November 26, 2018

“Politics was part of our life. People don’t seem involved or passionate anymore; politics is something distant."

And: "I was a Marxist with all the love, all the passion, and all the despair one can expect from a bourgeois who chooses Marxism."

2 quotes from Bernardo Bertolucci, from his obituary in the NYT. The director of "Last Tango in Paris" and "The Last Emperor" breathed his last this morning at the age of 77.

The obituary reminds us that some reviewers at the time, back in 1973, did not admire "Last Tango in Paris" and that the NYT own critic, Grace Glueck, called it "the perfect macho soap opera." I'm more familiar with the rave review of all rave reviews by Pauline Kael...
The film critic Pauline Kael proclaimed it “the most powerfully erotic movie ever made” and likened its premiere to the first performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”
... so I'm going to take the trouble to read "I Won't Tango, Don't Ask Me," by Grace Glueck (March 1973).
IF, as my male filmgoing friends assure me, there is such a thing as a “woman's picture,” i.e., one that plays up to the romantic sexual fantasies of housewives, then “Last Tango in Paris” can surely be regarded as its male counterpart — the perfect macho soap opera. From the film's beginning, when its he‐man heel‐hero, Paul, engages a compliant Parisian playgirl, Jeanne, in a genital collision, through the very end, where Jeanne reacts to his aggressions with a violence that metaphorically expresses her own sexual rage, its fantasies comfortably reinforce the misogynist stereotypes that have always enabled men to regard women as something less than emotional peers....

[I]n keeping with the conventions of art and pornography in the Western world, [we never clearly see Paul (Marlon Brando) naked, and] the camera focuses frequently and frontally on Jeanne in her birthday suit....

[The two characters] embark on a game plan: They will meet at the apartment for sex only, avoiding all reference to their outside lives. This stylized — well, tango—is led, of course, by Paul. And it is he who is free to break the step, revealing fragments of his barren emotional life with the depth of a Holden Caulfield while abruptly dismissing any attempts on Jeanne's part to give voice to hers....

In the apartment, masochist Jeanne takes sex from sadist Paul as, in his hostility, he dispenses it. And often (as in the now famous butter‐and‐sodomy scene) it hurts. (Male fantasy: Women may protest, but they really wallow in rough handling; it's good for their souls.) At one point in the throes of aging adolescence, Paul, bids Jeanne insert her fingers in his anus to explore a notion he has about death; at another, he dangles a dead rat before her horrified face. But he has his tender moments; in one, he gives Jeanne a bath with a paternal condescension that might suit a 3‐year4old. (Male fantasy: Treat women as little girls; it fulfills their need for protection.)...

The rage that led to [[SPOILER ALERT] Jeanne's shooting Paul to death] is motivated, but again the act itself is focused on Paul.... [W]hat Bertolucci is really saying is (male fantasy): See what happens when you strip yourself bare for a woman? 

52 comments:

gilbar said...

Grace ignorantly says...
[I]n keeping with the conventions of art and pornography in the Western world, [we never clearly see Paul (Marlon Brando) naked

written like someone who hasn't actually Any Idea what the conventions of pornography are/were

Earnest Prole said...

Meh.

Henry said...

That's a remarkably prescient review.

The word "birthday suit" is kind of funny. You still hear people use it occasionally, but it is the one word that seems anachronistic.

Tina Trent said...

All those sad little creeps like Bertolucci and Henry Miller and Norman Mailer imagining they had the entire universe up their arses. At least that's over.

tim in vermont said...

I guess some males may have those fantasies, maybe. But doesn’t the term “male fantasy” sort of imply that these things are somehow universal? It’s nice to know that the movie had a happy ending though.

Phil 3:14 said...

Never saw “Last Tango”. I did like “Last Emperor”.

Funny no mention of “1900” Bertolucci’s long, very long love song to Marxism. I distinctly remember two hangings in the movie, both without ceremony but with disdain for the “victims”,one an old,impotent landowner (played by Burt Lancaster) and the other a vicious fascist.

whitney said...

Does it sounds like the critic is describing that Fifty Shades book to anyone else?

Rob said...

“Last Tango” is a great and greatly underappreciated movie. In my view, which I won’t belabor here, it’s a movie about movies. (“It’s over, then it starts again.”) And the duelling reviews by Pauline Kael and Norman Mailer are priceless.

Ann Althouse said...

@Glen Filthie

I deleted your comment because it was the first comment and it referred to photographs that don't appear at the links in the post. I don't know what you think you were responding to, but it didn't make sense here, and it was a big distraction for anyone trying to read this thread.

Ann Althouse said...

"written like someone who hasn't actually Any Idea what the conventions of pornography are/were"

In 1973?

Laslo Spatula said...

Perhaps a true Marxist critique of the Marxist director's Tango would posit that Paul represents Capitalism, taking what he wants, as roughly as he wants, from the voiceless proletariat, whose only value in a Capitalist system is their own bodies.

Jeanne's action at the end signals the start of her Revolution.

In this light, notice the weapons they use on each other: guns vs. butter.

The idea of the 'butter' side of economics -- the funding for the civilian good -- is, despite its seemingly positive attributes, just another way for the Capitalist to metaphorically rape the Worker: Butter = Bourgeoisie.

Like that.

I am Laslo.

tim in vermont said...

After reading the quote in the headline, it was then pleasant to read that he had breathed his last.

tim in vermont said...

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that a man who thought that the rest of humanity should be bound in Marxist slavery would have fucked up sexual fantasies.

rhhardin said...

It sounds like an emotion movie, so for women. No plot, just reaction.

johnhenry100 said...

Story of o

The Beauty trilogy

50 shades of grey

What do the have in common?

All explicitly pornographic

All are very deep into s&m by men against women

Despite Amazon's alleged policy against porn are available via Ann's portal

All play directly to men's supposed rape and dominance fantasies

All seem to be more Popular among women than men

All were written by women.

I wonder what the male/female ratio of Tango fans is

John Henry

rhhardin said...

The porn is to get the guy to take you to the movie.

rhhardin said...

I know of Kleist The Marquise of O but not The Story of O.

Laslo Spatula said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lewis Wetzel said...

Marxism is a bourgeois phenomenon. They are the only class that believes in social organization for its own sake.

Tom T. said...

By all accounts, Bertolucci and Brando genuinely raped Schneider in the butter scene, to produce the reaction that Bertolucci wanted. The guy was a monster, even by film-maker standards, and the flirtation with Marxism, long after its human misery was well known, fits the type.

Tina Trent said...

Strange to think of men and women going to movie theaters together to watch artsy porn.

My father's stepmother, a funny and tough woman, went with her girlfriends to see what they thought would be an inspirational film about a quadriplegic ex-skier (The Other Side of the Mountain) and ended up going to the wrong theater and seeing a wacked foreign art porn. It was a danger back then. Lots of exorcism stuff too.

rhhardin said...

Strange to think of men and women going to movie theaters together to watch artsy porn.

The lady might not want to go alone, and asks an intimate boyfriend to take her. Curiosity most often.

Roger Sweeny said...

Of all the "critically acclaimed" movies I have seen, Last Tango in Paris was the second most disappointing (the first was Minnie and Moskowitz).

Freeman Hunt said...

This doesn't make me want to see it.

William said...

From what I've read, that movie pretty much ruined Maria Schneider's life. When she went to restaurants, guys would think it hilarious to wave butter sticks at her. She had a worse time than Monica Lewinsky. As Tom T. notes above, Bertolucci and Brando did something that closely approximated rape in the rape scene. They wanted an authentic reaction from her, and Brando just threw her down and ripped her clothes off without warning........Yeah, okay. Something like that will inspire an authentic reaction.. Maybe in On The Waterfront, they should have hired some real goons to beat the shit out of Marlon Brando. That would have gotten an authentic reaction too and made the movie so much better......I don't think Grace Glueck has anywhere near the rep of Pauline Kael, but she certainly has the right opinion here.

Shouting Thomas said...

The suffering women must endure!

Bad movies!

English majors upset over improper metaphors and imagery! Women's studies centers in an uproar!

Terry Vance said...

Thank you for posting the Glueck review, which does hold up really well. I remember her arts coverage but not specific film reviews. If I have the Era of Canby. I will look for others.

tcrosse said...

The role was not much of a stretch for Brando, from what one hears.

Unknown said...

Is there any male fantasy that will not be construed as perverse. Ah the pure female fantasies on the other hand.

William said...

Childbirth involves excruciating pain and, until recently, a high risk of death. Masochists perhaps endured their sufferings with greater forbearance than saints and stoics.

Earnest Prole said...

Shorter Bertolucci: guns and butter.

Darrell said...

Lucky for Bertolucci, there is no butter in Hell.

Robert Cook said...

"Lucky for Bertolucci, there is no butter in Hell."

How could there be? There's no Hell (except in places here on the material plane).

hombre said...

We didn’t see Paul naked because at that point Brando was fat and unappealing.

I’m wondering what the psychological analyses of the movie critics would have been if Jeanne had been a dominatrix. Is the difference between Tango and Forty Shades (etc.), that reportedly leaves it’s mostly female audiences swooning, the wealth and good looks of its sadist? Since the women were there voluntarily weren’t they just expressing their sexuality as equals of the men?

