Saturday, November 5, 2016

Anthony P. Pennino on BURN!

PONTECORVO’S BURN!: HISTORY, HEGEMONY, AND HOLLYWOOD
By Anthony P. Pennino (apennino@stevens.edu)
On September 8, 1966, Battle of Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, premiered in Italy. Twelve days later, the film was first shown in the United States. The work was received with great acclaim, but it was also greeted with condemnation. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for a number of Academy Awards including Best Foreign Film. Nonetheless, it was banned in France for its all too sympathetic portrayal of the FLN. Today, the film is listed as #120 on Empire Magazine’s list of 500 greatest films of all time.Its importance in the history of film is without question. The film excites the popular imagination more perhaps for the legends that have grown up around it -- such as having been screened by the Black Panthers and the Provisional IRA as well as by military and civilian officials of the Pentagon (following a declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq) -- than for its actual content. Let us make no mistake: the film is brutal, incendiary, brilliant. Employing a cinema vérité style and a cast consisting almost entirely of non-professional actors, Battle of  Algiers depicts the French colonizers and the FLN as equally vicious combatants in the struggle for control over Algeria. And that may be the work’s most troubling feature: the balance inwhich it presents the two sides.
This stunning work of agitprop would stand as Pontecorvo’s final word on the subject of colonialism, except that it isn’t. Three years later, Pontecorvo completed another film on the same subject: Burn! (also known as Queimada); to eliminate some confusion, I will refer to the film by its English title to distinguish it from the island setting: Queimada. Though this film stars Marlon Brando, Burn! has not enjoyed the same reputation as Battle of Algiers.However, Pontecorvo’s examination, depiction, and, ultimately, condemnation of colonialism in the later work is more pronounced and more profound than in Battle of Algiers because he so carefully delineates the different strains of European expansionist behavior. I submit to you, therefore, that Burn! – despite, or even perhaps because of its flaw – is equally deserving of our admiration as a vital piece of emergent political cinema.
Briefly, Burn! is set on the fictional island of Queimada. It has been colonized by the Portuguese, who originally used the indigenous population as slaves. When those slavesrevolted, the colonizers implemented a scorched-earth policy and burned the island’s vegetation killing that indigenous population. Slaves were then brought from Africa to work the sugar fields. The film begins in the 1830’s when Sir William Walker, an agent of the British Navy, arrives to serve as an advisor to instigate a revolution against the Portuguese. He finds the mulatto population, led by Terry Sanchez (Italian actor Renato Salvatori in blackface), ill equipped for the task. Instead, he elicits the aid of poor illiterate slave Jose Dolores (as is Pontecorvo’s habit, non-actor Evaristo Marquez was hired for the role). Between Dolores’ military pressure out in the countryside and Sanchez’s conspiracy in the capital, the Portuguese are overthrown. Walker convinces Dolores that Sanchez is the more capable administrator and leaves the island with the latter in charge of the government. Ten years pass. It is 1848, a date with obvious political significance. Walker, now a representative of the Royal Sugar Company, returns to Queimada to suppress a revolt led by Dolores against Sanchez. Walker has Sanchez killed by his own military and hunts down Dolores, who is also executed. Walker is assassinated as he prepares to return home. Queimada may now be firmly under British control, but the revolution lives on.
It should come as no surprise that Burn! was not initially well-received by the critical press. An illustrative review from the time of the film’s release (1970 in the United States) belongs to Stanley Kaufmann writing for The New Republic: “No such importance (however your view it) is likely to attach to Pontecorvo’s new film Burn!, although it was clearly bucking to be another revolutionary hymn. It was carelessly made and has evidently been shoved and jostled in its final editing. The result is that its spine is broken in several places, and it can only wobble lamely to a revolutionary stance.” i Kaufmann is correct that there were production problems during and after filming – the specifics of which I will focus upon shortly -- but theknowledge that there were production and post-production factors beyond Pontecorvo’s control do not prevent the critic from concluding: “I had some reservations about The Battle of Algiers in terms of its fundamental purpose, but it was so brilliantly made. Such questions can’t arise about Burn! because it is so badly made.” ii
Pauline Kael, long-time critic for The New Yorker, was in the minority back in 1970. She deemed the film “luxuriant” and an “ecstatic epic”. iii Kael also correctly pointed to some of the production’s trouble: “[Burn!] might have reached a much wider audience if the Spanish government, sensitive about Spaniards being cast as heavies, hadn’t applied economic pressure against the production, United Artists. So parts of this picture were deleted and others reshot, and the Spaniards, who had traditionally dominated the Antilles, were replaced by the Portuguese, who hadn’t but aren’t a big movie market. After these delays the picture was given a nervous, half-hearted release.” iv Part of that nervousness was a result of releasing a film with clear anti-colonial sentiments to a public weary of the Vietnam War; Hollywood in general had difficulties addressing issues concerning the Vietnam War during the time of the war and, in fact, while Burn! was in production Warner Brothers released the pro-war John Wayne vehicle The Green Berets. Added to that, the temperamental star and temperamental director had a very public feud which Brando himself described as “Homeric”. v The production troubles and the made-for-tabloid fights provided critics with cover. Kaufmann takes on the role of Gertrude in Act IV of Hamlet; there is no need to listen to the truth of the message because somehow the messenger is flawed.
But when all is said and done Burn! is a work of subversive art. There should be no surprise in saying this. But it is subversive in three distinct respects. First, it is politically subversive. Pontecorvo and his screenwriting collaborator Franco Solinas – who also worked on Battle of Algiers – held Frantz Fanon, and in particular The Wretched of the Earth, in high esteem; they deployed Fanonian ideals in creating both Battle of Algiers and Burn! And as such,it initially appears that Kaufmann might indeed be right. If Burn! merely walks in the shadow of  Battle of Algiers, what need do we have for it at all? But there is need for it because its ambitions are that much greater than Battle of Algiers. Burn! not only challenges traditional colonial hegemony but neo-imperialist strategies as well.
Secondly, it is subversive historically. Battle of Algiers is placed in a very clear historical context. That film holds up a mirror to the nation of the Enlightenment, of the French Revolution, of the bourgeois revolution and finds it wanting, hypocritical; the inheritors of that bourgeois revolution are shown denying self-determination to those fighting an anti-colonialrevolution. And while the film is clearly a warning to all colonial regimes, those not directly associated with the Union francaise can feel a measure of safety and distance from its proceedings. Burn!, however, has a muddied historical context. And, as such, it casts a much wider net. It is much more difficult for an audience of the metropolitan center watching Burn! to build a wall between itself and this work even if its nation is not explicitly named in the film.There is no safety in distance here.
Finally, Burn! is stylistically subversive as it utilizes certain Hollywood tropes and formulas to misdirect its audience as to the true nature of Brando’s character Sir William Walker, his fate, and the inevitable conclusion of the piece. An American audience, in particular, must then consider a reexamination of the cultural contexts in which it receives films of the action-adventure genre. Stylistically, historically, and politically subversive – I will peel back each layer of the onion one at at time. As a film’s form is the most readily accessible, I will begin with an examination of its stylistic subversion.
In her review, Kael writes, “It is an attempt to plant an insurrectionary fuse within a swashbuckler – to use a popular costume-adventure form to arouse black revolutionary passions.” vi Kael is exactly right. On the surface, there are many elements that suggest that Burn! is a swashbuckler, a version of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood with the island Queimada substituting for Sherwood Forest, or, in others words, another people’s revolt against oppression played for heroics, adventure, and the occasional laugh. Shot in lush color with a sense of the epic – including a large cast to portray three armies: Portuguese, British, and Jose Dolores’ rebels – Burn! has the visual quality of the action-adventure picture of the time. Add in the casting of Marlon Brando in the lead. Brando was not yet well-known for his political positions. His refusal to accept an Oscar is still a couple of years in the future. Indeed, he had recently starred in the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty, a piece of imperial fluff with British characters in conflict over a watered-down version of the rights of man while another set of native islanders basically serves as background scenery. And, initially, his character appears heroic in the Errol Flynn mode. He is on the island to ferment revolution. He is working with/for Teddy Sanchez, a seemingly idealistic character. It is only when Brando’s Walker addresses Sanchez and his colleagues after Dolores’ revolt has spread does the audience first fully realize Walker’s intentions.
Another possible point of confusion for the audience is one of the film’s producers: Alberto Grimaldi. At first glance, this does not seem to be a logical collaboration. Grimaldi was best known at the time for his role in producing the so-called spaghetti westerns, particularly the ones directed by Sergio Leone. These films were by the standards of the day exceedingly violent but also hugely popular (making a star out of then conservative actor Clint Eastwood in the process). And though of course belonging to the Western genre, the spaghetti westerns were also extraordinarily critical of the traditional American Western. Leone deconstructs the thematic values of the genre through a Marxist lens and concludes that the West was built by men solely seeking profit as opposed to possessing a desire in building a continuation of Western civilization and furthering the Enlightenment Experiment. Indeed, one only need recall the final scene of For a Few Dollars More when Eastwood’s bounty hunter character Monco is piling the corpses of the bandits he has just help kill onto a wagon and cataloguing them not by name but by the value of their bounty. Grimaldi and his colleagues – including composer Ennio Morricone who had long-standing working relationships with both Pontecorvo and Leone – were practiced in taking the forms of American popular entertainment and re-conceiving them with a subversive or revolutionary agenda. Burn! fits that model accordingly.
Pontecorvo goes a step further by denying the audience the catharsis of violence. When Walker and Dolores are on the run from the Portuguese military after robbing the bank, they find themselves on a small village on the coast. They could flee, but Dolores instead decides to arm the villagers and meet the oncoming soldiers with force. The audience is prepared for a climatic showdown where our heroes defeat the forces of oppression. But Pontecorvo cuts to a point after the victory when the villagers are celebrating and holding the soldiers’ weapons aloft. The audience here is cast adrift, deprived of the traditional story structures of the action-adventure. It must now consider the repercussions of revolution rather than the more entertaining aspects of violent conflict between two opposing forces. We are asked to side with the Dolores’ nascent insurrection not because of emotional investment in the individual but purely because of ideological considerations.
The politically subversive elements of Burn! is our next layer of the onion. So much of the script is concerned with revolutionary and counter-revolutionary dialectic that the piece more often resembles a seminar on anti-colonial insurgency than a work of dramatic realism. I have already discussed the importance of Fanon to the works of Pontecorvo and Solinas, and Fanon’s theoretical concerns have provided the thematic foundation of Battle of Algiers. Carlo Celli in his study of Pontecorvo also provides ample discourse on the importance of Fanon in the development of this film.
Celli demonstrates penetrating insight when he discusses the relevance of the character of Teddy Sanchez, the mulatto puppet president after the first revolution on Quiemada. Celli writes, “Throughout the film Sanchez is portrayed as a weak and ineffectual figure who has the trust of neither the white commercial overlords nor the island’s black, ex-slave population. The sense of an unbreachable barrier between the races and of the impossibility of dialogue is evident in the narrative devaluation of Sanchez…. The gentrified, multiracial Sanchez is, of course, compromised by his association with the moneyed interests of the island. But Sanchez is also presented as a figure who provokes the open disdain and disrespect of both protagonists, Walker and Dolores.”vii The clear polarity of The Battle of Algiers eludes us here. Pontecorvo dangles the possibility of what Graham Greene’s The Quiet American character Pyle would call “the third-way” – a bourgeois revolution – but then removes that hope quickly. That revolution is too obviously manipulated by Walker. The effect here is to eliminate a political option well within an American audience’s comfort zone and increase its sense of unease and perhaps even dread. Edward Said argues, “Thus official bourgeois nationalists simply drop into the narrative pattern of the Europeans, hoping to become mimic men, in Naipaul’s phrase, mere native correspondences of their imperial masters.” viii Here, the third way (the bourgeois revolution) is no way at all, rather a nationalist movement co-opted by a competing imperial power.
Celli also provides cogent analysis of Sanchez’s assassination of the Portuguese governor (wherein Walker has to hold his arm so that he can fire the pistol). Celli notes that the assassination occurs during Carnival, a period where historical hierarchies are temporarily and ritualistically upended. Sanchez heads a new government, a move that has all the trappings of a Carnival atmosphere recast in shades of the grotesque; he clearly does not have a mandate to rule. ix
Nonetheless, Celli misses a key element of the assassination. Fanon states in The Wretched of the Earth: “The appearance of the settler has meant in the terms of syncretism the death of the aboriginal society, cultural lethargy, and the petrification of individuals. For the native, life can only spring up again out of the rotting corpse of the settler.”x The governor’s corpse and the settler’s corpse are one and the same. And with his death, the life of the slave population seems to emerge anew, however temporarily.
 
In one of the most famous monologues from the film, Brando’s Walker addresses Sanchez and his colleagues as they plan their revolution: “Gentlemen, let me ask you a question. Now, my metaphor may seem a trifle impertinent, but I think it's very much to the point. Which do you prefer - or should I say, which do you find more convenient - a wife, or one of these mulatto girls? No, no, please don't misunderstand: I am talking strictly in terms of economics. What is the cost of the product? What is the product yield? The product, in this case, being love -uh, purely physical love, since sentiments obviously play no part in economics.” xi Walker goes on at length to specify the difference in prices between a wife and a prostitute. He then concludes, “Which, gentlemen, is more important - and more convenient: a slave or a paid worker?” xii The plantation of Queimada has been the location of the battle between colonizer and colonized. Michael T. Martin interprets this speech as representative of the shifting balance in economic forces from mercantile colonialism to open market capitalism “while invoking Enlightenment principles against a competing, although declining, hegemonic state (Portugal) on behalf of an ascending one (England).” xiii In Martin’s formulation, Burn! while an examination of the struggles of the colonized (Dolores) against the colonizer (Walker) is also an examination of the struggles of labor (Dolores) against capital (Walker). The struggle of the wage slave is joined with the struggle of the chattel slave.
And it is with this focus on economic concerns that Burn! leaves the shadow of Battle of  Algiers and stands on its own with an unique ideological agenda. And that is manifested in the second half of the film when Walker serves as an agent of the Royal Sugar Company and not Her Majesty’s Government. Pontecorvo and his collaborators are responding to a global shift from a colonial to a post-colonial paradigm. For example, at the time of the film’s initial release, the world has witnessed the rise of Mobuto in Zaire following the Congo Crisis. Though ostensibly a figure of national liberation, Mobuto maintained cozy relationships with Belgium and France --the very colonial powers that had just been expelled -- as well as the United States. Corporate interests in Zaire’s natural resources would also greatly enhance Mobuto’s wallet; indeed, Mobuto would come under severe criticism from Naipaul in the form of the character Big Man in the novelist’s post-colonial masterpiece A Bend in the River. The military coup leaders who depose and execute Teddy Sanchez and then enter into their own cozy and profitable relationship with the Royal Sugar Company share some aspects with Mobuto including that of corruption.The presence of the Royal Sugar Company in the film demonstrates the new, subtler, and indirect methodologies of control exercised by the European powers over formerly controlled territories. The revolution has been hijacked, and the essential hegemonic structure is maintained. Insightful American audiences further cannot but help to find resonance in the Walker’s shifting job description. As mentioned above, his first employer is the Admiralty. His second employer is the Royal Sugar Company. In some respects, he is the embodiment of the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned of early in 1961.
And with the mention of the military-industrial complex, we now turn to the third and final layer of my onion: Burn! is a work of historical subversion. The choice to alter the colonial rulers of Queimada from the Spanish to the Portuguese may have been one made from business necessity, but it was also a liberating choice. The film is by no means the standard traditional historical costume epic that were flooding cinemas at the time: Man for All Seasons, Beckett, or Anne of a Thousand Days to name a few. Nor does it attempt to relay an “objective” rendering of a particular historical moment or figure. Rather, the history being deployed here is that of geschichte, or, as described by Raymond Williams, an on going dialectic between past and present. Both influence each other. And as much as Burn! is about the depredations of the European colonial powers, it is as much about the United States and its neo-colonial war in Vietnam. A few illustrations are needed. First, let us take the name of Brando’s character: William Walker. The historical William Walker was an American adventurer and filibuster who was intent on increasing the power of Southern slave-owning states by establishing English-speaking colonies in Central and South American states. He was briefly President of Nicaragua before a coalition of Central American armies executed him. The historical Walker and his doppelganger the fictional Walker stand as symbols of American military adventurism for the pursuit of profit. Such a figure has a clear connotation for a nation engaged in a long-term conflict in Southeast Asia.When Walker returns to Queimada, he provides a number of lessons to the Queimadan rulers and British officers on the nature of the revolutionaries they are hunting. (Indeed, Walker often serves as Pontecorvo’s mouthpiece for the concepts of historical materialism). The rebels only have a life to lose, Walker informs these elites, while the soldiers hunting them have family, property, and livelihood at risk. Sir William concludes that this makes the rebel that much more intractable. Celli states, “These considerations echo the strategy of guerilla leaders like China’s Mao Tse-tung or the Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh. Brando would have a chance to repeat similarlines in his performance as Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979), Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s nineteenth-century English adventure novel, Heart of Darkness.”
In fact,Pontecorvo would deploy a number of different images that would be familiar to American audiences witnessing the Vietnam War through television news programs. I will name just two. First, the Quiemadan Government forcibly removes the island’s population from its villages to “secure” controlled locations in order to deprive the revolutionaries of a support structure; the parallels with the Defense Secretary McNamara’s Strategic Hamlet Program are clear. Second, the British Army – as the Portuguese did before them – burn down the island’s vegetation to deprive the revolutionaries of places to hide. As Pontecorvo presents these scenes, though, they resemble images of the US Air Force dropping napalm on the Vietnamese jungle. The use of fire as a weapon has a similar intent as well. By utilizing geschichte as the means by which history is communicated, Burn! is a much more dangerous film for American audiences than Battle of Algiers. Whereas for the latter, the audience could comfort itself in the mythologies of the United States as world liberator (and asliberated  colony) – that what was depicted on screen was a product of a purely European-style of domination – they have a much more difficult time finding safety in those mythologies. For with geschichte, Pontecorvo is able to link explicitly European and American strains of expansionist methodologies and is thus indicting American intervention in South Vietnam as part and parcel of the colonial enterprise. I quote Pauline Kael early on United Artists’ nervousness at releasing this film. Perhaps they were right to be nervous.The reputation of The Battle of Algiers continues to soar.
Burn! has not disappeared down a memory-hole the way that Kaufmann might have hoped, but its image still needs to be rehabilitated. A process, by which I might add, has begun. Martin, whom I mentioned earlier, has contributed intriguing and original research on the film. Nonetheless, I fear that Gary Crowdus in advocating for Sidney Poiter to have played the role of Dolores rather than the unknown Evaristo Marquez does not fully comprehend Pontecorvo’s artistic decision-making process in hiring non-actors to play the roles of his revolutionaries; Marquez was an illiterate Colombian sugarcane worker, and Pontecorvo believed that he could bring an authenticity to the role of Dolores that would elude a professional actor. What would help immeasurably would be the release of the 132-minute version of the film in the United States. The 112 minute truncated version is the only one currently available in this country, and, unfortunately, it is the one with which I had to work.
Burn! was and remains an important film and should be as much of our conversation as Battle of Algiers. As the United States is currently mired in two wars in Asia (that have, for many of the peoples involved, imperial overtones) and may be joining a third in North Africa, Burn! has much to offer audiences today as it did during the Vietnam Era. Indeed, perhaps the military and civilian Pentagon officials I mentioned earlier should screen this work as well. It might provide them some additional context that Battle of Algiers does not provide.
i Stanley Kaufmann. “This Man Must Die/Burn”, The New Republic. 11/14/60, Vol. 163 Issue 20, p20-32.
ii Kafumann, Ibid.
iii Pauline Kael. 5001 Nights at the Movies. (New York: Holt, Rineheart, and Winston, 1985), pp. 109-110.
iv Kael, Ibid.
v Stefan Kanfer. Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando. (New York: Vintage, 2008),p. 264.
vi Kael, Ibid.
vii Carlo Celli, Gillo Pontecorvo: From Resistance to Terrorism. (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2005), p. 78.
viii Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism. (New York: Vintage, 1993), p. 272.
ix Celli, Ibid., pp. 79-80.
x Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. (New York: Grove, 1968), p. 93.
xi Burn! dir: GIllo Pontecorvo. United Artists. 1969.
xii Ibid.
xiii Michael T. Martin. “Podium for Truth? Reading Slavery and the Neocolonial Project in Film”. Third Text.November 2009. Vol. 23, Issue 6. Pp. 717-731.
xiv Celli, Ibid., p. 83.
xv Gary Crowdus. “Burn!”, Cineaste. 00097004, Jul93, Vol. 20, Issue 1.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Co-Screenwriter of BURN!

From: "Franco Solinas and the Commie Cowboys" by William Connolly in Spaghetti Cinema #3, December 1984
[Prior to writing BURN!, Franco Solinas worked on the scripts for LA BATTAGLIA DI ALGERI aka THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS, QUIEN SABE? aka A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, LA RESA DEI CONTI aka THE BIG GUNDOWN, IL MERCENARIO aka THE MERCENARY and TEPEPA.]
"It is in the character of Tepepa that I find an answer to the question of whether Franco Solinas is an artist or a propagandist. For the earlier films, the main characters had been written inorder to flesh out the central thematic conflicts. El Chuncho of QUIEN SABE? must be an undecided man inorder to be the focal point of the conflict between Santo's philosphy and Tate's. Cuchillo has to be a vivacious little thief inorder to contrast with Brokston's corrupt Railroad giant. Inorder for the theme of post-revolution disillusionment to work, Tepepa has to be shown as a sincere 'man of the people', but the character written here goes way beyond mere thematic dictates. Tepepa can be playfully child-like one moment, scarily vindictive the next, and soberly mature when needs demand. Tomas Milian has always been one of the best actors to appear in Italian Westerns, and his performance here is thrilling. The marriage between the written character and the actor's performance creates an enlightening portrait of a human being trying to create a better future, while battling disillusionment and trying to live with past mistakes. Creating a moving, multidimensional portrait of a human being is what I call the act of an artist.
"Solinas, co-writer Giorgio Arlorio (who also worked on THE MERCENARY), and director Gillo Pontecorvo create another equally rich characterization in BURN! (originally titled QUIEMADA, 1970), this time with actor Marlon Brando. In what is easily my favorite performance by this celebrated American actor, Brando plays Sir William Walker, an adventurer working as a secret agent for the British government in the early 19th century. Walker arrives on the Portugese controlled Caribbean island of Quiemada (which means Burn) inorder to wreck the sugar monopoly. He brutalizes a young Black named Jose Delores (Evaristo Marquiez), and when the slave pulls a knife to fight back, Walker knows he has his pawn. After getting Delores and his friends to rob a bank, Walker informs the soldiers where to find them. Facing execution if captured, Delores and his men willingly learn the use of firearms, and in fighting, Walker turns the Black man into a revolutionary liberator. Since the slaves far outnumber the Whites on the island, Walker has little trouble in negotiating a peace with the island's plantation owners, ensuring a lucrative trade for England. Having seized control of the government, Jose Delores is unwilling at first to relinquish control to Teddy Sanchez (Renato Salvatori), a mulatto clerk whom Walker has chosen to run the island. But, after Walker illustrates how ill-equipped the Black is for handling the details (and paperwork) of government, Delores gives over his sword to Sanchez. Walker goes back to England.
"After ten years of inactivity, Walker has become a lout, taken to drunken brawls in taverns. Then one day, representatives from the British government seek him out. Jose Delores has called the slaves, now low paid employees, to revolt again, and because he had created this revolutionary, Walker is the man to put down this uprising.
"Pauline Kael, I think rightly, has identified the character of Sir William Walker as an elaboration of the French Colonel in THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. Walker understands the whys and hows of revolution, but is too much of a cynic to believe in it. Having been the one to teach Jose Delores how to be a fighter, Walker is unable to understand why the Black hates him now that they are playing on opposite sides of the game. Of course, to Delores, it is not a game; it is a struggle for dignity.
"During the production of BURN!, there were many stories in the press of conflict between director Pontecorvo and star Brando. The director had pushed the star until he got what he wanted. (One report told of 50 takes of a simple action.) In light of the non-performance by the non-actor Evaristo Marquez as Jose Delores, this might seem unreasonable, but from seeing the results, it was possibly justified. Walker is the central figure of the film, and his personal conflict is its story. Brando's performance is taut and powerful, showing none of the flabby self-indulgence that has plagued his work for years before, and since. This may be his last great performance.
"Aside from the marvlous action scenes and clearly thought-out plotting, the scripts Solinas collaborated on for TEPEPA and BURN!  remain his best work due to their well developed lead characters."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

BURN! Ends Production In Morocco

From: BRANDO THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by Charles Higham

"Then Marlon charged the director with paying the black extras less money than he paid the whites and supplying them with inferior food. He discovered that a wardrobe woman's son was feverish and had vomited a hookworm after lunch. She told Marlon that Pontecorvo wanted to finish the shot before the child was treated. Marlon screamed at a chaufeur, 'Take the kid to the fucking hospital right now.' As the car drove off, Marlon told a reporter later, 'If Pontecorvo had been taller, I would have fucking fought with him. I really would have punched the guy out.' From that day on, Pontecorvo carried a gun. 'He laughed, but actually he did have a gun on his belt,' Marlon said. Pontecorvo revealed a superstitious streak that further irritated Marlon: The director carried lucky charms in his pockets, refused to discuss the picture on Thursdays, ordered everybody wearing purple off his set, and wouldn't allow red wine to be served at lunch.
"Pontecorvo denies that he mishandled the extras. He said that, according to Italian rules, there were three categories of such players, and they were always paid three different salaries. Naturally, he added, the lowest-paid category was for the blacks in the crowd scenes. Pontecorvo insists that he was not influenced in the least by racist feelings. Pontecorvo adds that Marlon 'would be furious with me if I raised my voice in anger when a black extra was incompetent. But I felt that I should treat incompetence in a black man and white with equal firmness.'
"With only a few days left to shoot, and more than sixty days missed due to his absences, Marlton walked out of QUEIMADA after a particularly violent quarrel. Producer and director were left in an impossible position, with a huge financial commitment and an unfinished movie. Weeks went by. Producer Alberto Grimaldi pleaded with Marlon to return. But he flatly refused to return to Colombia under any circumstances. After discussing several possibilities, Grimaldi settled on Morocco, of all places, as the new location. At least if was dry. Marlon finally yielded and agreed to return to work there. It was a nightmare trying to create an environment exactly identical to that found in the wilds of South America.
"In Marrakesh, a partial reconciliation took place between director and star, and the best scene in the picture was shot there. That was the sequence in which Sir William Walker tried to convince Jose Delores to choose his freedom. A morning went by with nothing accomplished. The dialogue was too lengthy, and the exposition boring. Finally, Pontecorvo hit on the idea of cutting the dialogue to a minimum and using Bach's partita 'Come Sweet Death' as the emotional acommpaniment to the lines. When the shooting recommenced after lunch, Pontecorvo, without warning Marlon, had someone put on the record. Pontecorvo said, 'Since Brando is like a ultra-sensitive animal, he was so moved by the music that he performed one of the most extraordinary scenes he ever played. The entire crew was moved to tears, and exploded into applause. Brando was stunned, and according to Marcello Gatti, he and Pontecorvo embraced each other at the end of this extraordinary scene. Pontecorvo, however, denies this, additing, 'When Marlon and I parted in Marrakesh, we didn't even say good-bye.' Later, when Marlon saw the film, in a gesture of forgiveness, he invited Pontecorvo to Hollywood to discuss a possible film about American Indians, WOUNDED KNEE. That project never came to fruition."

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Marlon Brando Is In Pain Making BURN!

From: BRANDO THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by Charles Higham
"Pontecorvo admits that he and Marlon were badly matched. As a maniacal perfectionist, the director says he was difficult to put up with. This put off the hypersensitive Brando. Their hatred for each other reached what Pontecorvo calls a 'terrible crescendo.' Due to Marlon's sensitivity and moody nature, what started off as mere discomfort gradually developed into loathing. 'Marlon saw me as his antagonist in whom he accumulated the attribution of all the negative aspects and criticisms he felt about the situation,' Pontecorvo said. 'Anything that disagreed with him in the film was all my fault.'
"Their conflict reached a tremendous climax when Pontecorvo required Marlon to do forty-one takes of a scene near burning fields. Driven beyond exasperation, Marlon 'exploded in raging cries. It looked as if the film would be stopped for good.' At this stage, it was clear that the two men had a totally opposite view of a film's purpose. For Pontecorvo, it was the mirror of a single person. The actors must simply serve an artistic vision. Marlon, of course, simply could not tolerate such an approach, which negated his own creative contribution.
"And as if this ideological conflict were not enough, there was the sheer physical torture of making the film. Marlon was fat again and out of condition, and despite his familiarity with heat and humidity he found the suffocating conditions of Colombia unendurable. The cameraman Marcello Gatti said, 'Although Brando had an air-conditioned villa to live in in Cartagena and an air-conditioned trailer on location, he suffered badly. The humidity was at least ninety to ninety-five percent. We had to travel a hundred kilometers a day, to and from the shooting location in the mountains, on terrible dirt roads. We were given a pack of grains of salt to put into water, which we drank in quantities of ten litres per day.' Gatti added that a truckful of water was driven out to the set; there was disinfectant in everything, in the ice for whiskey as well as in the bathtubs.
"'Marlon's fair, delicate complextion broke out into a terrible rash,' Gatti said. 'The makeup man had to intervene all the time to cover it up. You could tell the poor guy was sick, and as time went by more and more he needed to get away.' Marlon took long breaks and flew to Los Angeles. The film was delayed month after month. Finally Gatti said, the situation became so desperate that when Marlon went to the airport, 'The entire crew, all of us, assistant directors, makeup people, costume designer, electricians, fifty in all rushed to the airport to stop him. He agreed to come back, and we all went to the Hilton, where he offered us champagne and we danced together.'"

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Brando Has Trouble With His Co-star On BURN!

From: BRANDO THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by Charles Higham
"At first as the shooting began in torrid conditions near Cartagena, on mountain roads that crumbled into chasms, the relationship between director and star was good. But the language barrier soon became a problem. Marlon spoke very little Italian, despite  his sojourn there during REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, and Pontecorvo was not fluent in English, and was baffled by American terminology. The two men unsuccessfully tried to converse in French before they finally gave up and resorted to an interpreter. Pontecorvo said, 'We ended up missing out on essential nuances and created misunderstandings which in the long run contributed to the creation of great tensions and the
deterioration of our relationship.' In those early weeks, Marlon, according to the director, 'showed real professionalism and cooperation, despite all of the difficulties of working under torrid conditions of subtropical Colombia amid the noise and confusion of an Italian production and with non-professionals as actors and extras.' The second lead was played by an illiterate Colombian black named Evaristo Marquez. A magnificent physical specimen, Marquez had been discovered by the director when he saw Marquez stripped to the waist, riding a galloping horse through a rain forest. Pontecorvo decided then and there to hire this man for the part of the powerful dock worker
Jose Delores, who becomes a revolutionary under Sir William Walker's influence.
"At first, Marlon not only accepted this untrained actor but also helped him a lot in his performance. 'Marquez,' Pontecorvo said, 'had to speak in sounds which could produce lip movements similar to English, but since he didn't even have an idea of what dialog was, Marlon would put his hand on Evaristo's shoulder or knee in order to give him the cues for his lines. He went even further: He stood behind the camera and mimicked the facial expressions for Evaristo to imitate.'
"The misunderstandings between Marlon and Pontecorvo inevitably increased, and the situation affected Marlon's attitude towards Marquez. Pontecorvo said, 'He became impatient and demanded I substitute someone for Evaristo. I told him he would have a week's trial. In which I would shoot with him alone, without Marquez.' Meanwhile, Pontecorvo's wife and an assistant coached the untried actor off-set, and the director decided that after a week, they would decided whether to keep him or take on another actor. Finally, they decided to keep Marquez. And, Pontecorvo said, 'Marlon went into a rage and kep insisting that both of us would have to pay for the consequences. He didn't forgive me, and started seeing me as a monster.'"

Monday, October 31, 2016

Brando Signs Onto BURN! With Enthusiasm

From: BRANDO THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY by Charles Higham

"(In 1968, Brando)... told the United Press that his new policy was only to make movies that were of 'appropriate significance.' so when Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo began planning to make QUEIMADA, later retitled BURN!, a film about a seventeeth century revolution in the Caribbean, the project seemed natural for Marlon. It was the story of Sir William Walker, a British government agent who arrives on the fictitious island of Queimada to bring about a revolution that will replace the Portuguese colonial despotism with a no less reprehensible British equivalent. Pontecorvo said, 'I wanted Brando for the part of Sir William. I was convinced he was the greatest actor the cinema ever had. And this conviction was strengthened now. His capacity of expression added to his facial mobility and somatic features were unique... He was the only actor in the world who was capable of laughing with one eye and weeping with the other.'
"However, Pontecorvo had a severe struggle to secure Marlon for the role of Walker. He went to United Artists for backing, but they were extremely reluctant. Following the series of box-office flops that included REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY, Marlon was no longer considered bankable. While the director's struggle with UA continued, he met with Marlon at Mulholland. Marlon has seen and admired Pontecorvo's brilliant left-wing, anti-French THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS. Pontecorvo's script wasn't ready, but he told Marlon the story, and before he was even finished, Marlon agreed to take the part of Sir. William. 'Our political ideas were in the same sphere,' Pontecorvo said. 'While I am an independent Italian left-wing thinker, he is an American independent left-winger. We both liked the idea of an ideological adventure film. He completely agreed with the ideas behind it. He was concerned with the idea of film as a medium serving a political purpose.' United Artists was eventually convinced to gamble on Marlon, and Alberto Grimaldi became the producer of the picture. Marlon was offered and accepted $750,000 as his fee.
"Sir William Walker, with his constant scheming, his steady disintegration into corruption, alcoholism, and breakdown, was a part Marlon could certainly get his teeth into. He approved the decision to shoot the picture on location in the mountains and junbles of Colombia, South America, using local facilities in Cartagena. He was aware that making QUEIMADA the summer would be difficult given the heat and rugged terrain, but those conditions did not lessen his commitment to his impassioned director.
"On his way to Cartagena from Miami, he boarded National Airlines Flight 64. He had grown a long beard, shoulder-length hair, and a pigtail. As he got onto the plane, he said, jokingly, to a stewardess, 'Is this the flight to Havana?' Suspecting that he might be a hijacker, the stewardess immediatly reported to the captain. Neither recognized Marlon, and as a result, the captain insisted he leave the plane at once. He was furious, but the plane took off at 12:15 A.M. without him. Twenty-four hours earlier, another National Airlines flight had been hijacked and flown to Cuba with thirty-five people aboard.
"Extremely angry, Marlon managed to find a flight to Jamaica, where he boarded another plane for Colombia."
(This story about Marlon getting thrown off a flight for making a joke about going to Havana is told differently in BRANDO SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME. In that book, this incident occured not as Brando was initially traveling to Colombia, but as he was returning to the set after taking an unscheduled vacation. And in his autobiography, Brando delighted in getting thrown off the flight because it gave him an excuse to prolong his vacation.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Marlon Brando Finishes Making BURN!

From: BRANDO SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME by Marlon Brando with Robert Lindsey

"After a five-day vacation and a letter of apology, I told the producers I would finish the picture, but only in North Africa, where the climate was more pleasant and the terrain and settings similar. They agreed, if I would just return to Colombia for a few more shots. I didn't want to see that country again, but I agreed to go. They booked me on a Delta Airlines flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans and a connecting flight from there to Barranquilla. When I walked onto the plane at Los Angeles International Airport, I asked the flight attendant, 'Are you sure this is a flight to Havana?'
"She opened the cockpit door and told the captain, 'We've got a guy out here who wants to know if we're going to Havana.'
"The captain said, 'Get him off the plane, and if he doesn't leave tell him we'll have the FBI here in two minutes.'
"'Oh, please,' I said, 'I'm awfully tired.'
"The flight hostess, who didn't recognize me, said, 'Get off the plane, buddy.'
"I was delighted because I was in no hurry to go back to Colombia, so I ran down the ramp at full speed to the concourse. As I sprinted past the check-in desk one of the agents said, 'Is there anything wrong, Mr. Brando?'
"'No,' I said out of breath, 'they just seemed a little nervous, and I don't want to have any extra trouble and worry on the flight.' Then I ran like a gazelle, expecting the agent to telephone the pilot and say, 'You just kicked a movie star off the plane.' Sure enough, an agent was waiting for me as I tried to sprint past the ticket counter.
"'Mr. Brando, we're awfully sorry,' he said. 'We didn't know it was you; please accept our apologies and go back to the plane. They're holding it for you.'
"'No,' I said. 'Not now. I'm terribly upset. I'm usually nervous about flying anyway, and if that pilot is so nervous I don't think I'd feel safe flying with him...'
"The story made the papers and the airline apologized, but it did give me a longer vacation because there wouldn't be another plane out of New Orleans for Barranquilla for three days. Unfortunately, they chartered a special plane to meet me in New Orleans and I had to return to Colombia after only two days.
"All of the above to the contrary, however, Gillo was one of the most sensitive and meticulous directors I ever worked for. That's what kept me on that picture because, despite the grief and strife, I had the deepest respect for him. Later, when I wanted to make a movie about the Battle of Wounded Knee, he was the first director I thought of to do it."