Actress Maria Schneider, 58, has died after a tumultuous life that followed her sexually explosive appearance at age 19 in the movie Last Tango in Paris . The film stared Marlon Brando as a middle-aged, dissolute American who has barely consensual sex with a young woman when they both arrive to look at the same rental apartment. They begin what’s supposed to be an anonymous, sex-only affair. In the movie’s most famous scene, improvised by Brando, he tells Schneider to, “Go get the butter.” A prelude, as the New York Times not so delicately puts it, to Brando pinning her to the floor and seeming ” to perform anal intercourse on her .” (And how often has that phrase appeared in the Times ?)
It would be usual for a racy movie made almost 40 years ago to be seen as dated and circumspect now, but although I haven’t seen Tango since its release, whether or not it holds up cinematically, I bet its erotic scenes would hardly be considered mainstream even today. At the time it was unheard of for a major star like Brando to appear in an X-rated movie; it hasn’t happened often since. Schneider had a breakdown following the film, and dealt with dealt with emotional and substance-abuse problems in the subsequent decades. She said of the most famous scene , “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 apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.” (Bertolucci now apologizes to her posthumously, never having found the time to do it in life.)
I was a teenager when the movie came out, and a girlfriend and I both lied to our parents about where we were going, laughed our heads off putting on layers of make up to look older than we were, and managed to get into the theater. We had to see it-the movie was a sensation that everyone was talking about. Even my grandparents had gone with another couple. After the butter scene, my grandmother told me, the husbands said they weren’t going to sit through such filth and walked out. But when the wives left at the end of the movie, they found their spouses at the back of the theater-the men were too embarrassed to sit next to their wives while watching a pornographic film. My girlfriend and I were shaken by the movie, especially since Schneider was only a few years older than we were. We knew that soon we would be out in the world, doing such things as looking for apartments, and we were both terrified and curious about what awaited us.