Friday, July 02, 2004

I see Marlon Brando has died at 80. The tributes to "the greatest actor ever" are already pouring in.

To be honest, I always found Brando to be a bit on the overrated side. I know that he was certainly one of the most influential actors in history, almost single-handedly transforming film acting from the rapid-fire, sauve, Cary Grant style to the mumbling, raging, anti-hero style that has defined filmmaking over the past half-century. His method begat Pacino, DeNiro, Hoffman, and all the others.

But while I'm not old enough to be able to know what a shock Brando's new style must have been to filmgoers in the 50's, I am old enough (at least via video) to know that Al Pacino acted him right off the screen in "The Godfather." Now, Brando was fine in "The Godfather," which is my favorite movie of all time. But he won the Oscar for his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone because it was just the kind of gimmicky performance the Academy loves (see "Rain Man," "Forest Gump," "My Left Foot," and "Scent of a Woman," among others). He wore padding for extra weight (not yet being the behemoth he would eventually become), stuffed a bunch of cotton in his mouth, and played a character 20 years older than himself. He put on a show. Pacino acted.

It's Pacino's performance as Michael Corleone that carries the movie. His transformation from young, idealistic war hero to cold-blooded mafia don is one of the greatest acting jobs of all time. Pacino should have won the Oscar based on his eyes in the restaraunt shooting scene alone.

By the time Brando was in his 50's, he was already a caracature of himself. Perhaps it's something that often goes along with age; the Pacino who blew him off the screen in 1972 is now himself also also something of a gimmicky caracature ("hoo-ah!").

I'm sure Brando was a great, great actor in his early days. All subsequent actors pay homage to him as their inspiration. And perhaps evaluating the career of Brando by looking only at his post-1970 work is like evaluating Willie Mays on his seasons with the Mets. But to people my age, Brando is mainly the crazy fat guy who kissed Larry King.

No comments: