I was all set to add to the pile of Brando-memoriums when I suddenly realized something: I think the last Brando movie I saw was his last, The Score. He simply hadn't dominated my thoughts in awhile. In high school, I was your classic Brando-geek: after being bulldozered by his starmaking id-explosion (albeit Stanley's not Brando's id) in A Streetcar Named Desire, you couldn't thwart me from nabbing up On the Waterfront, Julius Caesar, Last Tango in Paris, even his occasional neutered work (or was it subtly subversive?) in pap like Guys and Dolls and particularly Sayonara. The Godfather (and its distant cousin, The Freshman) was studiously re-watched and I defended against profound disinterest the "sly" million-dollar paycheck that was his top-billed appearance in Superman. When I first watched Apocalypse Now, I spent the first two hours anxiously awaiting Martin Shen et al. to get to Kurtz's compound, then delusionally thought I had witnessed screen acting at its finest.
What happened? No clue. My best guess is I was side-tracked, and my thesp-interests made a distinct detour into loving Cary Grant, especially when he was directed by Howard Hawks. (Hawks famously attacked Streetcar when it came out, declaring that all the work he had done to minimize and de-ego-ize acting was now out the window. Surely the blame falls entirely on Brando's shoulders.) But I'm ashamed to say that my filmic travels haven't made me directly acquainted with his less-publicized work in John Huston's Reflections in a Golden Eye, Gillo Pontecorvo's Burn!, and the twin Arthur Penn pics The Chase and The Missouri Breaks. (The same goes for giants like The Men and The Wild One, as well as unanimously derided atrocities like A Countess From Hong Kong, Candy, and The Island of Dr. Moreau -- though a snippet of the latter was either enough or simply a tease.)
Of all the theories being tossed around on him, the closest, it seems, is the one that makes him look the most arrogant. Put simply, the man started out as a genius -- film's first bona fide Method dude, the lines originating from a twisted place in his mind before emerging in a jazzy syntax -- and then tired of being dubbed a genius. So he fucked with people -- the press, his fans. The stories behind what would become his directorial debut, One Eyed Jacks, are lurid on their own; did he really go mano-a-mano with Kubrick? But the movie out-trumps them. As Deve Kehr perfectly put it, "the most memorable scenes have a fierce masochistic intensity, as if Brando were taking the opportunity to punish himself for some unknown crime." Was it his own inflated ego? The one that knew he could pester and manipulate journalists, that perhaps felt limited by being roundly dubbed "brilliant"? It's such a limiting term, and Brando would spend the remainder of his carrer doing all he could to tarnish his thought-to-be indestructable reputation.
But that's specious reasoning. Allow me time to catch the countless open spaces on the Marlon ouevre and maybe I'll have something original to say. Sometimes a death becomes a wake-up call.
In the meantime, feel obliged to check out meatier obits, including ones from David Edelstein, Charles Taylor, Salon's collection of takes from acquaintances, and some nice words from MuseMalade.