Friday, February 04, 2011

RIP, Maria Schneider (by Suzie)

Never take your clothes off for a middle-aged man who claims that it's art.
-- Maria Schneider, who died yesterday at 58.

Some who write her obituary will get it all wrong, as does Susan King in the LA Times, who calls her
The wildest of wild childs who embraced the sexual revolution with open arms. She was the female lead opposite Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's X-rated "Last Tango in Paris." Schneider was so overtly sexual she made Brigitte Bardot look like a nun.
Too often women are assumed to be expressing their own sexuality when men direct them in films or photo shoots. They are celebrating their sexuality, not acting, not doing a job for pay or for the promise of advancement. Read what Schneider said about her life in 2007, when the film was re-released for its 35th anniversary.
People thought I was just like my character and I would make up stories for the press, but that wasn't me.
Italy banned the 1972 movie, and many considered it obscene. Supporters cast opponents, including some feminists, as prudes, an idea that persists today (i.e., if you don't want to see a woman raped on screen, you must be anti-sex.)

Schneider said she hated the notoriety, the men who looked at her like prey. She checked herself into a mental hospital for a while, she had bad relationships, and she abused drugs to escape, including overdosing in a suicide attempt. She continued to act in movies, but never did nude scenes again. In 1980, she met her "angel," who helped her regain her balance. She kept that relationship a secret.

I admire her for surviving trauma to build a good life.

Schneider said she grew up around strong women. Her mother, model Marie-Christine Schneider, and her father, Daniel Gélin, a successful actor, were not married, and he didn't acknowledge her until she was in her teens. She came to Paris at 15 to act. Disgusted with Gélin, Brigitte Bardot let Schneider live with her and got her an agent with William Morris. Schneider had a few jobs before being offered "Last Tango," and her agent told her it would be a great career move.

She was 19 and Brando was 48. He came up with the idea of anal rape; it wasn't in the script that she had seen.
They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry. I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do something that isn't in the script, but at the time, I didn't know that.

Marlon said to me: "Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie," but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears.

I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take.
Later, she and Brando became friends and remained so until his death. She would say that meeting him was the best part of the experience. Brando also said he felt humiliated and manipulated by Bertolucci. They never spoke to Bertolucci again. In a New Yorker obit, Richard Brody wrote:
Maria Schneider was an extraordinary actress who gave more on-screen than any performer should ever be asked to give, and she never recovered from it; I think that Brando never recovered from it either.
In another obit, Bertolucci said he wished he'd said he was sorry before she died. Ick.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand called Schneider a conduit of "female liberty." Apparently, "Last Tango" liberated women to desire sexual abuse. By the way, Mitterand (and Bertolucci) supported Roman Polanski, whose art turned out to be more important than the rape of a 13-year-old.

Mitterand had his own scandal when he wrote about his days in Thailand: "I got into the habit of paying for boys. All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market, excite me enormously." He later insisted that he meant young men, not underage boys.

Originally, "Last Tango" was supposed to be about an older man and a younger one, but homosexuality was more worrisome than misogyny.

Schneider has been described as having the face of a child, and Bertolucci said she seemed “like a Lolita, but more perverse.” Damn those beautiful young temptresses! Why must they be so perverse! Roger Ebert recalled "her open-faced lack of experience contradicting her incongruously full breasts." Apparently, you gain breasts through experience.

I was too young to see the movie when it was released and have no interest in watching it. But IMDB describes what happens after Paul (Brando) meets Jeanne (Schneider) in an empty apartment.
Brutally, without a word, he rapes the soon-complaint stranger. It should have been hit-and-run sex, but Paul stays at the scene of the erotic accident. While arranging his wife's funeral, Paul leases the apartment where [he's] to meet the puzzled girl for a series of frenzied afternoons. "No names here," he roughly tells her, setting up the rules of the game. They are to shut out the world outside, forfeit their pasts and their identities. Paul degrades Jeanne in every possible way, leveling all her inhibitions into sheer brutality. Paul is soon dissatisfied with mere possession of her body; he must also have her mind. When she rejects his mad love to enter a comfortable marriage with her dull fiancé, Paul finally confesses: "I love you, you dummy."
Here's the good news: After he chases her back to her apartment, she shoots and kills him. Here's the bad news: She then rehearses her false rape claim for police.

The audience ends up knowing far less about Jeanne than Paul, with whom we are expected to sympathize. Here's what movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in 1972:
Paul has somehow been so brutalized by life that there are only a few ways he can still feel.

Sex is one of them, but only if it is debased and depraved -- because he is so filled with guilt and self-hate that he chooses these most intimate of activities to hurt himself beyond all possibilities of mere thoughts and words. It is said in some quarters that the sex in the movie is debasing to the girl, but I don't think it is. She's almost a bystander, a witness at the scene of the accident. She hasn't suffered enough, experienced enough, to more than dimly guess at what Paul is doing to himself with her. But Paul knows, and so does Bertolucci; only an idiot would criticize this movie because the girl is so often naked but Paul never is. That's their relationship.
It irritates me when male critics assume everyone identifies with male protagonists because they do, or they write as if the characters were real, instead of the fantasies of male filmmakers.

We've seen the male fantasies in "Last Tango" in other movies and lots of porn: A girl asks for it, not with words, but with her appearance. / A slutty girl gets what she deserves. / Who knows what women want? / Some women want aggressive, "masculine" men to force them to have sex, and they'll end up enjoying it and wanting more. / If a woman doesn't fight back, protest verbally or say no, she can't consider the experience rape. / A man is under no obligation to check with her first or consider her pleasure. / Once a woman agrees to sex, she is fair game for whatever the man wants to do. / Women cry rape, even when they really enjoyed the sex.

There's no need to lecture me on female fantasies or domination and submission. There was no initial consent, and no safety for the sub. If you ever read what Schneider said, and you still get off on the movie, then you're getting off on seeing a real woman being violated.