Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Streetcar Named Desire

As far as I'm concerned, Desire really has two things going on at this point: it's a notable risque and sexually-charged film for the time, and Marlon Brando's performance, which was somehow the only one out of the four nominated for Oscars to not win that year. Otherwise it's pretty standard. Vivien Leigh plays Blanche, who moves from the family plantation to her sister's apartment in New Orleans under mysterious circumstances, and begins to clash immediately with her brother-in-law, Brando's Stanley. Stanley is a crass, mean drunk, and Blanche a completely self-deluding liar, so the two butt heads pretty heavily. Her sister Stella tries to keep the peace, but she's torn between her devotion to both of them. Stanley is rightly curious as to why his wife is suddenly without the valuable plantation property, and sets to find out what the truth about Blanche really is, and it's not a pretty one. There is a lot of yelling and eventually some actions that can never be taken back.

To be honest, I had quite a bit of trouble watching Leigh's character in this one. It's not that Blanche isn't at least a little sympathetic, it's just that with both the way that she's written and the way she's performed, she's hard to take seriously. She's always giving grand speeches and talking about herself for minutes on end, and you just get fed up with listening to it. In a way it helps put you in Stanley's mindset, but that's not exactly a person I want to find myself agreeing with. Brando really does give a hell of a performance, though. He's a totally commanding presence for every second he's on screen, and he is just doing stuff that viewers at the time had never seen before. He tears around the set, shouting and mumbling his lines, and it's just arresting in a way that classical stage acting isn't. No one else in the movie is really operating on his level, but his work manages to elevate the film rather than the rest of it dragging him down. I was pretty ready for it to be over by the end, but it was a worthwhile watch simply for the history of it. If they ever decided to update it though, they'd really have to take a chainsaw to those Blanche monologues.

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