There is a small handful of artists in the modern era who truly revolutionized their craft, artists who, at the moment they emerged, made everything else seem old. Picasso, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan, Truffaut, a few others. And Marlon Brando.
The first thing I ever saw Brando in was as Jor-El in the first Superman film. I remember hearing that he got a lot of money to be in the film, and that he took all his lines on cue cards. There was a strange reverence with which people spoke of him that I didn’t quite yet understand. He wasn’t slumming by being in a superhero picture, rather his presence raised the quality of the movie.
Eventually I made my way back through his catalog, Apocalypse Now (“The harah, the harah…”), One-Eyed Jacks (“Raisins? I got raisins…”), The Godfather (which I studiously watch at least once a year), but it wasn’t until I got around to On the Waterfront that I really got Brando, really understood what it was all about. In a career filled with amazing, true portrayals, his portrayal of Terry Malloy stands out. It’s a jewel, a treasure. It moved me as much as anything I’ve ever seen in films, or experienced in art, period.
Mr. Brando, thank you very much.