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8:22 am - Sat 7/3/04


Fri 7/2/04 (1:36 p.m.)

Just heard that Marlon Brando died...

I feel pretty silly talking about "influences", but that said, Brando didn't really influence me as an actor, at least not directly. Far as I recall, I was an adult before I ever saw one of his films, and of all of them, The Godfather is the only one I'd list as a "favorite". By the time I developed a real love of movies, Brando's best work was long behind him.

I was more affected by the generation of actors who came afterwards�Pacino, DeNiro, Duvall, Nicholson, Hoffman, etc. Those were the guys I defined as "great actors". But if they all said Brando was great, I was prepared to take their word for it.

(Having a hard time putting my thoughts into words here...)

I'd like to be writing about how moved I was by Brando's work, how he inspired me to want to do great things myself, but that's not really true.

Sadly, when I think of Marlon Brando, while I do think of the work, and his seminal influence on a generation of actors, I mostly think about the long slide into eccentricity, morbid obesity, and artistic irrelevance. I think of him isolating himself on his private island. I think of his three wives. I think of his family tragedies (A son going to prison, a daughter commiting suicide). His life, on the whole, doesn't seem like a happy one.

(I was just thinking a moment ago�his life had much the same "arc" as Elvis's, though with a much longer period of decline. Young, sexy, charismatic performer changes the face of his art, only to go into a steep decline and become a bloated wreck. I'd never really thought about that before...)

I don't know who Brando really "was", or whether he was unhappy or not�Maybe he liked being a big, fat weirdo-- but I look at the circumstances of his life, and I assume he must have been unhappy.

And it doesn't explain everything, but I always thought part of that seeming unhappiness came from the fact that he never respected himself as an artist; I remember, years back, reading an interview with him in Playboy where he really disparaged acting (Like a lot of actors, he seemed to think the only real "artists" were writers and painters, a feeling I wrestle with myself). I remember feeling very "put off" by him as a result of that article.

I think maybe acting came too easily to him. Maybe it was something he could just do, so as a result, he didn't trust it, didn't respect it, and as a result, didn't respect himself.

And I always wondered if his looks, and sexual attractiveness were somehow a problem for him. Again, there's that sense of maybe something coming too easily. I've never been in this position, so I don't know, but I wonder if, when you're blessed with immense talent and good looks, you wrestle with feeling like you haven't earned it, that you don't deserve it somehow. Did it conflict somehow with something inside him, something that said "I'm not really a good person. I don't deserve this attention, this acclaim"?

Because, to me, it doesn't just seem like Marlon Brando got "old". It was more like he actively sought to kill that younger self, to "distance himself" from it.

So while I can intellectually acknowledge Brando as a hugely important figure in film, I see his life mostly as a tragedy, as a "cautionary tale".

I'm not sure exactly what that "cautionary tale" means to me, unless it's to suggest, yet again, that getting everything you think you want does not guarantee happiness. Attention and acclaim doesn't mean much unless you can find some peace inside, within yourself.


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