When President Reagan died four weeks ago, a number of columnists wrote, referring to his alzheimer's, that we had actually lost Reagan a long time ago. The same could be said to be true with Marlon Brando, who died yesterday at the age of 80. Looking at his resume on the IMDb, one cannot help but be shocked on how fallow his career became after "Apocalypse Now" in 1979. In the 25 years since that film, Brando has appeared in eight films, and most of those in supporting roles. Aside, perhaps, from a winking take on his "Godfather" image in the comedy "The Freshman", most of these roles will be forgotten.
In terms of film, his image had already been set in stone. By 1979, he could count the names Stanley Kowalski, Terry Malloy, Vito Corleone and Colonel Kurtz among those that would survive well beyond him. Of course, that's a very selfish way for his fans to view the man. Most likely, Brando didn't give a damn about his "legacy", but rather cared more for his "art". Talking about acting in these terms strike some as pretentious, but when it comes to movies like "On the Waterfront", you can't argue with the results. His "Method", which was adopted by many young actors in Hollywood back in the fifties and sixties, was a movement that classical actors chuckled at. The famous anecdote of Laurence Olivier talking with Dustin Hoffman about all his strenuous preparation for a role and then suggests, simply, "why not try acting, dear boy" perfectly illustrates this.
But if film proves anything, it is that there are NO absolutes to follow in filmmaking. Directors can be authoritative and dictatorial (From Hitchcock to the Coen Brothers) or they can be loose and improvisational (From Scorsese to Soderbergh) or they can be somewhere in between, yet they all can achieve movie greatness despite their different styles. The same goes for all facets of the process, especially acting. When these different styles come together, it is a learning process for all involved. That's not to say that it's always a pleasurable experience, but one does grow from it.
This is a lot of hot air from me on the occasion of one actor's death, but he influenced so many in Hollywood that a simple laundry list of his films would not suffice for his obituary. He was a force of nature, and his presence will always be felt. As for both his "legacy" and his "art", the young actors in Hollywood could do far worse than spend a weekend on the couch having a Brando-athon. Not a bad idea for the rest of us, too.