Friday, 21 November 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire

The Bfi are running a fantastic Tennessee Williams season, so last night Feda, Aida and I made a return to the deep South to see A Streetcar Named Desire and gaze in awe at the matinee idol performances of Marlon Brando and Vivian Leigh on the big screen.

It really is a mountain of a play, a great emotional epic. I can't think that much written in the field of naturalism or poetic-naturalism in the twentieth century can hold a candle to it. The Cherry Orchard? View from a Bridge? Perhaps. But British classics such as Look Back in Anger, Roots, even Roddy Ackland's superb Absolute Hell feel positively urbane and second class in comparison.

I was amazed at Brando's performance - light years ahead of its time and made all the more wonderful by the obvious studio locations, savage cuts from one shot to the next and emotive soundtrack. In every other way the film is nostalgically dated, but Brando is not. And then there is Leigh, whose speed of thought and tone, makes every moment with her on screen spark and fizz. Together they are thunder and lightning.

Even though we knew it was coming we found it hard to take Blanche's final descent into breakdown and ended up watching through our fingers, hands over our faces as she collapsed, regained composure and walked out to the car with the doctor.

Beautiful brutal play, beautiful brooding movie.

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