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Marlon Brando's involvement in the making of "Burn" came about directly
as the result of his politician idealism and his desire to make films
with a comment on the human situation
In 1968 he was deeply concerned
in supporting civil rights causes, particularly those to have reference
to black and Indian conditions, and, according to his friends, he was
greatly disturbed and depressed by the assassination of Robert Kennedy
and Martin Luther King
"Burn" begins in 1845 as Sir William Walker (Brando) arrives on the island of Queimada, truly as far as can be judged as a harmless traveler but actually an agent of the British government ordered to incite a revolution that will shatter the Portuguese control on the island and permit the British to put their hand on the valuable sugar-cane total product Queimada has a population of two hundred thousand, of whom only five thousand are Europeans The main town is a well-protected port with a fort and a garrison, a governor's palace, a cathedral, a bank, a hotel and a brothel
The English gentleman recognizes he must play the part of a political Pygmalion He looks around for a suitable subject to train as a revolutionary and he selects José Dolores (Evaristo Marquez), a large, handsome black dock-worker with an air of confidence Walker also recruits Teddy Sanchez (Renato Salvatori), an almost-white clerk with political ambitions Walker persuades José Dolores to steal the bank of the island, and once he does, Walker reveals his name to the government, thereby turning Dolores into a hunted bandit The ingenious Walker then teaches Dolores and his followers in the use of firearms and gradually absorbs in them ideas and feelings to overthrow the Portuguese government
The film is quite obviously political in tone, and is a passionate piece of propaganda in the anti-colonial struggle Brando's interpretation of Sir William Walker is apt to call up memories of his Fletcher Christian This is another Englishman, whose gentle speech and soft manners disguise with courage and determination Walker is not a villain but a cold, inflexible pragmatist with a hard work to accomplish
One of the most under-rated films of all time. Marlon Brando is at his best playing the cool, witty Sir William Walker. The film is taut and fast paced. Add to this an intelligent script and beautiful scenery as well as an ironic political story and you have an excellent film. Brando carries the film in his portrayal of Sir William Walker, who is ready to play either side of the political struggle to satisfy his government's (Great Britain) needs. He is equally at ease with the rich upper class plantation owners as with the slave sugar cane cutters allowing him to take advantage of both. Where the film triumphs is in its ironic showing of how colonial powers will stop at nothing to get what they want no matter what the cost. Are the islanders of Queimada any better off as an independent country but relying on the British for trade, or as a colony of Portugal? Hard to say. The sugar cane cutters are no better off that's for sure. The musical score by long time Sergio Leone contributor Ennio Morricone captures very well the senselessness of the revolution as well as the fact that the slaves are just pawns in a much larger and dangerous game.Apparently the actor who plays Jose Dolores was an illiterate sugar cane cutter and had never even seen a film. Even with this handicap, he still manages to give the heroic Jose an air of dignity. It is nice to see a film that does not accept that everything is all right in the world and that such a trivial thing as having sugar for our tea, can have life and death consequences for so many people. A film not to be missed.
Albert Oyahon (a previous review) seems to have said it all. This indeed is a deeply complex, gripping and deeply political film. For those who are used to simple moral tales it will seem confusing, uncomfortable even, but for those who relish the complexity of the human condition it is a challenging and thoughtful film. The number of truly outstanding political thrillers can be counted on the fingers of one hand (A Man For All Seasons and Z come to mind) but this ranks amongst the best. With the possible exception of On The Waterfront, it is difficult to think of a film in which Brando gave a better performance. He is outstanding as a complex political manipulator. The film also has qualities that arise only when different cultures (in this case Europe and The Americas) come together. To an intelligent filmgoer I cannot recommend this film too highly.
Marlon Brando here perfects the portrayal of an upper class Englishman that
he first essayed in Mutiny on the Bounty. His British agent, Sir William
Walker, is patrician, duplicitous, sardonic, manipulative, charming - the
embodiment of perfidious Albion. This exploration of colonialism is one of
the better films Brando made in the sixties, if not the best. In it he was
able to realise his long-expressed wish to make films of a serious,
political nature and this one, which charts Britain's involvement in a
Portugese colony in the Antilles during the mid 19th century, offers an
unequivocally Marxist analysis of the struggle for freedom on the part of
the black sugar cane workers. Gillo Pontecorvo, the Italian director, had
previously made the much admired Battle of Algiers on the theme of French
Walker is sent to the island of Queimada on two occasions in furtherance of British interests in the sugar trade. Initially he is employed by the Admiralty to incite a rebellion against the Portugese and install an independent government. Ten years later he returns, this time on behalf of a major sugar company, to destroy the rebel leader he himself has created.
Walker, however, is an ambivalent figure, only too aware of the contradictions in his nature. His stance is that of the professional who tries 'to do a job well, and to see it through'. At the same time, he admires Jose Dolores, the rebel leader, and is contemptuous of those not fighting alongside him. ('Why aren't you up there with them on the Sierra Madre?' he asks a bemused government soldier.) When his successful counter-insurrection leads to Jose Dolores' capture, Walker offers him the chance to escape execution, and is then puzzled by his refusal. As a man without political conviction, Walker cannot comprehend it in others.
The film is not without its flaws. Some fairly ruthless cutting leaves the plot difficult to follow on first viewing. The middle section, accounting for the intervening years in Walker's life, is unconvincing. If he is a disillusioned man, reduced to drinking and brawling (through self-loathing?) there is no sign of it on his return to Queimada. And whatever happened to his next assignment in, ironically, Indo-China?
The rest of the multi-national cast are no match for Brando, who has most of the dialogue and is seldom off screen. Jose Dolores, for example, is played by a young Colombian who had never seen a film before, let alone acted in one, and the imbalance between the two performances is all too evident. Pontecorvo orchestrates the big crowd scenes well, and they have the documentary feel of Battle of Algiers, but they cause the film to swing unevenly between action and ideas.
Making the film was apparently an unhappy experience for all concerned. Shot mainly in Colombia, working conditions were appalling with the cast and crew subject to illness, bad weather and threats of violence. With Italian, French, English and Spanish speakers involved, there were major problems of communication. Brando and Pontecorvo had different views on the main character - the director wanted him portrayed as an unmitigated force of evil while Brando pushed for more light and shade - and relationships between the two deteriorated rapidly. Filming was finally completed in Morocco after Brando, who was at a very low ebb in his life, walked off the set and threatened to quit the production altogether.
Despite its flaws, it remains a fascinating film, with a literate script, a strong anti-racist message and a central performance of great intelligence and wit. Why has it never been released on video in the UK?
This is, without doubt, one of the best films ever made which deals with
festering malaise of racism, and, by distancing it into the past,
brings home truths that are entirely appropriate to the present day. He
brings an almost psychological precision to his films.
Working in close association with Ennio Morricone who augments so many scenes with his stunning score, Pontecorvo creates a film of ideas presented as adventure, with scenes of breath-taking spectacle which are on a par with those of the earliest silent days of cinema, when one could be overwhelmed by the sheer number of extras employed and the vast panoramic canvases presented to us. In a sense, these images of a collective mass of humanity are in themselves an abstract call to insurrection and rebellion; a fearsome judgement on the over-wheening arrogance of white Christian and colonial culture in the past, and those remnants of it that still echo to this day. As those who read my postings may well guess, I believe music plays a tremendously creative role in film, and is a contributory factor of immense importance, and QUEMADA utilises music almost like a weapon in its armoury!
Brando has said, in an interview published some years ago in `Playboy' magazine, that he and Pontecorvo didn't get on well together during the production of this movie, (one perhaps forgets now that when QUEMADA was made, Brando's career was at a very low point!), and yet there is no hint of this in the movie itself, as Brando turns in one of his most measured, considered and subtle performances. So suave, and so genteelly treacherous! Pretending to `do what's right', but eventually `doing what's white'.
Fine and thought-provoking dialogue is a plus: `Freedom is not something somebody gives you. It is something you take for yourself', and there is a powerful scene where, in an unguarded moment of temper, the character played by Brando, who, up until then has shown himself to be the benign white liberal, suddenly hurls a racist epithet at his prisoner, thus reminding us, that every `brother' ain't always a `brother'!
Pontecorvo's films always seem to manage to upset both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum, (from my own libertarian point of view, a source of deep satisfaction), because he has always refused to traffic in slogans or short-term solutions to complex and long-gestating problems. He knows always that human nature is not consistent, and that, (as Shaw once said), `People don't have their virtues and vices in sets; they come all mixed up, anyhow'.
Finally, mention must be made of the superb title sequence; such a stunning and exciting `overture' to the content of the film to come, which stimulates and excites from the very outset.
Gillo Pontecorvo has not made many films, (and whatever happened to OGRO?), but in my view, he has made three masterpieces, and this is one of them. One could almost get nostalgic for the days when, to show the East how laid-back and freedom-loving we in the West were, we allowed heretics to make the occasional movie that dealt with IDEAS... Now that such fine points no longer need to be made at International Film Festivals, seems like `ideas' as an ingredient in films, have been put on the back burner! No doubt we shall all live to regret it!
In the 1830's, the island of Quemada in the Antilles is a Portuguese
colony - that is, until an English agent provocateur arrives and inspires
the black slaves to rise and expel the colonial authorities. However, as
always the way with revolutions, a group of middle-class power brokers
seizes political control and the people's aspirations are
Ten years pass, and the sugar industry now requires peace and stability on Quemada. The continuing guerilla campaign by the dispossessed blacks is harming profits. The very same English adventurer is once more despatched to the island, this time to hunt down and eradicate the revolutionaries he created.
Marlon Brando plays Sir William Walker in his best Fletcher Christian English accent and a blonde wig with a life of its own. His is a thoughtful performance, putting across the complexity of the man, a character who is undoubtedly cynical and unscrupulous, but who is also an emotional man and something of a political philosopher. He is certainly effective at what he does.
