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Brando, A Life in Our Times.

BRANDO, A LIFE IN OUR TIMES by Richard Schickel (Atheneum, 218 p.) is excellent and riveting when it comes to analyzing Brando's screen and stage work, but fails when Schickel tries to explain and rationalize the Brando personality, with all its bizarre twists and turns. The problem, in large part, is Schickel's obvious admiration for Brando, which seems to demand unqualified approval of the actor's often erratic behavior.

Schickel, the film reviewer for Time, is a very persuasive writer, who seems to regard himself as a generational soulmate of Brando. Virtually all the Brando quotes come from clippings, since Schickel clearly hasn't met Brando.

The book starts off with an (unconventional) letter from the author to the subject, in which Schickel all but apologizes for having written about Brando at all. "I find it difficult to let it [the book] go forth into the world without offering an apology for my intrusion into your life," he writes, and that somewhat cringing tone continues for most of the biography, which definitely suffers from an overdose of respect.

Schickel has plenty to write about and explain, as he tries to tie Brando's unpredictable and obsessively reclusive personality to many of his well-publicized gestures and his still-lingering image of the incorrigible "rebel" and backer of causes.

If Schickel is to be believed, Brando lives in a world of private despair that has made him question just about everything, including his own work. The man harbors a lot of contempt and his "genius" -- at least as Schickel perceives it -- seems to be his passport to really strange acts and relationships, including those with a string of women, his children, his colleagues, etc.

Sympathetic as he may be, Schickel doesn't miss much. The Brando stories are all there, incomprehensible as some of them may be, along with the reasons for his famous "mumble," his refusal to accept an Academy Award (he sent an Indian lady instead), life on his Pacific island (he eventually turned it into a hotel) and even his recent court appearance, when his son, Christopher, stood accused of murder.

This is really two books. One deals with Brando himself, who comes across as the incomprehensible personality that he is. The other covers Brando's large volume of stage and screen work, and this is where Schickel is at his very best.

The Brando films are a list of outstanding performances ranging from The Men and A Streetcar Named Desire, to The Wild One, On the Waterfront, Last Tango in Paris, Mutiny on the Bounty and Apocalypse Now. Brando's crowning glory, of course, came with The Godfather, which established him -- again -- as a great actor.

Brando is an opinionated biography dealing with a complicated man. It is determinedly intellectual, which befits the subject and makes a great read.
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Title Annotation:A Guide for Bookworms
Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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