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Bernardo Bertolucci

The death of Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci has generated most interest in the infamous sex scene in Last Tango in Paris which is bit of shame as he directed several more interesting and worthwhile films.

He won the Oscar for the Last Emperor but my favourite work in his canon was The Conformist (1970).

This was the story of a supporter of Mussolini who travelling to Paris is charged with killing his ex-professor who fled the regime.

Matters are complicated as the assassin, accompanied by his wife, discovers that the professor is involved with his ex-girlfriend played by Dominique Sanda.

The story is by Alberto Moravia and the picture is both gripping and visually exciting.

It launched the international career of Jean Louis Trintignant who played the assassin.

Last Tango in Paris is film primarily about sex starring Marlon Brando.

Whilst Brando will always be one of the defining actors of Hollywood his personal life was messy and his career path easily distracted, notably after acquiring a Tahitian atoll and wife after Mutiny on the Bounty.

At his best he was a compelling actor as in the famous scene in the back of the taxi with Rod Steiger in On the Waterfront with the memorable line, some say not scripted, “I could have been someone. I could have been a contender“.

Yet for all that and for espousing causes like that of the Native American, one of whom accepted his Oscar award, he never enjoyed acting and his studio demands became more and more excessive as his career waned and the looks went.

His career was saved by the Godfather though Rod Steiger was originally cast for the role.

It is quite possible and we will never know that the casting of 19 years old Maria Schneider did attract him to this role.

What is certain is her career never recovered. However they remained lifelong friends, she acknowledged the help he gave and his then girl friend Esther Anderson comforted her after the scene.

The subject of abuse came up in a biopic of a more celebrated star than Maria Schneider in Sky Arts, Judy Garland.

She was only 16 when she made her most famous film The Wizard of Oz.

Every aspect of her life was controlled by the studio which resulted in addictive personality and the taking of her life. She could do everything. Though defined as a star at of the musical in its vintage era she more than held her own as a Jewish girl giving evidence in Judgment at Nuremberg amongst some very powerful actors like Richard Widmark and Maximilian Schell.

Though she died young she was reputed to give her first performance aged two and so she had a long career at the end of which she became a cabaret star popular as a gay icon.

Bertolucci and Brando cannot now defend themselves from the accusations though the former once did. He was a daring director who pushed back the frontiers of sex in his movies but in my view this did not in themselves make them enduring. Federico Fellini made more and better films.

One can hardly imagine such films being made now and that is good thing as no 19 year old should be exposed to that.

This said, an examination of her career by one critic argues that her openly gay relationships did her more career harm than the infamous tab of butter.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts