Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and Me (Revisited)

littlefeather1

And the Oscar goes to…

Who cares?

Okay, okay: I’ll resist the urge to be a sourpuss and let it suffice that I express my indifference to the pompous and circumstance of the Academy Awards the old fashioned way –by not watching.

I watch the movies, of course; I even write about some of them. I just can’t help but be appalled anew, each year, the way we elevate these preening peacocks, and clamor like serfs before royalty at what outfits they are wearing, who is sleeping with whom, and what they will say if their peers determine their act of make believe rose above the rest.

I think George C. Scott said it best when, after returning his gold statue for his work in Patton, he remarked “the whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it.” (Also: while his performance as Patton is considered one of the best, ever, I always feel obliged to loudly celebrate his scene-devouring turn as another General, “Buck” Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove, a movie that, pound for pound, may have some of the finest performances in any movie. Even more so than The Godfather.)

Speaking of The Godfather, Marlon Brando’s performance as Don Corleone is generally considered, along with Scott’s Patton, one of the handful of all-time greats. This time each year it is inevitable that The Godfather (and The Godfather Part II) is invoked. Also inevitable are the snarky, sorority-girl assessments of the best and worst Oscar speeches, etc. The sweaty and self-loving (yet still courageous) Michael Moore’s beatdown of Bush’s “fiction” in 2003 will, of course, live in infamy. Of course, as tends to happen with the truth, the same idiots in the audience who hooted and booed would likely be more willing to speak out, now that’s safe (and now that the then-controversial, yet indisputable reality that Bush and his boys got us involved in our Iraq imbroglio on false pretenses is the official story line). Cheers to Moore for using his few seconds on stage to talk about something more meaningful than his love of Hollywood, praise to God for letting him win, or serving up the obligatory obsequiousness that the occassion generally demands.

 

At least Moore showed up; there is lingering –and understandable, considering the frail feelings of those involved– disdain for Brando, who not only refused his Oscar (the horror!), but sent an Apache named Sacheen Littlefeather to speak out on behalf of Native Americans. The backstory of Brando’s involvement in, and then-novel advocacy for awareness regarding the historical treatment of Native Americans is summarized here. The full speech Brando never delivered is here. Of course, to contemporary eyes, the sentiment –and the manner in which it is expressed– seems naive and too hectoring by half. However, we have come quite a long way in the last few decades in terms of our acknowledgment of the very issues Brando was calling attention to, and as with Moore, time has only enhanced the legitimacy of his scorn.

But…what about the fact that Littlefeather was an actress herself? Does this undermine the authenticity of Brando’s message? Of course not. Indeed, the more scripted it might have been, the better: what could be more appropriate at this orgy of onanistic self-approval than an actress punking a few hundred of the most famous and well-paid insiders?

A few years later, in a delicious instance of art imitating life imitating artistic life (et cetera), Neil Young paid homage to this occasion (either earnestly, tongue-in-cheek or, knowing Neil, a bit of both) in one of his best songs, “Pocahontas”.

Native Americans, Iraq and Oscar: someone should make a movie.

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