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Archive for August 2009

Marlon Brando: More than a contender

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streetcarBy the end of his life, Marlon Brando was often portrayed as a buffoon, a colossal wreck of a man, whose personal tragedies dominated his life; irrelevant to moviegoers three generations removed from his tormented, “Stella! Hey Stellaaaaa!” Yet Brando’s sweaty muscle-bound Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire set a new standard of performance, conveying a natural savage energy that transcended the Hayes Code censorship still firmly in place in 1951. Without Brando, there would not have been Pacino, no de Niro or Leonardo diCaprio or Johnny Depp. Equally important, without Marlon Brando, there may not have been an Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger or DMX.

While Brando’s contribution to acting is undeniable and universally recognised, his contribution to the birth of rock’n’roll is often overlooked. The actor made a single singing and dancing turn in 1955’s Guys and Dolls where he proved once and for all that he could neither sing nor dance.

brando-marlon-wild-one-the_04But Marlon Brando stirred up the primordial stew of unrest and youthful angst of the pre rock’n’roll 1950’s, straddling his own Triumph as Johnny Strabler, the leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (B.R.M.C) that terrorises the small American Midwestern town of Wrightsville in The Wild One in 1953. Unable to control the situation when a rival gang, headed by Lee Marvin (on a Harley) arrives and violence erupts, the exasperated sheriff pleads with Johnny, asking, “What are you rebelling against?” “Whaddya got?” was the response. The film was considered so potentially corrupting and inappropriate for a youth audience, that it was banned in Britain until 1968 and never shown in many American towns for fear of corrupting their fragile youth. Though the dangerousness of the gangs seems rather tame by contemporary standards, Brando’s depiction of Johnny remains on of the finest film performances of all-time.

brando waterfrontWhile it would be a couple more years until Bill Haley and the Comets rocked around the clock in their pastel braided suits ushering in the rock’n’roll era, Brando along with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, inspired the far more dangerous and sexual ‘angry young man’ persona that would later define the attitude of rock’n’roll.

In 1954’s On the Waterfront, for which he earned his first Best Actor Oscar, Brando cemented this image as Terry Malloy, destroyed by corruption all around him, including the brother who raised him. Turning his back on his brother after he has Terry set up a friend to be murdered, he uttered the legendary, “I coulda been a contenduh!” which resonates in Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues and Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel.

Brando, Wild OnePresley, Cochran, and Gene Vincent were insolent, rebellious, pissed off, and much to parents’ horror, were going to fuck your daughter – and she wanted them to, not unlike the innocent sheriff’s daughter Kathie Bleeker (Mary Murphy), in The Wild One, who finds herself falling in love with Johnny and says, “I wish you were going somewhere. I want to go somewhere. We could go together.”

Though his early films inspired a revolution that reverberated throughout the industry, as Brando moved into his thirties, he seemed a man divided. There was the man immersed in stardom, with his personal life an endless source of tabloid fodder and his choice of films seemingly based more on financing his excessive lifestyle (including the purchase of a string of Tahitian islands) than furthering his art. Then there was the passionate crusader, marching with Martin Luther King jun on Washington in1963, fighting for civil rights.

brando_leo_fuchsThough his box office appeal remained strong through the 60s, he made a string of mainstream films hardly worth revisiting, culminating in his only directorial effort, One Eyed Jacks, which was never released. Always plagued with weight problems, he was no longer the virile, muscle-bound youth, and moved into middle age as a sagging, dissolute has-been. The world thought it had seen the last of Marlon Brando.

Then in 1972, he returned triumphant as Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Aged and with his cheeks stuffed with tissue paper, Brando was at his peak as the all-powerful don, ruling the New York Mafia with an iron fist, invoked after he had ‘made an offer he couldn’t refuse’ to the offender. In one of the brando godfathermost controversial moments in Oscar history, he refused to accept the Best Actor statuette in protest of the treatment of Native Americans and sent the part-Apache Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to publicly refuse the award. John Wayne, standing backstage, was reportedly so enraged; he had to be restrained by a half dozen men as he tried to rush the podium to remove her.

