautiful.
The sex is “truthful,” eh?
Jeanne and Paul’s first sexual encounter takes place while the two of them are looking at an apartment for rent. After an unremarkable conversation (“So, do you like the apartment?” “I don’t know. Are you going to rent it?” and so on), Paul shuts the door, walks over to Jeanne, throws her hat across the room, takes her in his arms, and lovingly carries her to the…wall. They make love like maniacs. Paul doesn’t bother removing any of Jeanne’s clothes — he simply rips the crotch of her tights. He remains fully clothed as well — his long, camel-colored coat hides everything. Jeanne wraps her legs around Paul’s waist, and they make love standing up. This first encounter, while romantically fantastic (a chance meeting with a stranger you proceed to screw against a wall of an apartment in PARIS), is actually quite realistic. While Maria Schneider, the actress who plays Jeanne, is rather petite in the film, Brando has a difficult time physically supporting her in this particular position. (Stanley Kowalski may have been able to maneuver this scene with a bit more sensual flair, but Last Tango Brando was 48 years old at the time.) As Paul makes love to Jeanne, he hunches forward, struggling to hold her upright. This doesn’t ruin everything, however, because there is still a fair amount of gasping and moaning. The sounds Paul and Jeanne make, however, aren’t the sensationalized screams of pleasure typically featured on Boardwalk Empire — they’re the sounds two people make when they are trying their best to keep the noise level down. They eventually fall to the floor, and after they climax, Jeanne breaks free from Paul and rolls to the other side of the room. They each lie on the floor gasping for air, neither of them aware of each other’s presence. There is no cuddling, not even nods of recognition — just two people trying to regain their composure before going about their day.
Paul moves in to the apartment, and he and Jeanne continue their affair when Jeanne arrives at his door to return the key she initially borrowed from the concierge. Paul then establishes the ground rules for their relationship: “I don’t want to know your name. You don’t have a name, and I don’t have a name either [. . .] I don’t want to know where you live or where you come from, I want to know nothing, nothing, nothing!” For whatever reason, rather than run back to her boyfriend (yes, her boyfriend, Tom, a filmmaker), Jeanne chooses to commit to the anonymous affair. Of course, Jeanne does not know that Paul’s desire to remain so distant from her stems from his newfound isolation brought on by his wife’s death. He has to control something. However, the next time Paul and Jeanne make love, they begin to establish a sense of intimacy:
Some people may think this scene is just weird, but I think that while it is unusual, it is also very sweet. No, Paul and Jeanne are not lying side by side gazing into each other’s eyes spouting out “Goo-goo gah-gah” bullshit. Instead, they’re acting silly. They’re daring to appear unattractive. They’re being themselves. They may not know each other’s names, but they do know that, for some reason, they are comfortable.
There are several scenes where we see Jeanne and Paul’s bond grow stronger during their post-coital interactions. Sadly, Paul is not always on board for more emotional intimacy. During one scene, Jeanne tells Paul a good deal about her childhood, blatantly ignoring Paul’s explicit conditions. Surprisingly, Paul does not protest. He only says, “I don’t mind if you tell the truth, but don’t give me the names. I can’t handle that. But go on, tell the truth.” He, too, talks about his childhood (his monologue being one of many moments in the film that make you want to raise a glass to Stella Adler). After Paul realizes that he has broken his own rules, however, he tries to distract Jeanne by asking her a rather unorthodox question: “When did you first come? How old were you?” She answers him, and when she finishes her story, Paul walks away from her without commenting. The camera remains on Jeanne for awhile, but when we see Paul again, he has tears in his eyes. He struggles to breath. His chin trembles. He is overwhelmed. How can he possibly have feelings for this half naked hot young thing? Why did he let her tell him about her past? Why did he listen? Why did he do the same? Walk away. Be very quiet. Cry.
Oh, Brando. How were you always so damn BELIEVABLE? How did you nail it every time? (By the way, there’s a scene where he talks to the body of his dead wife after she’s been all made-up for her wake…it’s astounding. The first lines of his monologue are, “You look ridiculous in that makeup. Like a caricature of a whore.” WHO SAYS THAT? Bravo!)
Jeanne does not know about Paul’s wife’s suicide until the end of the film. Therefore, she has no idea why Paul is acting so, well, so damn weird all the time. Still, she falls in love with him (like ya do), and she keeps coming back for more despite his unpredictable behavior. Every time Paul makes Jeanne cry, I want to cry, too. Every time she goes against her better judgment and ditches her fiancé to visit Paul, I can feel the burden of her desire. She’s stuck on a miserable old bastard who treats her like crap, and she comes back to him again and again. Oddly and refreshingly, despite her sub-par decisions, she doesn’t seem like a moron — she seems human.
Finally, while this movie is jam-packed with moments that make me sigh with cinephilia, I need to say, once again, that the last ten minutes of this film are too good to miss. I will not describe them here, partly because I do not want to give anything away, but mostly because I don’t think I could do the sequence justice with my words. All I will say is that the first time I watched the film, the last ten minutes — the only part of the film where Jeanne and Paul venture outside of the apartment together — took my breath away. I was literally on the edge of my seat, and I wasn’t sure why. I felt nervous, excited, and giddy. I was overwhelmed by how beautiful everything looked. Brando was hilarious and charming. I smiled at everything anyone said, and yet I felt like crying. It’s a perfect depiction of terrible timing. Don’t expect me to explain any further.
Movies that deal with romance need to be more than superficial puff pieces if they’re going to be any damn good. I don’t want to sit there thinking, “This woman is an idiot” or “This man isn’t worth a damn.” I want to think, “This poor woman is trapped” or, “I wish this man would get it together!” To me, Last Tango is one of the most romantic movies out there. Does Last Tango scream “FOREIGN FILM”? Yes. Is Last Tango a bit retro-looking? Yes. (All of Schneider’s outfits are kick ass, and her bush is epic.) Is some of the dialogue a bit too, “Hey, look at me”? Yes. Is Last Tango absolutely gorgeous? Does it make me want to cry for the past? Does it make me want to fall in love? Yes, yes, and yes. This film dares to show us its characters’ flaws. This film dares to suggest that sex isn’t always cinematic. This film dares to explore what happens in that moment when a person realizes that what he feels in his heart has changed from lust to love, and he knows he’s completely fucked…
It’s a Hell of a flick.
Bon nuit, mes amis. Bon nuit, Brando. You’re still the greatest leading man we’ve ever known. Je t’aime.