Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne


Remembering Marlon Brando

Posted by Max Lalanne on July 1, 2012


Marlon Brando in, of course, 1951’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” He died today in 2004, and to remember him here’s a lengthy excerpt of Truman Capote’s famous 1957 interview in Japan with Brando, stolen from this Guardian article.

Brando had been in Japan for more than a month, yet even the film’s director, Joshua Logan, was impelled to say, “Marlon’s the most exciting person I’ve met since Garbo. A genius. But I don’t know what he’s like. I don’t know anything about him.”

While we were awaiting dinner, he lolled his head against a pillow on the floor, dropped his eyelids, then shut them. When he spoke, his voice – an unemotional voice, in a way cultivated and genteel, yet surprisingly adolescent – seemed to come from sleepy distances.

“The last eight, nine years of my life have been a mess,” he said. “Maybe the last two have been a little better. Less rolling in the trough of the wave. Have you ever been analysed? I was afraid of it at first. Afraid it might destroy the impulses that made me creative, an artist. A sensitive person receives 50 impressions where somebody else may only get seven. Sensitive people are so vulnerable; the more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be brutalised, develop scabs. Never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always feel too much. Analysis helps. It helped me. But still, the last eight, nine years I’ve been pretty mixed up …”

The voice went on, for like many persons who are intensely selfabsorbed, he is something of a monologuist. “People around me never say anything,” he says. “They just seem to want to hear what I have to say. That’s why I do all the talking.”

Watching him now, I felt as if my initial encounter with him were being recreated. It was a winter afternoon in New York, 1947, when I attended a rehearsal of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Brando was to play the role that would bring him general recognition, Stanley Kowalski. But on the remembered afternoon, I hadn’t a clue to who he might be. Arriving too early, I found the auditorium deserted and a brawny young man atop a table on the stage, solidly asleep. Because he was wearing a white T-shirt and denim trousers, because of his gymnasium physique – the weightlifter’s arms, the Charles Atlas chest (though an opened Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud was resting on it), I took him for a stagehand. Or did until I looked closely at his face. It was as if a stranger’s head had been attached to the brawny body. For this face was so very untough, superimposing an almost angelic refinement and gentleness on hard-jawed good looks. The present Brando, the one lounging on the tatami, lazily puffing filtered cigarettes as he talked and talked, was, of course, a different person. His body was thicker; his forehead was higher, for his hair was thinner; he was richer. There were other alterations. His eyes had changed. Now he looked at people with assurance, and with what can only be called a pitying expression, as though he dwelt in spheres of enlightenment where they, to his regret, did not.

The subtly tender character of his face had been preserved. Or almost. Manoeuvring a word in edgewise, I asked, “How did you break your nose?”

” … by which I don’t mean that I’m always unhappy. I remember one April I was in Sicily. A hot day, and flowers everywhere. I like flowers, the ones that smell. Gardenias. Anyway, I went off by myself. Lay down in this field of flowers. Went to sleep. That made me happy. I was happy then. What? You say something?”

“I was wondering how you broke your nose.”

He grinned, as though remembering an experience as happy as the Sicilian nap. “In Streetcar, some of the guys backstage and me, we used to go down to the boiler room in the theatre and horse around. One night I was mixing it up with this guy and – crack! So I walked around to the nearest hospital. My nose was really busted. They had to give me an anaesthetic to set it, and put me to bed. Not that I was sorry. Streetcar had been running about a year and I was sick of it.

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