The Problems with Tango

“Last Tango in Paris” has been controversial since its first release in 1972. At that time it was immediately heralded as a transformational work that would change the scope of motion picture expression. Pauline Kael exclaimed that “Tango has altered the face of an art form.” and called it “the most liberating movie ever made.” It was colossal in its grand pretentious and to this day it is legendary in the risks it took with audience acceptance. Still there are legitimate claims that missteps by the director may have alienated him from his two principal actors

Immediately following its general release “Last Tango” was the target of exceptional public and institutional outrage. Film industry censors and many reviewers decried “Last Tango” as obscene in content and pornographic film making without social merit. But without doubt it is an art film superbly crafted and magnificently acted out. Like many of the films that sit as singular Classics it was a Phoenix that arose out of a traumatic birthing effort. High personal prices were paid.

With the posting “Hats and Howls” I offer a mixture of words and landscapes that hopefully will offer some insight into the sweeping melancholy Bertolucci has constructed in “Last Tango”. Out of his lightning strikes of imagination and regret a masterwork was created. In the end Bertolucci has directed a motion picture experience more atmospheric and primal than any mere words could achieve.

“Last Tango in Paris” is an aging identity’s howl at the loss of wonderment and connection. Its 128 minutes are an evocative and turbulent mixture of light, sound, landscape and action. It is more than a scripted segment of running time – it is timeless in its associations as it assaults all the senses.


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