Jul 11, 2010

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Directed by Elia Kazan. Starring Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden.

Long story short: Blanche comes to visit her sister Stella and immidiately begins to clash with Stella's husband Stanley. (Okay, this summary sounds like a plot of a bad romantic comedy. It shouldn't.) 

A Streetcar Named Desire is based on a famous play by Tennessee Williams. I first saw the film a few years back and thought it was boring and anticlimactic and a typical classic. This spring I studied the play for a course and thought I should give the film another try - now that I'm more mature educated about the story and the characters. And well, I have to admit I still didn't love it, nor do I feel a need to see it again any time soon, but I kind of see why the film has earned its classic status and can appreciate the complexity of the story and the characters.

In many ways Streetcar resembles a play performed in a theatre. Almost every scene takes place in Stella and Stanley's shabby apartment. You can easily imagine how it would look on stage. There's a lot of talk and a little action, which is probably why it's so difficult to like.

Like I said, the characters of Streetcar are very complex. They are also very flawed, all in their own ways. Blanche, played by Vivien Leigh of Gone with the Wind, is weak, vain and phony, a true drama queen, always fishing compliments about her fading looks and struggling with her past. Marlon Brando's Stanley is a travesty of a man, very primative, brutally honest and sometimes violent, intentionally cruel and never caring much about other's feelings. Stella is kind of sweet, plain looking, the easiest character to sympathesize with, but avoiding the fact that her husbad is what he is, she always comes back to him no matter what he does, because she's just too attracted to him.

The performances are a key element in a story like this. Without the right cast it just wouldn't work. And yeah, the actors rock it, of course. Leigh is amazingly neurotic and annoying, and Brando is just so disgusting (behind that pretty face and awesome abs. I had a very brief Marlon Brando phase after I saw this the first time). It's interesting to learn how people's sympathies lie with different characters. For example I can only sympathize with Stella - in the end with Blanche, too, but never with Stanley. What a horrible man, seriously!

So. There has been some progress. Not anymore would I call Streetcar boring or anticlimactic. Still, it is a typical classic, and not a favourite movie candidate I can watch again and again. But respect to the people who made this film. And to Brando, who created one of the most despicable male characters ever, and earned his place in the history of cinema by being wet and half-naked, looking desperate and screaming "STELLA, STELLA" with all his might.

"I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."

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