Marlon Brando: Transformer

         The film and literature class watched a lot of movies over the fall 2007 semester at Murray State. They were old movies. Some might be “too old” for today’s audiences, but everything they saw is something important enough to be preserved. The early-to-mid twentieth century was an important time for cinema. During that time it established its foundations, its boundaries and its intentions. The class studied cinematic examples of classic literature and learned about the faithfulness of filmmaking and the adaptive abilities of its actors. And no other actor stood out as much during the semester as did Marlon Brando. His performance in Elia Kazan’s 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire, based on Tennessee Williams 1947 play, will always be remembered. It was Streetcar that made an idol out of Brando and forever set the standard for character actors.

         Marlon Brando (1924-2004) was born in Omaha, Nebraska. He was one of three children. He became a Broadway actor in the early 1940s. Elia Kazan directed him in the 1947 play version of A Streetcar Named Desire, and then they turned it into a movie.

         Brando had been a brilliant actor in college. I read somewhere that in an acting class, the teacher told the class to act like chickens about to be hit by an atomic bomb. While the other students ran around chaotically, Brando just sat there. When asked why he did not move, Brando responded, “I am a chicken—what do I know about a bomb?”

         In A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando acted like Stanley Kowalski, a fictional character from the mind of Tennessee Williams. Kowalski was a statue of masculinity—a brute and a tyrant. But he was sexy. No matter how much he degraded his wife, Stella (Kim Hunter), she—and the audience—sympathized with him because Stanley, somehow, could detect minor flaws in people and make inferences about their personality.

         With Stanley Kowalski, Marlon Brando defined acting. He broke it down to its working components, turned it around and threw it back into the face of past actors. Brando sacrificed himself to his character, probably at the expense of his fellow actors. Director Elia Kazan even recalls tragic memories of working with him.

         The best scene in A Streetcar Named Desire is shown when Blanche (Vivien Leigh) come to visit the Kowalskis. Brandon suspicious of Blanche’s past, inspects her suitcase. He looks at every piece of clothing and makes up a story about it. Brando, in this scene, delivers his lines with such authenticity that one would think he is exactly that way. This magical moment is brought out again during the poker scene. Mitch (Karl Malden), a character who likes Blanche, talks to her while she plays music on her record player. Stanley/Brando, annoyed, crashes into Blanche’s room and turns off the record player. Then, he kicks all of his friends out because he is so drunk.

         It is moments like these when actors really bring out their true selves. The reach a point where their character takes over their consciousness and their mind turns into whoever/whatever they are playing. Some actors like Robert De Niro, George C. Scott, Jack Nicholson or Marlon Brando can transform into another being, when they really get their passion up. When they really are interested in their character and have a desire to live through it, then they can become it.

         Marlon Brando died at the age of eighty, but his work continues to live through respect. He gives inspiration presently not only to actors but to anyone who wants to make movies. His method can be applied to any aspect of the craft, and his style will always challenge any other. With A Streetcar Named Desire filmmaking reached a climax—a perfect connection between film and literature—that will forever be going down.

Michael Taylor

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