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Celluloid Subversives

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I was genuinely glad to see George Clooney, one of the few Hollywood zillionaires taking any chances, get nominated for three Academy Awards this year. His cinematic output (whether acting, writing, or directing) in 2005 -- "Syriana " and "Good Night, and Good Luck " --reminded me of the best consciousness raising efforts Tinsel Town has put forth in the past. It also reminded me that long before he became an easy punch line on late night talk shows, it was Marlon Brando who set the bar for radical chic.

When he stepped onto the stage in that now immortal white undershirt in 1947, Brando revolutionized American acting. "He burst onto our consciousness wearing a torn T-shirt, mumbling, growling, scowling, screaming for 'Stel-la!' as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' first on Broadway, then on film," wrote Lawrence Grobel in his book "Conversations with Brando. " "From the beginning, Brando unleashed a raw power that had never been seen before on the screen." In the role of Stanley Kowalski, Brando, says Andy Seiler of USA Today, "made theatrical history with his brutish yet complex performance."

It was no accident that Brando would commandeer the Kowalski role, eventually becoming synonymous with the character. He drove all the way to Provincetown to personally audition for Williams who, it's said, knew instantly that he had his lead. Brando would be the actor to lure audiences into empathizing with Stanley, making the character's actions later in the play that much more profound. Thus was the power of "The Method," the style of acting Brando came to represent...for better or for worse. "He didn't invent 'method acting' (Stanislavsky did), but he made the term familiar around the world, revolutionizing the actor's art with his natural, tortured and spontaneous early performances," Seiler says.

As Jack Nicholson once said of Brando 's trailblazing labors: "He gave us our freedom."

Speaking of freedom, Brando's reach far exceeded the stifling limits of stage and screen. He marched in support of fair housing, participated in anti-nuclear rallies, spoke out about the plight of Native Americans, and famously bowed out of the lead role of a film ( "The Arrangement ") to further devote himself to the growing civil rights movement.

"In the aftermath of the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. one of the most total commitments made to Dr. King's work by anyone came from Academy Award winning actor Marlon Brando," wrote Louie Robinson in the May 1968 issue of Jet magazine.
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"If the vacuum formed by Dr. King's death isn't filled with concern and understanding and a measure of love," Brando declared on national television, "then I think we all are really going to be lost here in this country."

"He is considered by many to be ... the man who changed the style of the movies, the most influential and widely imitated actor of his generation," concluded Grobel. "He is one of the select artists who will doubtless be remembered into the next century."

Can Clooney step up in the style of Brando? Judge for yourself from his own words: "In 2003 I was saying, where are the ties [between Iraq] and al-Qaida? Where are the ties to 9/11? I knew it; where the f*ck were these Democrats who said, 'We were misled'? That's the kind of thing that drives me crazy: 'We were misled.' f*ck you, you weren't misled. You were afraid of being called unpatriotic."

Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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