by Jonathan Kiefer
Dead for 10 years now, Marlon Brando only just scratched the surface of the 21st century. It’s all right; in the 20th he dug so deep.
He’d have turned 90 earlier this month (April 3), so the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, in conjunction with the Marlon Brando Estate, carved out a couple of week’s worth of double features to wish the big man a happy birthday. Also to show off some of his bigness to people who might not really know about or remember it.
We took it for granted that the American idea of a great movie actor originated in him.
Hugeness, more like. In accumulating his life, Brando got so physically large that inevitably he exemplified our worst concerns about movie culture creating monsters. (He’d also been a famous Oscar refuser, after all.) But what outlasts the body is the soul, and on that front, there remains much photographic evidence that even today the biggest of screens can barely contain him.
For the last generation to grow up with some real-time awareness of him, Brando was the Godfather, the father of Superman, the Method man par excellence. (Or par indulgence, if the Method didn’t do it for you.) You always just sort of took it for granted that the American idea of a great movie actor originated in him. Eventually you traced it back to his appearance as a brute so beautiful and commanding in A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1951, that he stole that show from its intended protagonist.