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Trailers from Hell: Larry Karaszewski on Bertolucci’s ‘Last Tango in Paris,’ Starring Brando and Schneider

Trailers from Hell: Larry Karaszewski on Bertolucci's 'Last Tango in Paris,' Starring Brando and Schneider

Bad Relationships! week concludes at Trailers from Hell with screenwriter Larry Karaszewski introducing one of the most controversial films ever made, Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris,” starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.

Aiming to contrast the dichotomies of Love and Lust,
director Bertolucci originally hoped to star Jean-Louis Trintignant
with either Dominique Sanda or Catherine Deneuve, but when those plans fell
apart he went with Brando and 19 year old unknown Schneider. Its
graphic but simulated sex scenes garnered a scandalous X rating in the US,
later rescinded to an R without cuts. Bertolucci believed this was Brando’s
most revealing performance despite the fact that apart from one memorably improvised
soliloquy about his childhood he can be seen reading his entire part from cue
cards. At one point he asked if his lines could be written on his co-star’s
derriere, which the director refused.

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For the span of about fifteen minutes – from the start of the opening credit sequence until Paul and Jeanne make love against the window and then leave the apartment they will spend a great deal of the movie in together – this film is cinematic glory at its greatest. The possibilities for the motion picture as a full blown art form are exploited to spectacular advantage in almost every way possible before the flick, unfortunately, starts a gradual slide into cliché, sensationalism, and melodramatic slop, as well as a real slowdown in the sheer virtuosity of the filmmaking. But what a start!!


Okay, first of all, not the most boring trailing of all time, but simply one of the best. I wish more movie trailers were this compelling, films so beautifully composed and told that you could actually entice an audience with mere film stills of the actors. So there goes your first cheap shot.

Second of all, Maria Schneider might have only made two LEGENDARY films, but that's more than most actors or actresses ever make in a career of mediocrities turned out year after year. Seriously? How many actresses can you name who made to films that will never be forgotten in what is perhaps the greatest era in filmmaking history? Yes, Maria came of age in a time of experience and naivete that's hard to imagine now with our constant media saturation. Yes, she was far too young to understand what was going to happen to her based on the response to this movie, let alone how to deal with that response in a time where media savvy was not yet intrinsic to a public artist's survival in the world. And, yes, as has been well documented by ever salacious gossip mongering entertainment site, as many youth who were part of the counterculture at that time, she experimented with drugs and perhaps got caught up in its grip very, very badly.

But to say she just drifted away, that her life was a mess, that she blamed co-star and director for the debacle of her life. She loved Brando. They were friends to the end of his life. She did not like Bertolucci, and as much as I love his films, rightly so. It sounds to me that if he tried to pull of the type of shenanigans today that he tried on the set of Last Tango (butter scene come up with on the morning of the shoot???) there's no way he would have gotten away with it let alone not been sued or not had a job.

Maria actually had a great second half of her life, fullfiling herself in her expression through her acting, and in her personal life through her longstanding relationship with her lover. She was a very complete person, compelling, witty, intelligent, funny, a great artist and person to the very end.

So, please, if you're going to write about this very complex movie, and the very complex process of making it, filled with two performances that are totally naked, whether cued by notes or not (a common practice on almost every set these days, if you know anything) than try to do it and the people who created it some justice. For a minute, look a little deeper instead of rehashing the same old tired crap that anyone can find in five minutes of browsing on google.

This film is, after all, a part of history, and we could use more like it, and actors as brave as Schneider and Brando, because lord knows they are gone now.


To my knowledge, in the early '80s there was briefly a slightly trimmed version of LAST TANGO IN PARIS in circulation which bore an R rating. But the uncut version of the Bernardo Bertolucci film was always rated X by the MPAA; the picture currently carries an NC-17 rating (successor to the X), per the MPAA website.

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