Oh so many questions. Lol.

William said...

Hitchcock also mistreated his actresses, but his movies are more fun to watch. He gave Tippi Hedren an extremely hard time during the fillming of The Birds. He's had his posthumous metoo moment, but his reputation as a filmmaker doesn't seem to have suffered. The ultimate goal of a Hitchcock film is to entertain you. I don't know what the ultimate goal of a Bertolucci film was. Something to do with Marxism? Anyway, Bertolucci's pieties and hypocrisy are far more irritating than those of Hitchcock......I'm more forgiving of Hitchcock than I am of Bertolucci, mostly because I like his movies better. I'm probably better at aesthetics than morality.

Darrell said...

How could there be? There's no Hell

Keep telling yourself, that, Cookie. By "preaching" non-Belief, you've bought the ticket.

Birkel said...

Better dead than Red.

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YoungHegelian said...

One of the problems with "The Last Emperor" is that Bertolucci needed the co-operation of the Chinese government to film on location, For that reason, he had to soft-pedal the cruelties of the Chi-Coms against not just Pu Yi, but against the whole freaking populace.

YoungHegelian said...

At one point in the throes of aging adolescence, Paul, bids Jeanne insert her fingers in his anus to explore a notion he has about death;

Thus, bringing into being the film aesthetic of "Rectal Realism".

RobinGoodfellow said...

From what little I saw of Last Tango in Paris, I was not impressed.

gahrie said...

"written like someone who hasn't actually Any Idea what the conventions of pornography are/were"

In 1973?


Burt Reynold's "nude" centerfold appeared in Cosmo in 1972. His penis was not shown.

Would Cosmo print such a spread today?

Yancey Ward said...

I have seen exactly three Bertolucci directed movies- The Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor, and Stealing Beauty. I very much liked all three- the measure of which is that I have seen them all two times, though maybe the third one was because I very much like looking at Liv Tyler when she was that age.

Two-eyed Jack said...

I saw Last Tango as a teenager and it felt important, in the way Rohmer or Malle felt important. They no longer feel important. I guess I have to watch Girls for that.

William Chadwick said...

I liked STEALING BEAUTY very much. I watch it once a year, in February--not so much because I think it's great, but it's like a warm and comfy "blanky" I can wrap myself in. The world it creates--that warm and sunny world of the Tuscan villa--makes up for the fact that most of the characters are unlikeable or whacko.

JMW Turner said...

For my money,Bertolucci's "The Sheltering Sky",with Debra Winger and John Malkovich; a mesmerizing tale of travelers,not tourists, in the Sahara.

Big Mike said...

I had read that the actress Maria Schneider refused to work again after “Last Tango in Paris” but according to Wikipedia it turns out she did numerous films afterwards and had a pretty respectable career. She did claim to develop a drug habit after that movie, but by 1980 she had cleaned herself up.

Though she died of cancer many years ago, Schneider has the last word on Bertolucci: "He was fat and sweaty and very manipulative, both of Marlon and myself, and would do certain things to get a reaction from me.”

Michael said...

Nothing makes me sad like reading 2018 comments in all their pinched partisan predictability condemning the great, far-ranging, unafraid talents of the 60s and 70s for their sins against the Present Regime.

Bertolucci, Brando, Mailer, Kael—all great and fearless voyagers into the new. Enjoy your Marvel stories.

bonkti said...

I saw Deep Throat (1972) when I was salmon fishing in Newport, Oregon, in the spring of '73. Some brilliant entrepreneur went up the coast fishing and logging towns, parking his retired school bus cum theater in gas stations, charging five bucks a head, filling the narrow seats with hooting, burly men as a public service.

While the audience, as best as I could tell, was there for the charms of Linda Lovelace, the modesty of her male companions was hardly in evidence.

Zach said...

The rage that led to [[SPOILER ALERT] Jeanne's shooting Paul to death] is motivated, but again the act itself is focused on Paul.... [W]hat Bertolucci is really saying is (male fantasy): See what happens when you strip yourself bare for a woman?

Which woman? His wife?

The scene where Brando's character gets emotionally naked is the one where he's confronting his wife's corpse:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wh4XkC0-_Zc

Jeanne pulls the trigger, but Paul is killing himself, with or without her.

Zach said...

I really liked "The Dreamers."

I never realized it was by the same guy as Last Tango in Paris.

Zach said...

Schneider does a good job in her role. It's just her bad luck that the best role of her life was in a movie so completely dominated by someone else. And worse luck that a memorable scene featured butter.

The guy who played Norman Bates in Psycho had the same problem -- the film where he played a twitchy weirdo was so good that nobody could see him as anything but a twitchy weirdo afterward.