Contenders

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It’s curious to ask St. Louis Symphony musicians to find their inner Brando. Although the goal was to approximate the famous “I coulda been a contender” line from On the Waterfront, I heard Streetcar Named Desire Brandos, Godfather Brandos and a few personally imagined Brandos. Whether these impersonations conform within the ideals of method acting or not probably doesn’t matter. You can find the real deal–Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger sharing ultimate truths in a car–via YouTube and compare, or just appreciate these brave contenders all on their own. And the best thing is you can hear the gorgeous Leonard Bernstein Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront at Powell Hall this weekend.

“Do You Spend Time with Your Family?”

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With The Godfather in our midst, it’s hard not to say out loud classic lines and do bad imitations. Second violinist Becky Boyer Hall, playing mandolin for those Nino Rota-made Italian folk phrasings, brought along a Godfather motif rather than muttering “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes” during rehearsal break. She had an orange with her, because oranges are an ill-omen throughout the film. Watch for it.

Diane Keaton as Kay
Diane Keaton as Kay

Also look for how young these actors were. Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), James Caan (Sonny Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams, who becomes Michael’s wife)–none of them were stars at the time. They are fresh-faced and new on Powell Hall’s big screen, which makes the performances even more exciting. None of them had developed a film persona as yet. Only Marlon Brando had already been a major star, and reclaimed his career with this performance playing the aging patriarch Don Vito Corleone. Brando was not yet 50.

I specifically chose a still shot of Diane Keaton above, because Godfather is often thought of as being all about the men. But Keaton and Talia Shire are lonely, haunting presences on the screen, most memorable for being powerless, and yet trying to achieve some dignity. They don’t have lines people imitate. Although Kay has one line she says many times to her husband Michael: “Is it true?”