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The Next Marlon Brando

April 6, 2007

The London Free Press published a fun article by columnist Dan Brown yesterday about western culture's persistent idolization of Marlon Brando as the "gold standard" in acting stardom. Brown makes an astute point when he says:

"Three years after his death, the hefty thespian is still viewed by many as the greatest performer to appear on the big screen. Rightly or wrongly, he is the gold standard by which other members of the profession are judged. But consider this fact: On the Waterfront, for which Brando won his first Oscar, was released in 1954 – more than 50 years ago. Isn’t it time for a new frame of reference?"

I guess one could argue that Brando ties with Laurence Olivier for the title of Grand Poobah of Performance, but it is fascinating to see how the reputation of these legends has endured for so long. When I watch either of them on screen these days, I feel like I am looking at history. No one performs like this anymore, and that's actually a good thing: Brando's curling, feral energy and Olivier's acting with his nose both look like horrible cliches.

So I agree with Brown -- it's time to set new gold standards for acting. So, who to pick? Judi Dench? Johnny Depp? Meryl Streep? Hmm.

Come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if Brando and Olivier continue to wear their crowns for a long while hence: It's no wonder that these thespian laureates endure as legends when you consider how difficult it is for any single performer to stand out in this era of over-stimulation. The stars from the mid-20th century reign supreme in 2007 for two main reasons:

1) Our culture is over-saturated with stars -- they all merge into a single, faceless mass at the end of the day.

2) Theatre doesn't have the place in modern mass culture that it had 60 years ago. Both Brando and Olivier were stage actors before they earned fame on screen. These days, the stage is a place to perform once you've become a huge name. And doing a stint on Broadway or in the West End often fails to seal a movie star's reputation. At least, not in a positive way.

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