Saturday evening I watched a documentary about Marlon Brando. The program, presented by Alan Yentob, used a lot of private Brando footage as well as the usual publicity material and film excerpts. He was a more reflective man than I’d expected. I suppose what I remember, aside from the iconic films, are the flamboyant news-stories that surrounded him.
I’ve never really thought about the human side of his life-in-the-headlines, until I listened to what he had to say, not only about his private life, but also about his acting. What I heard were doubts and fears I could identify with.
It wasn’t one of those destructive, feet-of-clay shows that revel in demonstrating how flawed our best-loved celebrities really are. This felt more like the rounding out of a character that I’d never quite been able to see. At the end I had insights into a way of life beyond my usual experiences, and sympathy for a lifestyle that I’d viewed as shallowly flamboyant. Those ideas may or may not be accurate: what matters is that my perceptions shifted…perhaps widened? I hope so.
I didn’t stay up to watch On The Waterfront that night, but I will go back to some of his films. I have an idea that knowing more about him will affect the way I view them.
I’m reminded that at the heart of most good stories is character, flawed, to lesser or greater degree. What dictates where the empathy of the reader, or viewer, will be placed is how the story is presented. Thinking about fiction particularly, aren’t some of the most interesting, and memorable characters the ones whose behaviour we find challenging, even scary – or offensive?
One of the theories about why we read, is that we read to understand. I like that, both from the angle of writing and reading…both work for me.