BRANDO: SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME
By Marlon Brando
with Robert Lindsey
468 pp., $25BRANDO:
By Peter Manso
1118 pp., $29.95
MARLON BRANDO has been the most important actor of the post-World War II era, literally influencing a generation with his naturalistic style. From his sensational Broadway and screen performances in ``A Streetcar Named Desire,'' to his artistic decline in the 1960s and his stunning comeback in the '70s with ``The Godfather'' and ``Last Tango in Paris,'' his has been one of the most fascinating and also one of the most wasteful careers in the history of acting.
Almost entirely dismissive of both acting and his career, Brando has never been one to sit still for interviews. When he has spoken to the media, it has often resulted in political diatribes about his pet causes or in playful incoherence. Needless to say, there was great curiosity about what his autobiography, ``Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me,'' would contain.
The results are mixed. Brando does spend a good deal of the book engaging in philosophical arguments. The autobiographical portrait of his life ranges from scanty to outright deceptive. But for all its faults, the profusely illustrated book gives readers Brando's thoughts about a multitude of subjects, including, to some degree, his acting career.
These accounts are both fascinating and compelling - even when he dismisses in a single paragraph an important project like the film ``Julius Caesar.'' He feels that he was miscast in his most famous role, that of Stanley in ``A Streetcar Named Desire,'' and that he didn't play the part successfully. What's most surprising is that by the time he finishes his case, you believe him.
The actor also admits that, after his emotionally devastating work in ``Last Tango in Paris,'' he has simply walked through all of his parts since, relying on technical proficiency.
He describes in detail his preparations for the part of Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola's ``Apocalypse Now,'' and his account differs from the common perception, which is that Coppola filmed Brando in darkness and shadows to hide his enormous girth. The actor claims that he himself came up with the idea to heighten the mystery of the character.
Mostly, what he provides are philosophical digressions on subjects from the mundane to the momentous. He takes time to discuss the exigencies of fame and the role of acting in our daily lives, but he also weighs in on such topics as the cultural superiority of Jews and the nature of pig intelligence. And, of course, there is much space given to civil rights issues, the treatment of the American Indian, and his Tahitian island paradise.
What he doesn't talk about is his tortured personal life, barely mentioning any of his wives or the recent trial of his son Christian for murder.
For the real information about Brando's life, one must turn to Peter Manso's voluminous ``Brando: The Biography,'' which, at 1,118 pages, will tell you everything you need to know and more. Manso's book is superbly written, exhaustively researched, and fully informative (and in many cases reveals that Brando's version of events may not be the whole truth). With the combination of this biography and the actor's story told in his own words, the portrait that emerges feels complete.