Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)

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Michael
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Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1972)

#1 Post by Michael » Thu Oct 20, 2005 12:02 pm

After being tremendously impressed with The Spider's Strategem recently (mainly for Alida Valli's very lush, haunting presence), I decided to check out various Bertolucci works. Last Tango in Paris was one of them and I was totally knocked out by its bitter, piercing beauty. I really love this film a lot..even more than The Spider's Strategem and The Conformist (gasp! apologies to the rabid Conformist fans here). I was 3 or 4 years old when Last Tango was first released but throughout my life, I heard and read so many things about it.. the controversy and all that and I remember my mom once raved about it. When the film opened with a couple of Francis Bacon paintings, I knew I was in for a great treat. What a journey the film took me on. I laughed and cried... a tremendous range of powerful emotions. Last Tango creates a dreamy, surreal amber glow that we get lost in but brilliantly, unexpectedly snap us out of it in the closing scene. What can I say about Marlon Brando? This has to be his best, most personal, most painful performance.. he kept me gripped and disturbed throughout and in the tango finale, he let go (like Galoup in Beau Travail)...a truly great scene.

I really love Last Tango in Paris a lot. Do you think this film still holds up well today?

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Lino
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#2 Post by Lino » Thu Oct 20, 2005 1:10 pm

There was a time in my life in which I was completely and utterly obsessed by this movie and its soundtrack (I would play the CD non-stop ad nauseum).

In fact, it's still one of my all time favorites and everytime I watch it I get different impressions from it as the years go by. Last time I did that, this story revealed itself to me to be not so much about advocating free sex in which identities are not needed but much more about two kind of lost souls that somehow got in the way of one another and connected on a deep level out of a profound need of love and also to get back in touch with the world of the living again.

Their coming together is also due to arguably the film's main theme: Death. She, of her father and he, of her wife. Of course, this being a Bertolucci film, Freudian and Oedipal matters come into the game making the final result much richer in detail and thus open to discussion.

There was a thread earlier this year that I submitted about The Creative Use of Color in Film and I remember to have used this particular film as a perfect example of it: the two predominant colors are Grey and Yellow in their varied variants. Grey is used mostly for exteriors and Storaro then proceeds to show us a very grim and ever cloudy Paris in which people have very few chances of connecting. On the other hand, Yellow is used mostly for interiors and the result is of a much warmer atmosphere, inviting intimacy on every corner of the apartment they decide to rent for their ocasional but sexually powerful encounters.

There is however one other very important color used in this film: Red. If you notice it closely, it appears randomly but always menacingly. First in the form of a turtleneck Brando uses in the film's most famous scene; then later at the proverbial Last Tango in the form of a neck tie, also used by Brando. These small things are present to make a sort of dissonant note on the overall look of the film and also to alert us that something is about to happen.

But all this aside, this is mainly a film about two people that use sex as an escape but also as a last chance to get a grip on themselves, to feel grounded again. It's a cry of help, really. Little did they know that it would end up destroying them.

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franco
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#3 Post by franco » Thu Oct 20, 2005 2:45 pm

I am right in the time of my life in which I am completely obsessed with this film, possibly because I experienced something [emotionally] similar to the film's finale, but...

Spoiler: I am still alive.

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Michael
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#4 Post by Michael » Thu Oct 20, 2005 3:46 pm

Annie Mall, very well done. Thanks for explaining the significance of the colors. I will look more into that next time I watch Last Tango. My partner found the ending contrived.. does anyone think that also? I thought it was perfect. Anyway, Brando's acting seized me nonstop throughout that it left me reeling all night and all today. I couldn't shake that piercing scene of Brando sitting by his mother-in-law's "masterpiece"out of my mind. Very powerful.

How was the film received when it was first released? I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of folks who expected Last Tango as a sex romp starring a major Hollywood star ended up disappointed. Look what happened to Eyes Wide Shut.

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Lino
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#5 Post by Lino » Fri Oct 21, 2005 3:59 am

Well, Last Tango is probably the film with the most notorious and infamous reputation in cinema history due to its very outrageous premise. It was banned I believe for more than 30 years on its native country; I think that some other countries were also not allowed to play it in theaters for it lewd and obscene content (if I'm not mistaken, spanish people that lived near the french border would take bus excursions on weekends just to be able to see it even though they probably wouldn't understand what they were saying...); it was submitted to extensive cuttings throughout the years; Bertolucci went to jail I think in his home country for having created a subversive piece of art; the list goes on and on.

Of course, much like Ingmar Bergman's The Silence, people went to see it for all the wrong reasons and I guess you can still apreciate it on a purely sexual level - Maria Schneider's body is prominently displayed for the duration of the feature. Not to mention that "butter" scene that has been so magnified to the point of people watching Last Tango solely because of that. It's just one of those things that you have to see it because everyone else already has...you know how these things work.

Apart from this, the film also garnered some pretty outstanding reactions from the part of the film critics of the time, most famously from Pauline Kael and her now historical review of the film. Brando was also nominated for an Academy Award for best actor (didn't win) and I guess you can see how groundbreaking a film this really was: marrying highly erotic imagery and themes with also a very aestheticized and stylized way of filmmaking.

One last note: Bertolucci was still in his late twenties (or early thirties, I'm not sure anymore) when he made this very mature film! Truly amazing and a testimony of his sheer talent.

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david hare
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#6 Post by david hare » Fri Oct 21, 2005 4:32 am

I even recall the BBFC CUT THE BUTTER SCENE! in 1972

more about this later. I feel as though the spirit of Paso lurks in this movie haunting it with sexuality and indentity.

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Lino
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#7 Post by Lino » Fri Oct 21, 2005 9:21 am

I have this sort of theory that this film wouldn't have had the same kind of impact that it eventually did if it didn't star what was perhaps the biggest male actor of that time in it. If it were, say, an italian actor or even a well-known french actor I am positive that the final results wouldn't be so over-whelming.

Just imagine - today's equivalent would be putting Robert de Niro doing some crazy sexual romps on an arty european movie by a young, controversial director. Hmm, come to think of it, that wouldn't do him no harm these days...

BTW, I've lately come to view Monster's Ball as somewhat akin to the themes that are expressed in Last Tango in Paris: two people that come together through way of the sexual act to overcome the recent death of respective loved ones. As a kind of a therapy for each other's mourning. What do you think?

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Michael
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#8 Post by Michael » Fri Oct 21, 2005 9:53 am

Wouldn't it be fascinating if Gaspar Noe did a film starring Robert DeNiro?

I would like to read Pauline Kael's review of Last Tango. Is it available anywhere on the Internet?

Annie Mall, regarding to Monster's Ball I can see what you're aiming at. Even in both films, the parents are presented as selfish and inconsiderate. It's been a long while since I saw Monster's Ball but I have to say that even if the sex is removed from Last Tango, Brando's performance and Storaro's visionary photography alone are so much more powerful and searing than Monster's Ball as a whole.
Last edited by Michael on Fri Oct 21, 2005 11:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Lino
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#9 Post by Lino » Fri Oct 21, 2005 10:44 am

Michael wrote:Wouldn't it be fascinating if Gaspar Noe did a film starring Robert DeNiro?

I would like to read Pauline Kael's review of Last Tango. Is it available anywhere on the Internet?
That would be something...scary, I think! But I would definitely go see it, for sure!

About that Kael review, I'm afraid I don't know if it's available somewhere. I once googled for it with no luck.

And I have to agree with you about Brando's performance and Storaro's visionary eye: they are fundamental factors on the film's powerhouse look and feel. But let's not forget Gato Barbieri's music here - it's a work of inspired genius and I love the way Bertolucci punctuates certain scenes of the film with little snippets of music. It works wonders in the way it highlights certain emotions or situations.

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mingus
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#10 Post by mingus » Fri Oct 21, 2005 11:10 am

Milton Moses Ginsberg at a visit in Vienna just compared Rip Thorn's performance in "Coming Apart" with Marlon Brando's in "The Last Tango In Paris". He may be right. Both are great movies in their own right. Although "Coming Apart" is more powerful in its form, at least to me.

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#11 Post by Ishmael » Fri Oct 21, 2005 1:39 pm

Michael wrote:I would like to read Pauline Kael's review of Last Tango. Is it available anywhere on the Internet?
See here, my good man.

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Michael
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#12 Post by Michael » Fri Oct 21, 2005 1:52 pm

Marvelous! Thanks, Ishmael.

kekid
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#13 Post by kekid » Fri Oct 21, 2005 10:38 pm

I understand this is not the section for DVD discussion, but can anyone tell us who owns the rights to this film and can issue a special edition? Does anyone know of any plans for a special edition?

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david hare
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#14 Post by david hare » Fri Oct 21, 2005 11:38 pm

I think it was MGM/UA when their Dvds were released through Warner but would now probably be Sony.

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Andre Jurieu
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#15 Post by Andre Jurieu » Sat Oct 22, 2005 2:52 am

davidhare wrote:I think it was MGM/UA when their Dvds were released through Warner but would now probably be Sony.
Doesn't Warner retain the rights to the MGM/UA titles they acquired previously? Wasn't that what Ted Turner specifically purchased the rights to in the 90s (? maybe it was the 80s?) and part of what he brought to the table in the AOL Time Warner merger? I don't believe the titles revert back to MGM to be part of the Sony acquisition. I could be wrong though, considering at the moment I'm slightly fuzzy as to what Turner purchased way back when ... and also slightly drunk.

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Barmy
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#16 Post by Barmy » Mon Jul 23, 2007 2:39 pm

From the New York Post:

Image
SICK STICK

July 23, 2007 -- MARIA Schneider - who was only 19 when she, Marlon Brando and a stick of butter filmed the world's most infamous sex scene in "Last Tango in Paris" - is still haunted by it to this day. "That scene wasn't in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea . . . I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do some thing that isn't in the script," Schneider, now 55, tells Lon don's Daily Mail. As they shot it, "I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and, to be hon est, I felt a little raped . . . Thankfully, there was just one take." She adds: "I never use butter to cook anymore - only olive oil."

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Don Lope de Aguirre
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#17 Post by Don Lope de Aguirre » Mon Jul 23, 2007 2:57 pm

"That scene wasn't in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea . . . I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do some thing that isn't in the script," Schneider, now 55, tells Lon don's Daily Mail. As they shot it, "I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and, to be hon est, I felt a little raped . . . Thankfully, there was just one take." She adds: "I never use butter to cook anymore - only olive oil."
Will she never shut up about this? I am seriously beginning to query her sanity. She manages to exploit her own supposed exploitation. :shock:

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Cold Bishop
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#18 Post by Cold Bishop » Mon Jul 23, 2007 4:12 pm

Interesting article on Last Tango I had floating around in my bookmarks.

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Jeff
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#19 Post by Jeff » Mon Jul 23, 2007 4:49 pm

Maria Schneider wrote:I never use butter to cook anymore - only olive oil.
Much better for her heart. I think she owes Messrs. Bertolucci and Brando a big thank you for steering her away from saturated fats.

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tryavna
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#20 Post by tryavna » Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:24 pm

Don Lope de Aguirre wrote:Will she never shut up about this? I am seriously beginning to query her sanity.
Would you be able to hold onto your sanity if Marlon Brando mistook a certain part of your anatomy for an English muffin?

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Don Lope de Aguirre
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#21 Post by Don Lope de Aguirre » Mon Jul 23, 2007 5:38 pm

Would you be able to hold onto your sanity if Marlon Brando mistook a certain part of your anatomy for an English muffin?
English muffin or American Pie? Brando is a bit pale for my liking, but this is another matter!

I remember seeing a documentary on BBC4 (I think) about Last Tango... in which (if memory serves correctly) Schneider accused Bertolucci of asking her to get a boob job for the film, which Bertolucci denied. This accusation seems to me to be beyond all credibility! Her tits are big enough as they are. Any more and Bertolucci may as well have cast Lolo Ferrari! :shock:

She milks this (ok, i need to grow up) for all it worth...and then some!

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#22 Post by David Ehrenstein » Mon Jul 23, 2007 6:44 pm

Look, here she was a very butch lesbian being asked to play a part in which she's topped by one the most flamboyant bisexuals in the history of the cinema.

Talk about "the higher-priced spread"!

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MichaelB
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#23 Post by MichaelB » Tue Jul 24, 2007 3:21 am

davidhare wrote:I even recall the BBFC CUT THE BUTTER SCENE! in 1972
It was a tiny cut (a few seconds max) made to appease the baying mobs calling for the film to be banned and everyone associated with it to be burned at the stake. The footage was quietly restored later on, and since then the film has only ever been shown uncut in Britain.

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david hare
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#24 Post by david hare » Tue Jul 24, 2007 7:36 am

And here was I thinking it was the BBFC's reaction to complaints from the British dairy industry.

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MichaelB
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#25 Post by MichaelB » Tue Jul 24, 2007 7:39 am

What would the dairy industry have to complain about? Bertolucci was opening up a whole new market!

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