Brett Ratner, Publisher; Marlon Brando, Subject

brett-ratner1Part of the art of being a filmmaker is being a great bullshitter. It’s true of Harmony Korine, it’s true of Werner Herzog, it’s true of James Toback, of whom more in a bit. And it’s certainly true of Brett Ratner, a fauxteur short on talent but long on those skills which are most necessary when doing lunch. Film has in return been very good to him, and now the unabashed fan is spearheading the reprints of some of his favorite cinematic literature.

His Rat Press imprint currently numbers four books: Lawrence Grobel‘s interviews with Marlon Brando and Robert Evans, the James Toback book on Jim Brown that helped establish the Harvard professor as a scribe and Hollywood player, and a book of Scott Caan‘s “raw photojournalism.”

The only one of these which Squally has had the chance to peruse is Toback’s Jim: The Author’s Self-Centered Memoir on the Great Jim Brown, originally published in 1971. The slim volume reminds us just how famous and controversial Brown was in his time, and is a key expression of one of Toback’s great themes–the relationship between the Jewish intellectual and black masculinity. Toback is still mining the turf via his work with Wu-Tang Clan and Mike Tyson. Still three years away from writing what became Karel Reisz‘s The Gambler (starring Scott’s dad), Toback had his head turned by Brown’s bad-assedness and the swinging set of 1970s Hollywood. But the style, unfortunately, is “New Journalism” taken to an egomaniacal extreme. There’s more blather than balling going on.

So Brett Ratner has published his friends’ rantings and “raw photojournalism”? Thanks for nothing. But wait! Here is Marlon Brando casually explaining the financial structure that lays behind his dealing with Playboy:

“I was very slow in realizing that money was the principle motivation in any interview. Not necessarily directly, but indirectly. We’re money-bound people and everything we do has to do with money, more or less. I am a commodity sitting here. You’re making money, your publisher’s making money, and I suppose, in some way, I’m making money. If money were not involved, you wouldn’t be sitting here asking me questions, because you wouldn’t be getting paid for it…. I’m paying a debt, so to speak. People look for the money questions, the money answers, and they wait for a little flex of gelt in the conversation.”

Brando would probably also admit that his position of power allows him to start cutting the bullshit instead of setting into it with a shovel. What he wouldn’t say is that this bluntness is as much a “character” as Paul in Last Tango in Paris. This 1978 encounter with Grobel is a neat reminder that some of Brando’s best work was actually on the promotional circuit. Albert Maysles was fortunate enough to capture such a performance in 1966, in Meet Marlon Brando. You can watch trailer here.


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