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In the mood: Actor Marlon Brando poses for a portrait circa Marlon Brando spent hundreds of hours over the course of his life recording himself and his own musings. Not Brando. He used cue-cards Brando was a two-time Academy Award winner and eight-time nominee, but he never once learned his lines. Once on the set of The Godfatherhe was asked why.

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Brando's Ghost.

Something to do with death. Indeed, while the various women in the movie generally stay clothed, Brando spends virtually his entire screen time bare-chested or sporting a suitably proletarian-looking singlet that is either at the point of falling off, or drenched in sweat. Carrying on the predictably misogynist style of the so-called liberated s counterculture, it is now Brando who stays clothed — even during sex — while the young woman, Maria Schneider, prances naked before the camera in scene after scene.

To show him naked would have been like showing myself naked. The deeper reasons are cultural, concerning the ever-shifting politics of gender. Brando, who had been a glorious monument of this masculinity, became its ghost. Looking back from the fated meeting of Brando and Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Nowone can see the poetic affinity between their respective careers.

As with Hopper, it is striking to realise how little we identify Brando with love, romance or ecstatic sexual union with a string of leading ladies. He was, in a profound way, the first Raging Bull of American cinema, in his lone anguish and frenzy.

Moreau capping off the trend. In an infinitely less uncomfortable fashion, The Score Frank Oz, gives us, in its conventional, master-thieves plot, a thinly veiled allegory for what can happen when three generations of vain, powerhouse males share the screen: De Niro testily defers to Brando, while Edward Norton keeps whining that he gets no respect. Brando, on screen and frequently off it, as wellrepresented many of the contradictions of masculinity in crisis.

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As Corleonehe is both a cold-hearted manager of murder and — in his last moments before dying of a heart attack — a little. As Paul in Last Tangohe is both a celebrated, Henry Milleresquedirty hero — willfully obscene, living beyond the codes of respectability, flaunting the materiality of his body in the face of a repressed, anally retentive world — and a brutal dinosaur of the phallocratic age, boarding a streetcar driven not so much by earthly desire as by a complicated, Freudian death-wish. In short, Brando does not portray the revolutionary man striving, with however much difficulty, to cast off his old masculine identity and adopt a new one — like Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ Scorsese, — but the dying, broken man of our world, the man on his way out.

What of Brando the actor?

10 things about marlon brando that might just surprise you . . . or will they?

That he is often impressive, and sometimes dazzling, is beyond dispute. But is Brando really the caricatural Method actor, powered by the interior emotions of his particular character, seeking out the truth of his performance? Brando is, in fact, not so far from the earlier classic American stars — John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Robert MitchumHumphrey Bogart — and their concept of acting as the ability to maintain a simple but powerful presence on screen.

I would argue that Brando almost never turned in a deeply psychological screen performance. What he took from the Method, and what he pioneered in movies, was an intriguing, new way of adjusting and pitching the exterior or surface of a role. De Niro follows him in this, as does — in a kinkier vein — Christopher Walken. But his greatest moments, whether as the Kowalski, Corleone or Kurtz, are when he arrives at an inspired bit of business: playing with a glove, running his hands through his hair, adjusting his pose, clearing his throat.

Brando is the actor as showman, forever refining and modulating his schtick. They may have created characters more dramatically complex at least in a traditional sense than anything Brando did. Brando acts with a great deal of quiet feeling in this whimsical but intense piece.

The film has, among its major themes, a classic romantic comedy concern: the revitalisation of rapturous, erotic love among middle-aged-and-older people. Where Brando often contrived to keep his no-longer trim body away from the camera's harsh gaze in his movies of the '70s and beyond, in Don Juan DeMarco he gives himself as he is, utterly relaxed, without apologies.

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Most reviewers, nonetheless, fixated on the admittedly distressing spectacle of Brando's physical bulk. With seeming scant regard for his own officially recognised greatness as an actor, Brando eventually offered up his masculinity, the treasured masculinity of his time, as pure masquerade.

By the time he played Dr Moreau, he was ready to let himself be cast as a freak alongside other freaky-looking actors — Fairuza Balk and Ron Perlman — in a film where humanity and monstrosity, tenderness and fierceness, intermingle in ways that are both abject and strangely touching. This is how Brando let us know, with whatever control of his on-screen career he could wield, that a masculinity which is all show is ultimately rather brittle — and that time will ineluctably smash it into a thousand, tiny pieces.

Film Critic: Adrian Martin home reviews essays search.