Friday, November 16, 2012

Hot Dudes Doing Cute Things: Marlon Brando and His Cat

This is the first post in a new DRG series, “Hot Dudes Doing Cute Things.” The content in this series should be pretty self-explanatory. Admittedly, it's not a very eloquent title, but sometimes words are not important when the meaning is so great. For my first handsome gent doing something adorable to get all the ladies’ hearts a-fluttering, I give you Marlon BrandoLet’s be real, no matter how bloated and crazy he became in his later years, young Marlon Brando (circa the 1940s to late 1950s) was a stone cold fox. His foxiness during this period makes the less-foxy years that follow seem more acceptable because at least the world was graced with such unbelievable swoon material, if only for a short flicker of time. Need proof? 
There’s a popular theory held by many Brando fans – and it's one that I’ve said on DRG before – about his early career: you watch A Streetcar Named Desire to fall in lust, but you watch On the Waterfront to fall in love. That is one of the most monumentally true statements that I have ever heard in my life.
Compare Marlon’s iconic ‘STELLAAA!’ scene in Streetcar to the moment in Waterfront when he is trying to break down Edie’s apartment door. Both are similar in terms of context – Marlon’s character has screwed up and is trying to make amends with his love (in Streetcar because he was drunk and beat his pregnant wife, in Waterfront because he unintentionally set up his girlfriend’s brother to be murdered) – as well as in emotional intensity (in both scenes, Marlon is acting with extreme passion, literally screaming in pain to make his love understand and forgive him). But there is difference in how you as a viewer feel about him, and I think it’s to do with Marlon’s mannerisms and general attitude in each respective role.
There’s an animalistic quality to Stanley Kowalski. I know it’s been written to death that Stanley is a brute, a primitive creature, an uncivilized, drunken abuser, but there are elements of truth in that regardless of if you see redemptive qualities in him. When Stella comes down the stairs to rejoin her pleading husband and they move together off-screen, you know exactly what they’re going into the house to do. 
But for Terry Malloy, it is enough just to confront Edie about her love for him and have a steamy little make-out sesh before he leaves to … I don’t know, discover the body of his murdered brother and almost get killed himself? Yeah, I honestly don’t know why he leaves her apartment like two minutes after he gets hot 'n' heavy with Edie for the first time, when he knows full well that there is LITERALLY AN ENTIRE MOB of for-real mobsters (from New Jersey, no less) roaming the streets to knock him off. It’s like his thought process is, ‘oh goody, I finally have something good in my life, someone who loves me unconditionally. Time to destroy it all!’
Okay, yeah I got a bit diverted there. So despite Terry’s evident idiocy, his past as prizefighter (where a successful day at work would be to make his opponent more bloodied and concussed than he was), and his connections to a brutal and corrupt mob -- he’s much kinder and gentler than Stanley Kowalski. A kiss from Edie is enough for Terry, whereas Stanley isn’t even contented by one woman (re: when he drunkenly attacks Blanche when Stella is in the hospital giving birth to their child).
I think the real-life Marlon Brando, even though he had a reputation for being a “bad boy” and enormously difficult to work with, was probably more a Terry than a Stanley, and I’m basing this entirely on these photos of Marlon:
Just look at him being all beatnik-y on his typewriter and all homebody-y with his cat. Seriously, how adorable does Marlon look with this cat? Answer: very. I’ve seen these pics many times before but looking at the Buzzfeed article, appropriately entitled “Marlon Brando Was A Perfect Man,” put me back into turbo-swoon mode. Honestly, there's no better to begin the "Hot Dudes Doing Cute Things" series than with a guy who was known for being all brooding and smoldering and mumbling like Brando playing with a freaking kitten?! 
Historical truth: Marlon Brando loved cats (remember the famous moment in The Godfather when he’s petting the kitten? Yeah, that wasn’t originally written in the scene. They found a stray cat roaming around the studio lot and it was added to the scene at the last minute). Here's a total squee-inciting tidbit -- he once said of his relationship with his feline pet, “I live in my cat’s house.” Yup, that is tremendously precious (and this is coming from someone who isn't even obsessed with cats!). 
Want more of Marlon-feline goodness? Watch this video of the actor meowing in Streetcar looped over and over again for a minute. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Most Important Lessons Learned From "Almost Famous"

