‘ This is a movie people will be arguing about, I think, for as long as there are movies,’ wrote Pauline Kael in her renowned review of Bernardo Bertolucci’s groundbreaking erotic drama Last Tango In Paris in 1972. Four decades on, the film’s most infamous sequence – the so-called ‘butter scene,’ in which Marlon Brando’s character rapes Maria Schneider’s, using butter as lubricant – has reignited controversy, causing outrage in Hollywood and in the press.
A clip of Bertolucci from 2013 has re-emerged, in which he divulges that he had discussed the infamous use of butter with Brando but not Schneider, as he ‘wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress’. Yahoo! was among the first to share the clip and its headline set the tone for the outrage to follow: ‘Bertolucci admits infamous Last Tango “butter” rape scene was non-consensual.’
Although Bertolucci has since clarified that the rape scene was in the script – only the butter was a novelty – headlines accusing Bertolucci and Brando of conspiring to rape Schneider have nevertheless spread like wildfire. The New York Post speculated that the ‘Last Tango rape scene may have been the real thing’ and motto carried the headline ‘Last Tango in Paris director admits controversial rape scene was nonconsensual’.
Incensed Hollywood stars responded with accusations of their own. ‘You’re watching a 19-year-old get raped by a 48-year-old man. The director planned her attack’, tweeted one actress. A writer for the Guardian suggested the scene – in which no person is actually raped – was an example of ‘rape culture’ in Hollywood and a reflection of a wider problem within our society.
To all the people that love this film- you're watching a 19yr old get raped by a 48yr old man. The director planned her attack. I feel sick. https://t.co/qVDom2gYf6— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) December 3, 2016
In a 2007 interview with the Daily Mail to mark the 35th anniversary re-release of the film, Schneider spoke about her humiliation while filming the scene. Now some commentators are even outraged that the Bertolucci revelation has sparked more anger than Schneider’s revealing interview.