Wild Young Minds: A Streetcar Named Desire

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Streetcar Named Desire

Artists & Alcohol. An extremely interesting subject, but I'm afraid you need to have a bit more patience, cause I'm working on a post about this subject that's gonna be huge. I've recently read a book I had to review, called 'The Trip to Echo Spring - On Writers and Drinking' by Olivia Laing. While reading this book, I learned a lot about the lifes of six writers: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Carver, John Berryman, John Cheever and Tennessee Williams. It's the last alcoholic that caught my attention most.
I've only seen one of his plays (adapted to screen of course, not on Broadway!), namely 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'. An intriguing - but quite long - film, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. But Tennessee Williams has written another wildly famous play: 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Since this play- 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' as well, actually - is full of alcoholists and liquor, Olivia Laing focused a great deal on it in her book.
Tennesse Williams - a heavy drinker himself - wrote 'A Streetcar Named Desire' in 1947 and it opened on Broadway the same year. In 1951, Elia Kazan made a film adaptation of it. The reason why this play fascinated me that much, wasn't my affection for alcohol and love for liquor. It was an even more shallow reason. The main parts were played by Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. I know Vivien Leigh from 'Gone With the Wind', in which she played a fabulous part, the part of Scarlett, a strong and sensual woman. As to Marlon Brando, I'd only seen him in 'The Godfather' trilogy and in 'Julius Caesar'. Both times he was quite old already, so I'd never seen him as the handsome young James Dean kind of star.
Well, it turned out this was the perfect film for it. In my opinion, Brando leads this film. Oddly enough, he didn't win an Oscar for it, while Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden did. Probably too much competition. Brando plays Stanley Kowalski in this film, a brute man, dominant and raw but extremely sensual. A primal man, you might say. 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is one of the first films in which Brando tried method acting, a technique actors use to immerse themselves in their characters. Marilyn Monroe was famous for it as well. And Brando is said to have influenced actors as James Dean, Paul Newman and Elvis Presley.
So, what's this play/film about? It's about Blanche (Vivian Leigh), a widow and a teacher in English, who is an alcoholist and suffers from the fact that her beauty is fading. After she's been caught with a 17-year-old-student she almost breaks down and travels to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella Kowalski. Blanche travels with a tram line called 'Desire'. This element I didn't really understand, it is obviously the link with the title, but except from one time, we don't see a tram at all. It probably refers to the chaos Blanche is dealing with - especially in the crowded New Orleans - and to her desires. For love, for beauty and for Stanley Kowalski. 
Who's Stanley? Stanley is Stella's husband. As I already a said, a handsome brutal man. Stanley has a huge ego, just like Blanche. This causes a lot of trouble, especially when Stella has to go to the hospital to give birth to her baby. When Stanley finds out Blanche is having an affair with his best friend, he goes wild. As you will understand, this doesn't turn out well considering Blanche's mental condition.
'A Streetcar Named Desire' is a fierce film, yet initially it was even more violent. References to homosexuality (Tennessee Williams himself was gay) and explicit sex scenes were deleted before adaption to screen. Personally, I really regret this fact. The sex scenes might have been tough in those times, but by deleting them, the film misses rawness at the end. Yes, Blanche collapses, but the reason why is made much more implicit, which wouldn't have been necessary.
As for the rest, 'A Streetcar Named Desire' is a subtile classic. It's not 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof', but to me, it's better. It's less lengthy and the performances of the actors are sublime. Especially Marlon Brando. The man has been honoured a lot in his life, but I don't mind doing it again. What a personality.

No comments:

Post a Comment