I think it’s easy to forget how big a deal Brando’s performance was in Streetcar Named Desire. It was a watershed. He changed acting forever. Brando was to acting as Babe Ruth was to baseball.
Before Babe Ruth, a home run in baseball was basically an accident. The game was all about ball placement out in the field. Place the ball where it would be hardest for the fielders to retrieve so you can advance the furthest along the bases. If you hit it out of the field of play, well that was kind of a screw up, so just walk around the bases. Like a ground rule double. Then The Babe came along and just knocked it out as much as he could because fuck running, amiright? He’d rather strike out than run the bases. Yada, yada, yada… modern baseball is unrecognizable compared to what it was before.
So think about Brando that way. He is widely credited with bringing realism to acting. He wasn’t just a good actor or a big star… He redefined what people considered film acting, bringing something to the art form that changed it forever. In his acting, he stripped the process and affectation away that you often see in old movies. And depending on how you see art, he brought the audience closer to the truth of the character and the story.
Before Brando people were using Trans-Atlantic accents (literally not a thing in real life) and doing vaudevillian-era stage blocking more akin to choreography, but in front of cameras. Brando didn’t just act like he was crying and upset. He got himself all upset and ugly cried. He would really lose his shit and didn’t care about his posture or a fake stylish accent or if he looked cool, etc…
It’s all very passé now, but that’s because it’s just the norm… because of people like Brando. But at the time it knocked audiences, critics, actors, producers, writers and everyone else right out of their seats. It moved the entire art form forward–for everyone.
Sure, old Brando coasted on that, and was by all counts an insufferable entitled asshole. But he could still get work because his influence on film making in his early career almost cannot be overstated. He was living legend. He added a tool to the toolbox that the industry uses to tell stories.
Brando’s legacy is more along the lines of sound, or technicolor than “he was just really really really famous”. That’s the big deal about the “Stella!” scene in Streetcar. When people saw it, it was something they’d never seen before and it immediately made everything else they had seen seem dull and outmoded.
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