I acknowledge how ridiculously pretentious this will sound, but I think that I am first and foremost a student of the world. I have been in school for pretty much all of my (young) life, and this academic routine has translated into all walks of life for me. I look for lessons everywhere, particularly in sources that shouldn't necessarily be educational (rock 'n' roll memoirs, romantic comedies, various hip hop songs from the late 1990s). I like to think that if I can look at someone's ridiculous life or some form of art or entertainment through the lens of academia, I can translate some aspect of it into my own life.
This is the case for my supreme love of the film Almost Famous.
I have watched this film more times than I can remember, in part because of how wonderful the story is but also because there's a bit of me that wishes a bit of the Penny Lane magic will rub off on me. You see, I like to think that I am a free spirit -- and to a certain extent I guess I am -- but I am more free-spirited in my mind than I am in my actions. I love to imagine dropping everything to follow a band on tour or traveling somewhere exotic with no plans to return in mind, but will I actually do that? Probably not. So I watch and rewatch Almost Famous, hoping to glean from the band-aids what I am too inexperienced and unadventurous to know, hoping that I will one day look around at my life and be able to scream "It's all happening!"
I know that this might make me seem a bit sad, but this desire to learn from the people I admire is a major motivator behind why I started this blog in the first place. I guess I'm hoping for a 'fake it 'till you make it' sort of situation, where if I learn as much about my heroes as possible and implement some of their philosophies, that I will become more like them, and as a result more of the person that I want to be. It's far less creepy, desperate Single White Female than it sounds, but that's what it is. 
In the spirit of this educative practice, I am sharing the top lessons that I have learned from Almost Famous:

1. Journalists are the enemy
This made me think a lot when I first saw the film, because up until that point in my life (i.e. when I was ten) I just assumed that I would become a journalist and, through that, become an artist as well. But it made me think a lot about the connotations that journalism had, especially among those who are being written about, that the writer is "the one guy you don't tell your secrets to" and is aware of their power to make or break an artist. Of course, being a journalist and being an artist are not mutually exclusive professions -- some of the greatest writers were journalists (Hemingway, for instance, started out as a news correspondent) but Almost Famous definitely explores the sense of politics that exists in the journalism world.

2. The difference between groupies and band-aids
In the words of Miss Penny Lane, "Groupies sleep with rock stars 'cause they want to be near someone famous. We're here because of the music. We are band-aids. We don't have intercourse with these guys, we inspire the music. We're here because of the music." Sapphire mentions the divide between groupies and band-aids again later in the film: "They don't even know what it is to be a fan, to truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts." The generalized labeling of any and every woman who's involved in the music scene as a 'groupie' was so common in the 1970s, and sadly still happens a lot today. While I think that 'groupie' as a term isn't as wholly negative as it is defined here, there are many gradations on what it means to be in this kind of role. 

3. The music of Simon & Garfunkel is the poetry of drugs and promiscuous sex
Elaine called it: they were (are?) TOTALLY on pot. But it's still pretty hilarious that Simon & Garfunkel -- perhaps one of the gentlest and most contemplative folk groups of the sixties -- would be associated with "drugs and promiscuous sex," as Elaine alleges. 

4. If you never take it seriously, you'll always have fun
Penny repeats to William the advice that she gives the band-aids: "Never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt. You never get hurt, you always have fun." This is pretty solid advice for anyone to follow regardless of if you're partying at the Riot House, flying off to Morocco, or doing something considerably less cool. 

5. Famous people are just more interesting
This is Penny's simple reasoning for not bothering to have "normal" friends. Plus that way if you ever get you lonely, you can just go to the record store and visit your friends. 

6. The truth about Jim Morrison
Thank Lester Bangs for illuminating all of us to what we may not have known: "Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me the Guess Who -- c'mon, they've got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic." Yeah, I still love the Doors but I always have this thought at the back of my mind whenever I hear Jim's voice come on. Also, according to Lester, it's never too early to listen to Iggy Pop.