Brando tangoBrando followed up with the X-rated Last Tango in Paris (1972), once again shocking audiences with the same raw emotion and primitive energy of his early films, as a recently widowed American in Paris who gets caught up in a sadomasochistic love affair.

brando-supermanWhile he continued to accept mainstream roles based on the size of the pay packet (most notoriously receiving the unheard of sum of US$4 million for little more than a cameo appearance as Jor-El in Superman (1978), he once again stunned the film world as the psychotic Colonel Walter Kurtz in Apocalypse Now in 1979. His portrayal of a renegade megalomaniac ‘ruling’ his personal kingdom in the jungle, so far out control the army has determined the only way to handle him is to kill him “with extreme prejudice,” in some ways, seemed to echo the actor’s own life. Making this film was so emotionally taxing for the ageing star he vowed never to undertake such a demanding role again.

Don-Juan-DeMarco-1206613022While none of his later films proved earth shattering, The Freshman (1990) with Matthew Broderick and Don Juan de Marco with Johnny Depp (1995) are both worth revisiting, the former where he takes the piss out of his Godfather character, and the latter, one of my personal favourites, where Brandon proved that at the age of 71 and carrying 150 kg he could still play a romantic lead to a still lovely Faye Dunaway.

With son, Christian

With son, Christian

The eighty year old actor, thrice married and father to at least eleven children, passed away alone in an LA hospital on 30 June 2004. An actor until the end, he had at least two film projects in the works including Brando on Brando, a feature film about an Arab boy in search of the star. He was frail in his final weeks and French director Ridha Behi was uncertain that Brando, who was on a respirator, would be able to complete the film. “He looked at me,” said Behi, “and pulled the mask off and said, ‘I am ready. You just say ‘action.’”


A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951

Viva Zapata

Viva Zapata

Viva Zapata, 1952

The Wild One, 1953

On the Waterfront, 1954

The Godfather, 1972

Last Tango in Paris, 1972

Apocolypse Now

Apocolypse Now

Apocalypse Now, 1979

A Dry, White Season, 1989

The Freshman, 1990

Don Juan de Marco, 1995

Test shot for Streetcar

Test shot for Streetcar

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

23/08/2009 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Film, Writing

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Homeward Bound

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(Note You can click on any of the photos for a full-screen shot.)

My life is full of so many

Photo of the week. I swear both the sky and those power lines were posing as the bus zipped past

Photo of the week. I swear both the sky and those power lines were posing as the bus zipped past

journeys, most of which end up homeward bound after a time. Sometimes to a new home, usually to the home I’ve been away from for a while.

Then there’s the bus trip home that I do five days a week. I tend not to pay much attention to it. I don’t know anyone on the bus, so there’s no one to talk to.  Actually, I take that back – there is an odd woman at work who will not talk to me that rides my bus. What makes her especially odd is that I went on a cruise for a week last year, one that left out of Auckland and she was on the same boat. She pretended not to see me every time I saw her. That was weird. Especially that icky first time, when I was all friendly and waving, “Hi, nice to see you…” and her eyes glazed over and she pretended not to recognise me. She did – she was down to see my boss just a couple of days earlier and talked to me.

There's the bus - pulling up Victoria St. You can see the university clock tower at the end of the street.

There's the bus - pulling up Victoria St. You can see the university clock tower at the end of the street.

Back to being on the bus – lately I’ve taken to napping – I have a nice large, woolen scarf I wrap around my legs to keep warm and I just cosy up and read for a few minutes before I doze off.  It’s nice – and since the ride can take up to an hour and twenty minutes, it’s good use of the time. In the winter it gets dark so early reading is tough after five. I might be the last person on the planet not wearing an IPod, but I have always hated the feeling of being shut off from the world that I get from headphones. I need to hear what’s going on.

Can see this in sepia

Can't see this in sepia

In my continuing efforts to improve and challenge my photo making skills, I have brought my camera along for the last week. And it is a challenge – the bus is moving and it’s getting dark – so I can’t use a tripod and long exposures can be just a blur. I’ve just bought an Olympus E-3, a professional camera that will shoot at speeds up to 3200 ISO. This definitely helps. But even though the noise is not as bad as it was in years gone by, I find most of those shots end up looking best in black and white or sepia – which I have no problem with – other than it’s hard to capture the beauty of a spectacular pink sunset in sepia.

Of course the beauty of digital is that you can shoot as many photos as you want at no exxtra cost – I averaged nearly a hundred a day for several evenings – got some amazing sunsets:

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A few interesting buildings including my favourite restaurant, The Mexican Cafe – good food, reaonable prices, good fun… and the regional government buildings with a monkey puzzle tree:

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What surprised me most was the desolation of the bus depot. It’s really not that bad – I’ve waited for buses there geez, I don’t know – at least 1000 times in the last 15 years… but I’ve come to the conclusion that all photos of people in bus stations look desperate – especially in the evening.