The direction of Gillo Pontecorvo is somewhat erratic at times. There are points where the narrative is confused, and the gold robbery which drives the plot somehow got left on the cutting-room floor. Jose Dolores' rise to power is the most significant event in the story, but we see nothing of it. During the voodoo carnival, two of the participants are wearing 20th-century soccer shorts. The film's central pivot, the passage of ten years between Walker's two visits to the island, is handled very sketchily by means of a few incongruous London scenes and a voice-over narration.
But there are good things, too. When Santiago's widow hauls her husband's body away, the masonry of the fort stands as a silent metaphor of colonial power - harsh, overbearing and sterile. Brando has some fine speeches, musing on the nature of political legitimism. The fire scenes are visually arresting (though it would have sufficed to have two or three guerillas being shot as they emerged from the burning sugar cane: seven or eight is labouring the point), and Walker is positively luminous against the tortured black shapes of the charred forest, showing in symbolic form that this man thrives on the suffering of the blacks, and that destruction is his natural element.
Marlon Brando is just amazing in this intelligent film.Most people don't understand Brando's career choices during the sixties.But I think that as years go by,they will.His ideas were way ahead of his time.His talent and range were unbelievable.Every actor tries to imitate his intensity (deniro,penn,nolte,.....) with no success.Definitely the king of acting.
Synchonic says: >It would be a far more interesting story to try and
figure out, or >juxtapose, >why revolutions in the Caribbean or Latin
America, >generally led to civil >war ?and dictatorship while the
revolution in >North America -- as in what ?>became the USA and Canada,
became >peaceful wealthy democracies. Canada never ?>had a revolution,
but it >peacefully transitioned from colony into sovereign >nation
without a ?>shot or a death.
The revolution in the United States was a rebellion of white people against a white monarchy. American colonists, although in the service of British interest were not slaves and were not black. Further to that the class that revolted in the US were the ruling classes of that continent so when it came to negotiate they were not treated with the same racist vehemence that colored Carribbean people were. That doesn't excuse the the brutality of the eras that followed but it certainly didn't help economic matters, which as we all know is the key to the prosperity of any society.What was very obvious in Quemada was that there was a war of independence but also class crisis : between the ruling Portuguese and the domestic non black islanders and between the black ex-slaves and everyone else.
Also Canada did have rebellions which were put down rather violently. Aboriginal efforts aside, there was the rebellions led Louis Riel in 1869 and 1885, The Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, Quebec's Silent Revolution that led to the FLQ crisis in 1970 where PM Trudeau instituted martial law and arrested several hundred people without charge.
And what pray tell does Brando's effeteness have to do with anything? all upper-crust gentlemen of that era are effete by our standards.
This is an excellent movie for Brando and history buffs alike. There are many parallels you can make with current events concerning globalization and the role that Multinational Corporations Play.
True, Brando walks away with every scene he's in- but when doesn't he?
The other actors are clearly non-pros, which gives it at times the feel of a documentary, and at times the feel of a bad student film, and yet the depth of the topic rises above these minor quibles. It's a great film that should be seen by every social studies class, it has much to say and it says it well. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This fictional drama of British economic imperialism in the 19th
century lays out the problem quite nicely about unequal distribution of
wealth, but provides no solutions except very tired Marxist rhetoric.
Sociology tells us how hunting and gathering societies give way to agricultural societies, which then give way to industrial societies. History does not paint a pretty picture, a lot of people get trampled in the progress of mankind. It's neither right nor wrong, it's just as phenomenon that exists. Of course what we should be studying history and sociology for is to find ways to cushion the blow. If we're not doing that, then what it's all about in school?
Queimada is the study of how one vigorous imperial power takes over an agricultural society that's run by another. Marlon Brando plays a British agent who foments revolution on a Portugese held island in order to put in a puppet government that will give the British a most favored status in trading for the island's one crop economy of sugar. Brando succeeds all too well as the idea of freedom with all its implications, especially with its charismatic leader Evaristo Marquez.
Oh, if Gillo Pontecorvo had only gotten Sidney Poitier as he originally wanted for the role that amateur Marquez had. Queimada might have been a far better film. Marquez is a charismatic amateur, but that's all, in fact the rest of the cast will be completely unfamiliar to American audiences.
One glaring error which I don't understand. This was originally to be a Spanish held island in the West Indies which certainly would have been more accurate. The British and Portugese have a traditional alliance, in fact the United Kingdom and England before that was a guarantor of Portugese colonies all over the world. Supposedly the Spanish protested and Pontecorvo gave in. So it was not only inaccurate, but if the Spanish were upset why would anyone not think the Portugese wouldn't be?
Pontecorvo being a man of no mean integrity left the Italian Communist party upon the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Still like many on the left, he was eternally looking for that great just society that seems never to work in practice. He provides no answers in Queimada just diagnosis.
Still Queimada does raise thought provoking questions and should be seen and studied.
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