7. Adolescence is a marketing tool
Another pearl of wisdom from mama Elaine. This knockout line comes early on in the film when Anita confronts her mother about lying to William about his true age. When her daughter accuses her of robbing her son of his adolescence, Elaine counters back with a terse line about youth being nothing more than a "marketing tool." Oy vey, I didn't know how to make sense of that remark when I first saw Almost Famous, but it totally threw me for a loop. 

8. The power of Tommy
Anita is William's cool older sister, and is another person in his life besides Elaine and Lester to dispense really amazing advice. Who can forget the image of Zooey, with her hair wrapped is curlers, looking directly into the camera (and as a result, directly into the eyes of the viewer) and saying, "One day, you'll be cool" with that sympathetic comfort that only someone already there can give? That line resonated with all the Williams of the world (myself included), who felt misunderstood and freakish growing up and needed to know life wouldn't always be defined in terms of high school criteria for coolness. As one of her last acts to save her younger brother before she flees to become a flight attendant, Anita gives William her collection of albums that her mother banned. Her note to "Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you'll see your entire future" is rock 'n' roll perfection. 

9. The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool
Pretty much everything that Lester Bangs says in this movie is so unbelievably insightful and quotable (the promise of meeting my classmates in the future on their "long journey to the middle" got me through a lot of high school), but I love this scene between the seasoned rock critic and newbie William Miller. William calls him for advice, and Lester just offers an endless amount of wisdom about the nature of being "uncool" in an industry that thrives on being hip. He compares friendship to booze and says that great art can't be made by the cool and attractive because it doesn't have the complexity to last, but it's his statement about the only "true currency" that is so amazing -- I want to needle-point it onto a pillow or something.

10. Pete Townshend might be the only person out there who can really explain rock 'n' roll 
At least, according to Jeff Bebe. But Jeff certainly does try: "Rock 'n' roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking. And it's not about money and popularity, although some money would be nice. But it's a voice that says, 'Here I am, and fuck you if you can't understand me.'" Yeah Jeff, I think you pretty much nailed it. 

11. Russell is a golden god
So Russell may or may not have called himself a golden god (in his opinion), just as Robert Plant may or may not have called himself a golden god (in real life, circa 1975). But I agree with the guitarist with mystique. His proposed last words ("I'M ON DRUGS!") were fantastic as well. 

12. If we thought Mick Jagger would still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, we would be sadly, sadly mistaken
PSYCHE. Thanks Dennis -- because you owned the "best umbrella," the entire band almost went down in a plane crash. I think what I learned here is that even though I really dig Jimmy Fallon in real life, he's an absolute louse in the film world (his role as blonde Chuck in Factory Girl, anyone?)

13. Using big words can get you backstage 
This works for William, who compares Russell's guitar-playing on the new Stillwater track as "incendiary." Because he is a devoted fan (and obviously knows multisyllabic words), the guys in the band have a change of heart and invite him backstage, because they want William to know that they're incendiary too, man.

14. You can get out of any awkward phone conversation by saying "This is the maid speaking, by the way" 
Though I obviously worship at the altar of Penny, I think Sapphire is my favorite of the band-aids. She's ridiculously funny, bluntly honest and at times a bit too intense but in the best possible way (i.e. "DOES ANYBODY REMEMBER LAUGHTER?!") -- more party-oriented and reckless than Penny, but Sapph is very thoughtful and aware of what's going on. Her telephone call with Elaine, where she tries to ease her worries about William, shows a softer side of Sapphire. Of course, that's instantly subverted when she claims that she's actually the maid and quickly hangs up.  

15. The healing powers of "Tiny Dancer"
I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that I think this is one of the most wonderful moments in film history. Watching a fractured band slowly come back together by joining in one by one to sing along to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" distills what in essence this film is trying to communicate: the power of music to bring people together. This scene has stayed with me and the countless others who love Almost Famous, who want Penny to be talking to us when she says "you are home."