Thursday, February 3, 2011

RIP - Maria Schneider

Some sad news today, as word comes that Maria Schneider, who starred as Jeanne in the classic and controversial film Last Tango in Paris, has died. She was just 58 years old.

Schneider had started acting in films as early as 1969, but it wasn't until she co-starred with Marlon Brando in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris that she became famous internationally. The story of Paul (Brando), who, after his wife's suicide, enters into an anonymous affair with a young French woman (Schneider) who is about to be married. It was immensely controversial for its frank and explicit sex scenes between Brando and the then 20 year old Schneider. It was loudly decried, and released with an X-rating. However, Brando's performance was celebrated for its brutal vulnerability and honesty.

While Brando, and even Bertolucci to some degree, escaped relatively unscathed, Schneider took the brunt of a lot of the outrage. This situation was exacerbated once she revealed she was openly bisexual and that she was a user of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. At the time, she spoke warmly of the experience of making the film, and of her relationship with Brando and Bertolucci. However, in the years that followed, she revealed that she felt manipulated and humiliated during the making of the film, and she said she considered Bertolucci to be "a gangster and a pimp". She remained friends with Brando for the rest of his life, but did comment that on set he wasn't terribly sensitive to how she felt at the time.

The experience and the furor surrounding it did lead to her gaining larger stardom. In 1975 she starred opposite Jack Nicholson in The Passenger, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. In 1976, she was slated to star in the ill-fated Caligula, but walked off the set after she refused to do nudity. She checked herself into an institution in Rome. The years since Last Tango in Paris had taken their toll, and her drug addiction, combined with a suicide attempt, left her in a dangerous state.

By 1980, she had recovered, and she began working steadily in European films once again. She starred in films like A Woman Like Eve, Savage Nights and Jane Eyre throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Though she never reached the heights of stardom she achieved in the 1970s, she did seem to be happy with both her work and life.

Sadly, she had battled an unknown illness for some time, which eventually claimed her life.

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