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12

The phenomenon Brando

There are actors, film stars and legends. Without doubt, Marlon Brando firmly belongs in the

last category. Because of his iconic roles as Stanley Kowalski in 'A Streetcar named Desire',

Terry Malloy in 'On the Waterfront', Don Vito Corleone in 'The Godfather', Paul in 'Last Tango in

Paris' and Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now' (to mention but a few), he is indelibly engraved

in our collective film memories. During his long acting career, he was nominated eight times

for an Oscar, and won the award twice. His new acting style influenced several generations of

actors. He was the first actor who brought method acting to our screens; an acting method by

which the actor completely immerses himself in his role, making use of his own experiences

and emotions. Marlon didn’t just play his parts, he embodied them, with an unprecedented

ease and a fiery, barely concealed intensity and sexuality that left no-one unaffected. On set,

Brando was idolised, but away from the set it was a different matter. He was lauded because

of his exceptional acting talents, but directors feared his head-strong character. While the

public adored him because of his handsome looks, his charisma and his raw sex appeal, his

entourage gave him a wide berth where possible, because of his arrogance and his tempe-

rament, that was quick to flare up. To call Brando a complex personality may be a sizeable

understatement. Marlon’s life was as volatile as that of the many characters he portrayed so

masterfully; a life which included dazzling heights and dramatic lows. In 2001, he was last seen

on the big screen in 'The Score'. The man who was labelled as the best actor of all time died

in 2004 at the age of eighty. As Scorsese put it once: 'There was before and after Brando'.

More than an actor

What typified Marlon Brando – and this may well apply to all the greats of the world - was his

exceptional drive. Alongside his acting career, Marlon was a political activist who detested

inequality in the community, and from the early sixties gave voice to the plight of minorities.

He defended the interests of the American Indians and argued for equal right for black people.

He was a supporter of Martin Luther King (whom he supported financially) and was a UNICEF

ambassador for many years. He even went so far as to refuse acceptance of his Oscar in

1972 for best leading actor in The Godfather, due to the way in which Hollywood portrayed

the Indians in films. In a column for Newsweek, journalist Shana Alexander once wrote: No

American I can think of has taken his own initiative to reduce injustice in this world more often,

and been knocked down for it more often, than Marlon Brando. A love for nature also burned

strongly in Marlon. Long before the word ‘sustainable’ was invented, let alone became the hot

topic that it is now, he brought all his resources to bear to protect the environment. And this

is where the link with Tetiaroa surfaces again, because that small atoll had got under his skin.

He wanted to possess it, regardless of the cost, in order to safeguard the poetic beauty of it

for eternity.

t r a v e l i n g