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Last Tango In Paris

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Pan, London, 1973
(price: 40p; 138 pages)

The blurb on the back:

A relentlessly candid portrayal of the relationship between a young girl and a brutally uncompromising middle-aged man, who agree to have between them only sex...
Their pact is carried out with tenderness, humour, violence, and a doomed impulsive lust...

Back in the early-1980s I worked as a projectionist at a cinema servicing an outpost of the British Army in Northern Germany. It was a good job, as it happens. Since there were so few people in the community, we had a rapid turn-around of films - there was only one screening a night, and four separate programmes a week, plus the Saturday morning matinée for kids, so you got to see a whole heap of stuff. We got pretty much every major release, plus selections from a decent-size repertory, in addition to - inevitably - The Wild Geese every other month. And on Monday night was when we showed the adult films, which normally meant so-called 'sex' so-called 'comedies' like Keep It Up Downstairs or Adventures of a Taxi Driver (starring Willie Rushton and Robert Lindsay respectively), but which occasionally threw up an oddity. Such as Last Tango In Paris.

Now Last Tango In Paris came with a reputation of being about as dirty a movie as you were allowed to show in a reputable cinema. Made in 1972 by Bernardo Bertolucci, its reputation in the 1970s was far more widely known than the film itself: as far as a mainstream audience was concerned, it consisted of nothing but Marlon Brando engaging in anonymous sex with the delightful Maria Schneider. Which sounds wonderful, of course. And if you put that on at an Army cinema, then you're going to pack the place out.

So come 7.30 I had a look through the little window in the projection box and indeed every one of the 512 seats was occupied by a squaddie. Then the film started. And almost immediately the sense of discontent became apparent. It was in French, for God's sake. Subtitled. Not only that, but there was a lot to subtitle. There was way too much talking going on. And way too much atmospheric camerawork. And Ms Schneider still had all her clothes on.

By the end of the two hours that the film takes to tell what there is of its story, there were perhaps only twelve of the 512 left in the cinema.

I think we got The Wild Geese back the following week.

For what it's worth, I never rated the movie much. The reason it was in French is that it would have sounded really pretentious and stupid in English. It sold on the strength of sex but wanted to be taken seriously as a statement of existential angst or some such nonsense. And that's trying to have your butter and eating it.

The novelization is taken from the script by Bertolucci and Franco Arcalli, and it is at least commendably brief. The book also comes with eight pages of black-and-white stills. I could have put in a shot of Brando, but what have you done to deserve that? Here's the fabulously sexy Ms Schneider instead.

Hello boys
Maria Schneider


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