Monday, February 7, 2011

The Man Who Read Pauline Kael's Review of 'Last Tango in Paris' Too Much

In retrospect, it was not so much Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris, with its famed stick of butter, that left such an impact on viewers, as it was the millenarian nature of Pauline Kael’s review, which compared the film to Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (Pauline Kael, The Current Cinema, The New Yorker, October 28, 1972). The Journal of Irreproducible Results recounts the case of John R., a 49-year-old professor of film at CUNY who suffers from a case of near total amnesia in which he only remembers paragraphs of the famous New Yorker review (“The Man Who Read Pauline Kael’s Review of Last Tango in Paris Too Much,” The Journal of Irreproducible Results, Volume 45, No 1). On Friday the Times reported the death of Maria Schneider (“Maria Schneider, Actress in ‘Last Tango,’ Dies at 58,” NYT, 2/4/11). The coquettish actress achieved a notoriety she didn’t entirely want for the scenes with Marlon Brando that earned the film an X rating. “I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol,” she said in a Daily Mail story from 2007, which the Times obit quoted. “I wanted to be recognized as an actress, and the whole scandal and the aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown.” Schneider was 19 when she made the film, but the Times ran a picture of her from 2003, when she was 50. The rendering is quite shocking, a little like The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s not just the cruelty of age but the change in persona that’s so dramatic. The Times describes the character that Schneider was chosen to play as “free-spirited” and “mysterious.” But the rendering that accompanies the story of her demise looks like a mug shot. It's the face of a careworn, bedraggled and tired creature who looks like she was struck down by life before she'd ever a chance to comprehend what was happening to her.

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