July 4, 2004

"A Streetcar Named Desire."

We watched "A Streetcar Named Desire" last night. We had been close to watching it the other day, and now, with Brando's death, it was easy to pick it out from the DVD collection as the movie of the night. We have a ridiculously large DVD collection, the product of too much idle shuffling about on Amazon.com. To give you a sense of the size and nature of the home collection, I'll list the four movies that were shelved on either side of "Streetcar" (from the set of alphabetized DVDs that belong to me and are not music, documentary, or television):
Stardust Memories
The Story of Adele H.

Sweet and Lowdown
The Sweet Hereafter
Swimming with Sharks
Talk Radio

("Stargate" was sent free by Amazon, back when Amazon used to send you presents to remind you that you were spending a ridiculous amount of money there. I've never watched "Stargate," but I'm interested enough in it not to have sold it.)

Here's an explanation of the censorship that affected the transition from the play of "Streetcar" to the movie. The rape scene, crucial to the plot, has been restored on the DVD. The tacked-on Hollywood ending, however, remains (though you're free to click the movie off at the point when Blanche finally exits). It's idiotic for Stella to have the last grand gesture, suddenly gaining feminist sensibility and leaving her abusive husband, as though she had turned into Nora from "A Doll's House." When I was in high school, we were shown a film of "A Doll's House" that had an alternate ending in which Nora's husband shows her their sleeping children and causes her to change her mind and stay. You can't just tack on a different ending to a great play. It's especially bad in "Streetcar" because Stella is not the main character, and her story had been appropriately tied up before the resolution of Blanche's grand tragedy. To reopen Stella's story in a banal, moralistic anti-climax was just awful. [ADDED: In the play, after Blanche is taken away, Stella calls after her, Stanley lulls her with a few comforting words and seductive petting, and one of the poker players calls out the last line, "The game is seven card stud."]

It was interesting to watch Brando display his grand talents. And he looks just great. (No human body in the history of cinema comes close to the extremes of good and bad set by Brando in "Streetcar" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau.") It's hard not to absorb the movie as: Brando takes off his T-shirt! Brando dunked in the shower! Brando screaming in the courtyard! Brando heaving the radio through the window! Brando gnawing on chicken bones! Brando uncapping a beer! Brando in his silk pajamas! It's a real struggle to concentrate on Blanche's story, even though the play is Blanche's story, and Vivien Leigh is on screen without Brando much of the time. It's especially hard to focus on Leigh today, since she seems so stilted and mannered compared to Brando, who seems to be acting not in some brilliant new way, but the way actors are supposed to act, because we are so used to all the actors that learned to act from looking at Brando. Is it worth the struggle to watch this movie and empathize with Blanche? You can only do so by compartmentalizing your reaction to Brando, which makes you think he's screwing up the movie by deliberately undercutting Leigh's performance.


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