Brando Back-ting

On the Waterfront

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4 Responses to Brando Back-ting

  1. Peter says:

    I have a question about Brando biographies. I know you like the Bosworth book but have you read William J. Mann’s book the contender. I’ve read neither but I was wondering about you opinion on the latter if you’ve read it. I haven’t read any Brando biographies because to be completely honest as much as I can understand that at his best he was objectively one of THE best, I’ve never really counted myself as a fan per se. But I would be interested in reading more about him. I’ve liked what I’ve read of Bosworth but the Brando book seems very very slim. Thank you!

    • sheila says:

      Hi Peter! I haven’t read The Contender. Except for the Bosworth, and except for the vicious Peter Manso door-stop – I haven’t read any bios. I’m honestly not sure what a bio can provide – I mean, his personal life was often very dramatic, particularly during his end years – and he wasn’t always a nice person (neither am I) – but … I’m not as interested in all those things. They don’t try to explain his talent.

      I got my information about Brando from his contemporaries – and their memories of him – Tennessee Williams, Kazan, Karl Malden – all of them. Kazan and Williams in particular – who worked so closely with him – and experienced him first hand – are excellent references. Kazan’s autobiography is amazing – lots of Brando in it. Williams’ interpretations of Brando in his correspondence – fascinating.

      I do own a book (which I haven’t read yet) called Brando’s Smile, which looks intriguing.

      For me, the “best way” to get to know Brando is from his performances. In his “real” life he was often bored, surly, sloppy … in his work he was immaculate. All of the anecdotes – the lines written on index cards, taped around him, sleeping in the backstage area of Streetcar, his attempt to slap Montgomery Clift out of his depression – his own words, too – his own words are extremely revealing. (His memoir is very good. way better than people seem to think.)

      So. He’s a weird one, I think. Patricia Bosworth, who knew him, who was an Actors Studio person, is very good on the work – not just the performances, but the process of getting him to the performances – the rehearsals, the auditions (his “audition” for Streetcar – as told by Tennessee Williams – is a CLASSIC).

      My comment isn’t really helpful, I’m afraid!

      • Peter says:

        Thank you very much, this is certainly helpful and informative. I was aware of your disdain for the Peter Manso book and nothing else I’ve read about it has made me want to seek it out.

        I appreciate Brando’s work and certainly would never be dumb enough to deny that his best performances are everythin and more. But aside from the big ones I either haven’t responded to a lot of what he’s done (like, at all) or missed it.

        Thanks again.

        • sheila says:

          I think Brando definitely is a particularly special figure for actors – it’s instructive to watch other performances at the exact same time he arrived – and I can’t even imagine how WILD he must have seemed in comparison.

          People definitely make too large claims for him – like, he was better than everyone who came before – Brando himself would have scorned that and said he always studied Spencer Tracy’s performances. He was just a phenom – and happened to come along at the very same moment as Tennessee Williams – and Kazan – and people like that – who were HUGE in helping create him, who were also interested in shedding off old forms. the post-war youth explosion. all of it helped create fertile ground – but again … he was just DIFFERENT, no matter what else helped contribute to his success.

          when he was bored, he could barely “get it up” for the camera. He sleep walked through things if he didn’t feel challenged. He sniffed out insincerity and wrote people off. He tested people. He was a brat. He got bored super easily – true of most gifted people, I guess. but when he caught the flame, he made everyone else look studied. he was a weirdo!

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