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February 24, 2011


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James Keepnews

Though I've always appreciated LAST TANGO's iconic stature since the first time I saw it on TMC at 4 AM, coming down from acid in the early 80's, subsequent viewings bear out the reading you detail above -- i.e., it really is, for good or ill, all about Brando, or perhaps "Brando", and Bud himself is a little too self-absorbed to recognize the difference, much less (more likely) give a shit either way. Certain shots that seem to rhyme with compositions in THE CONFORMIST suggest to me that Bertolucci is trying to achieve a similarly complex relationship with his protagonist in TANGO, revealing the appeal and louche turpitude simultaneously. Both Schneider's character and especially Léaud's equally self-absorbed cinephile dolt feel like like straw wo/men, trimmed fingernails and all, to bolster a narrative centered around TANGO's "Brando" perplex.

And then, oh brother (sister?), is there ever the not-delicate matter of TANGO's "gender and sexual politics". Not to put too delicate a point on it, for me the film uncomfortably reveals Brando the pig in many of his artlessly improvised interactions with Schneider, and they are incredibly grating to sit through. Maria/Jeanne's ultimately homicidal identity politics (as it were) are cold comfort, indeed -- sisters doing it for themselves notwithstanding, you don't need to be on LSD to plainly see that Brando's formal function in TANGO, where he was, pace Hemingway's Moveable Feast, cast as The Man Who Was Marked for Death.

James Keepnews

Oh, and -- Breillat clearly took the engagée sexual politics in TANGO and ran with them in a completely different, tougher-minded and stranger direction. Stranger, that is to say, than fiction.

Stephen Bowie

Nice bit of detective work there. Shame about the Blu, as it's a film that I am (or was) in the mood to revisit. I'd forgotten that JPL was in it, for one thing.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks Stephen. It's not all Unvarnished Opinion here at SCR; we do strive to Provide Service.

As for the Blu-ray, don't get me wrong, it's hardly unwatchable. But for a film of its stature, the disc is certainly not All It Could Be. (I envision image quality somewhere between the Criterion "Red Desert" Blu and the same firm's "Last Emperor" Blu.) Certainly worth Netflixing or purchasing at popular prices (last week I saw the 1st Ave. Kim's had it for 17 bucks).

Tom Block

>Bud himself is a little too self-absorbed to recognize the difference

I couldn't disagree more, James. Brando's genius--and I use the word deliberately--is that he measured to the drop the differences between himself and Paul. He (with Bertolucci's prompting, no doubt) reversed the normal direction between actor and role, with Brando's particulars taking the place of whatever made-up backstory an actor would normally use, so that it's almost as if Paul is playing Brando rather than the other way around. What's precisely amazing about it is that Brando did it without getting sappy or falling into some other trap. All I know is, moments like the when where he comes up behind Jeanne, taps her on the opposite shoulder, and starts that "I'm 45..." speech--I've never seen its like anytime, anyplace, or from anybody except in "Last Tango". And he has about a dozen of them in the movie.

I agree about the Blu-Ray. It's a step up from the old DVD--those white specks on the opening titles used to kill me--but goddam, people, it IS the Blu-Ray release of "Last Tango in Paris". No commentaries, no extras beyond the original trailer? That's the very definition of lame.

If anyone's interested here's some other stuff I wrote about the movie:


Between Schneider's death and the new disc I was ready to let some shit go.


In addition to agreeing with what Tom says about Brando's performance here, I would also add I think the film doesn't treat Schneider as a straw character (there's a case to be made for Leaud's character being one). Brando's presence and history certainly make him larger than life, but she holds the camera in the scenes she has without him, and I thought she was able to keep up with him as well. For a Bertolucci movie with an unequal balance, I would point to BESIEGED, where Thandie Newton was captivating and playing an interesting character, but David Thewlis was playing a cipher, and therefore the balance of the movie was all out of whack.

Also, while I think most people seem to think Brando's speech over his dead wife was the emotional point of the film - and it is a moving scene - even more powerful for me is the scene when he does the tango with Schneider and asks for the real relationship he had denied wanting throughout the film.

James Keepnews

"Brando's genius--and I use the word deliberately--" I hope so! "is that he measured to the drop the differences between himself and Paul."

I imagine that genius measurement would have happened in advance of Brando's asking Betrolucci if, in lieu of his multiple cue cards, he could read his lines off of portions of Ms. Schnieder's anatomy -- i.e., a priori vs. a posteriori?

Sorry, guys, I can't possibly deny the moments of genius such a mammoth talent like Brando's had at this point -- the speech to the dead wife is definitely the high point for me -- but it's also the beginning of the end for me. What Tom finds galvanizing and script-flipping in Brando's performance I find, except in places, indulged where not not-women's-liberationist-exactly. Relationship, schmeelationship -- in the end, he wants to know her name (thus, the "identity" gag...I'm not saying it was funny, only, thus) and Jeanne's response could be the only unmanipulated action she's permitted in the film, but for the manipulation coming from the script.

I recognize TANGO's importance at the time, and passages mentioned -- as, for sure, the last tango -- aspire to and occasionally achieve the iconic. But it sure has not grown on me.


In "1900" both Depardieu and De Niro had GIANT dicks.

Glenn Kenny

Actually, Lex, that's not precisely true, and I can prove it. But I won't, because I'd feel really weird doing the screen capture.


The last time I saw 1900 was during the 1991 theatrical re-release of the 5-hour version. On a big screen, and to a 19-year-old dude (ie me) with a really small dick, they seemed ENORMOUS.

In fact, I may have never seen porn at that point in life, so those might've been the first dicks I'd ever seen on camera, and compared to my 5 inches, it was mind blowing.

Also, NO ACTOR today would do that. Not even Vincent Gallo. Wasn't the chick stroking them off side by side at full mast with balls in frame? How did shit like that ever get ok'd in the pre-Internet world?


I've just noticed that the Depardieu movie which ends with him cutting off his own dick, 'The Last Woman' (1976), came out the same year as the similarly-climaxing 'Ai no Corrida'; I mean how much of a coincidence is that?!

Dan Callahan

I'm pretty sure the sister on the right is Catherine.

Tom Block

Yeah, if you Google images for Catherine that's clearly her on the right. And if you want someone who simply CANNOT let go of a question about Last Tango, I give you this guy:


He ought to be the bloomin' head of INTERPOL.


Love the film, love the BD. I think it looks amazing and agree about the (lack of) extras. I thought CB was the chick in the film crew, but WTF do I know? I just love this movie in so many ways and it was what I watched the night Brando died.

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