On the Home Front

Among his many roles, Marlon Brando played Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppolla’s Vietnam war film Apocolypse Now.

BRANDO 1An actor, director and political activist, Brando (1924 –2004) was hailed for his extraordinary film and stage acting, and is frequently cited as the greatest and most influential film actor of all time.  His most well known film, for which he won the Academy Award, is On the Waterfront. Among the political causes he supported were the African-American Civil Rights Movement and various American Indian Movements (for which no personal FBI file seems available).

Recently Medic came across an article in New York Review of Books which touched on Brando’s first feature film. The author, Dan Chaisson, asks:

“Did Brando become his characters by becoming them, or by becoming himself? (In her book) Mizruchi tells the story of Brando’s preparation for his role as a paralyzed veteran in The Men from 1950, his earliest film. Nothing could be so characteristic of his brilliance—at once earnest and self-aware, grave, joshing, sociable, and socially aphasic—as the story Mizruchi tells:

To prepare for film, he spent a month living among the paraplegics in the Birmingham VA Hospital. Moving into a thirty-two-bed ward, he took up life in a wheelchair, building his upper-body muscles and learning to treat his legs as dead weight. The hospital staff was not informed that Brando was an actor, so this allowed him to blend in with the other patients. He found the community’s dark humor—which included using hypodermic needles as water pistols—especially congenial.

In one incident, he accompanied a group to a restaurant, the type of outing where the vets endured stares and sometimes overt displays of pity. On this particular evening, a devout Christian serenaded them on the healing powers of Jesus, who could help them walk again if they believed in Him. Brando, seeing a chance to turn the tables, couldn’t resist. Hoisting himself slowly to his feet, he took a few stumbling steps and then burst into a jig, shouting,  ‘Hallelujah!’ ”

It is a great act. But imagine being asked to repeat it. Imagine having to do it night after night, making small adjustments but fundamentally turning a moment of spontaneous joy into a joyless regimen. This is why Brando left the theater, and it suggests why he all but left the movies. Anyone who has tried to recapture the magic of a joke by retelling it has felt, in miniature, what Brando must have felt in his career. The power of his inventiveness was matched to a dread of repetition. A year later, he never could have passed undetected in a room full of paraplegic vets. One important weapon in his arsenal was forever lost.”


Full NYRB article

Wikipedia: On the Waterfront