Geoffrey Macnab: The dark side of the cinema screen

In early-1970s Hollywood, when maverick directors were making personal and provocative movies, actresses were still treated as badly as ever

The Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci is gracious and cultured – an intellectual and an aesthete, not an ogre. But his remarks following the death of the French actress Maria Schneider last week suggested that he is racked with guilt over his behaviour 40 years ago when he worked with her and Marlon Brando on Last Tango in Paris.

Schneider never concealed her feelings that Bertolucci took advantage of her. In a late interview, she suggested that Brando had felt the same. "We both felt like we have been manipulated. Even he [Brando] felt manipulated, raped by Bertolucci. He rejected the movie for many, many years," she claimed.

Now, after Schneider's untimely death at the age of 58, Bertolucci appears to have accepted the charge. "Maria accused me of robbing her of her youth and only today I ask myself if she wasn't perhaps right," he stated following her death.

The tenderness and regret with which Bertolucci speaks of Schneider today is in stark contrast to the way he described her when he was filming Last Tango, with its unprecedentedly graphic sex scenes. "A Lolita but more perverse," was how he characterised her then, when he cast her as the young woman who has a destructive affair with a middle-aged American man.

The relationship between directors (invariably male) and their leading actresses has always been fraught, manipulative and full of bad faith. The former are the Svengalis, trying to coax and even trick the performance they want out of the latter. Film-makers don't always pause to consider the human cost that can be involved.

Schneider never made another film that matched Last Tango, either in terms of its artistic reputation or the controversy it generated. What Bertolucci, it seems, failed to consider was just what impact it would have on a 20-year-old actress with little previous experience.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, there were other young actresses caught up in the ferocious backlash their movies provoked. Linda Blair may have been able to spoof her past in a comic horror film like Repossessed (1990) but she couldn't always cope with the attention that came her way in the wake of appearing in a horror film as extreme and controversial as The Exorcist.

The experiences of Jodie Foster after she played a child prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) show how easily the lines between a movie and real life can blur. Just as the lonely taxi driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) became obsessed by Foster's character in the film, the actress herself was stalked by John Hinckley, who went on to try to assassinate President Reagan.

It was ironic that in early-1970s Hollywood, when maverick directors like Dennis Hopper, Bob Rafelson, Hal Ashby and Roman Polanski were making personal and provocative movies with the studios' money, actresses were still treated as badly as ever. Their protagonists were invariably moody and rebellious male characters with big egos and even bigger sex drives. Their behaviour was often matched by that of the film-makers off screen. Polanski's arrest for the sexual assault of the 13-year-old Samantha Geimer continues to split opinion but what it underlined was the license film-makers felt they had in every sphere – social, sexual, cultural – in this heady era. Taking advantage came naturally.

Bertolucci comes from a different cultural and movie-making context. He was part of the New Wave in European cinema, and was as interested in politics as in aesthetics. The Italian was far from alone in the demands that he made of his actors. All that mattered was what was caught on celluloid.

What has changed? You would hope that film-makers today are no longer quite so oblivious to the effect that their preciously culled images have on the lives and careers of those they train their camera on so intently.



Geoffrey Macnab writes on film for 'The Independent'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing