Just came over the news wires that Marlon Brando is dead at age 80. A bit of a shocker, even though he's been in rotten health for years and a long way from his lean, mean '50s persona.
Brando is one of those stars any self-respecting movie buff should explore, but now, as I look back, I realize my own Brando education is horribly patchy. I've seen Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront of course, and in both of them Brando is a magnetic, forceful presence. Or Apocalypse Now, where Brando achieved a performance so bizarre and memorable that it became a shorthand for madness. And then there's The Godfather, which if you HAVEN'T seen you've got no business calling yourself a movie buff. But there's a lot of holes. I haven't seen "Last Tango In Paris," "The Wild One," or "Mutiny on the Bounty."
It's weird but a person's death often inspires me to educate myself more about them. After Gregory Peck died last year, for instance, I felt compelled to watch "To Kill A Mockingbird" again for the first time in a decade or so. It's a sad thing, I guess, that it so often takes a death for us to pay attention to the greats again. Brando's legacy is considerable, although film historians will argue for years about how much of it was squandered on eccentricity. But when all's said and done, Brando's influence can't be ignored. Like his most memorable role, Don Corleone, Brando was a massive, dominating presence, the father of an entire family of actors who grew up worshipping him.