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The ride is made about 20 minutes longer each night due to construction. They’re working 24/7 to get the trains underground. Right now they run through, with a station adjacent to, the largest intersection in the area. Designed by someone who is in a special hell now – always a disaster, but now even worse. Still I find the works fascinating.Shooting them is another matter:

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At last it’s too dark for picture-making – just another 20 or so minutes from home… But I couldn’t resist popping up the flash to catch this gruesome beast, which never fails to fighten me on that last little walk to my house.


Written by Titirangi Storyteller

16/08/2009 at 12:43 am


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Underground posterApologies for being AWOL. In some months, the weeks leading up to my column deadline are just so chokka with movie-watching, I don’t get to do much else. And if they happen to also be full with family, friends and work-related commitments, something has to give and unfortunately, this blog ends up being the thing that goes.

I’m pretty sure there will never be an additional 4 hours a day, no matter how much I try to beg, borrow or steal them, so I must accept my limitations. And you must accept my acceptance. Unless I can lure someone down to NZ to help me out – Trailer Park Barbie, I think you might be the girl for the job! Let me know.

arizona_dreamNow I’ve called this post Underground on account of my being “underground” for the last while, but also because one of the DVDs I reviewed this months was Emir Kusturica’s 1995, Palme d’Or winning, Underground. I was first introduced to Kusturica in the mid 90’s, one of my all-time favourite flicks, Arizona Dream, with Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis and Lili Taylor in a story that is somehow mostly about halibut, flying halibut… Okay, it’s mostly about love and despair and life being worth living and the little bits of magic that hold the hold the whole business together. And how, if you have no dreams, you will never survive, but if you let your dreams consume you – it’s a fate worse than death. Watching it, I think it was one of those moments when the universe was presenting me exactly what I needed to hear in the moment in exactly the way I needed to hear it. Something in my heart exploded in that hour and a half – it was that powerful. I doubt the same will happen to you, unless of course you are ready and waiting for it – but it’s still brilliant.

underground - rubbleEven though Underground is Kusturica’s subsequent film, I haven’t come up on it until now – which makes me a very, very slack film critic, I admit. But before I castigate myself, I return to paragraph one of this missive, and I’m already behind on nearly everything, so I can’t be called to account for having not seen every single Palme d”or winning film ever. Can I? Having seen it now, let me share…

underground bmnBlacky (Lazar Ristovski) and Marko (Miki Manojlovic) are a pair of crooks in WWII Belgrade, scamming whomever they can whilst Nazi bombs rain on their family dinners and lovemaking sessions. Blacky’s wife may be due to give birth any minute, but both of them hanker for lissom, blonde Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic). She, most mercenary of all, has taken up with a young German officer. They kidnap her, and as the city is decimated, scramble into hiding in a massive basement shelter beneath Marko’s house, along with their neighbours and extended family.

underground weddingAfter a few weeks, Marko and Natalija return topside and seek out provisions for their party’s survival and continue to do so until the end of the war. And even then, they continue – for years, providing essentials – food, clothing, blankets, medicine, gun parts. Right through to the 1980’s. For more than 35 years, Blacky and their friends live underground, marrying, birthing and dying – while Marko and Natalija become fabulously wealthy gun runners, exploiting the ethnic hatreds that led to the destruction of Yugoslavia, churning the Balkan War. But one day Marko and his son can bear it no longer and determine to return to the surface and help defeat the Nazis once and for all.

underground endThis blackest of comedies took the 1995 Palme d’Or at Cannes and if its politics are partisan, the film-making is nearly perfect. It is clearly an allegory, depicting the years underground as the years Yugoslavia existed under Tito’s dictatorship – not necessarily unhappy or unduly hard, but isolated from the world. But with freedom came chaos, hatred and slaughter. Full of irony, and laced with small lashings of the magic realism eastern European filmmakers so often depend on to convey their unresolved angst over WWII – it’s a desperate ride through one of the world’s the most volatile regions – brimming with heartfelt passions enormous enough to drive love affairs, ambitions and war.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

10/08/2009 at 11:31 pm

Posted in Writing

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