Yesterday (12.5) a Huffpost piece by Jennifer Brucceller, titled “Bernardo Bertolucci Misses The Mark In Response To Last Tango In Paris Rape Scene Controversy” and subtitled “He doesn’t seem to understand why people are outraged,” earned special attention. Or a certain passage did, I should say:
“Regardless of whether or not [Maria] Schneider knew of the violence, it should be noted that any addition to the scene, such as the butter, which was not previously agreed upon by Schneider, can be considered assault. Bertolucci doesn’t seem to understand that.”
Bruceller’s use of the phrase “such as the butter” suggests a problem with the substance. Let’s suppose Bertolucci and Marlon Brando had decided that butter wouldn’t work as the lubricant of choice, and that it would be better to go with Johnson’s Baby Oil. Or with Crisco shortening, Mazola corn oil or mayonnaise. I don’t even know what I’m talking about, and that’s partly Bruceller’s fault.
But let’s cut her a break. What Bruceller meant, I think, was that failing to tell Schneider about the butter in advance was the essence of what she called an assault. But does a refusal to confer and consult really live up to the definition of that term?
It seems to me that the term “assault” or “assaultive” should mean something that’s actually related to an assault as opposed to not showing respect by fully conferring in advance. That, to me, was Brando and Bertolucci’s uncool, uncaring act — declining to offer Schneider a chance to collaborate, mull it over, prepare, offer suggestions, etc.
Remember what Bertolucci said yesterday, which is that Schneider knew all about the anal sex scene as it was right there in the shooting script. If you don’t believe him surely someone in Paris or Rome or New York can get their hands on the original script and double-check.
Remember that in the scene in question, Brando’s character asks Maria if she’s afraid, and she says no, and he says “you’re always afraid.” Then he flips her over and pulls down her pants, etc. She knows sex is imminent. She’s not going “wait…what?” She knows what the game is. She’s been a player in this “meet and make love in an empty apartment” scheme from the get-go.
Remember that Last Tango in Paris was a movie about emotional and sexual barriers being toppled or torn down. It wasn’t a safe or tidy experience. Like all great art it challenged and upset some, but it also found great acclaim and made a ton of money.
The bottom line is that Tango’s sexual dynamic — emotional, nervy, confessional, impulsive, the elimination or renunciation of the usual rules and regulations — not only slipped by but found great popularity and critical praise. If it were to come out today with a major 40ish movie star and a 19 year-old actress, the p.c. assault troops would scream bloody murder and probably demonstrate against it. Charges of sexism, sexual exploitation and cruelty, the 30-year age gap between the leads…almost everything about it would be scrutinized, deplored, condemned and sliced into sashimi.