She was the original popularizer of the topless-in-tight-jeans look in 1972. She starred in Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS (staying friends with Brando for life, though she felt a bit exploited and vowed to never do nude scenes again) and Antonioni’s THE PASSENGER. She radiated charm and improvisational spunk. She was amazing.
Here’s what I wrote about LAST TANGO back in 2007:
If you’re in an empty room with Maria Schneider and she lifts her arms up and starts running around making buzzing sounds, you have two paths open to you: One is to assume the voice of an air traffic controller describing her flight pattern around the room: “She soars, she turns!” The other is to say, “Maria, what the hell are you doing?” and make her stop. If you’re more likely to pick the second option, then LAST TANGO is not for you. If you want Maria to just disrobe and have missionary position sex and then go make you dinner, then you’re Karl Malden in BABY DOLL and we have no use for you…
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of great creativity, partly due to the free love generation /psychedelic explosion that was the lotus crown to the bloody bottom chakra of Vietnam. People “tuned in, dropped out” and were able to step outside their pre-scripted societal roles. There is, however, a real danger in this: responsibilities fall to the wayside, accidents are more likely to occur, whole governments can vanish (i.e. Paris in May 1968)and diseases like AIDS can spread faster than wildfire due to all the free love. When adults play, they play rough and things get broken…
But real art can’t be created on a shelf, stuffed with grant money and old lady applause. It’s messy, and it’s made in the zone where Brando and Schneider get together for their trysts. In order to reach this place of fluidity and freedom the pair re-enact various archetypal roles from their childhoods, going deeper and younger as the film goes on. (read the rest here)
I wrote another Schneider piece, about the blue jeans thing, also in 2007:
Watching the MGM DVD of LAST TANGO IN PARIS the other night, I noticed something strange going on in the jeans of Maria Schneider, the Parisian waif who plays house with the newly be-paunched Marlon Brando. This was 1972 and you take one look at how hot those tight jeans are on Schneider as she masturbates face down on the bed, and you feel it, you feel it deep in your soulâ€¦. what is it? No it’s not that, my dear perverted friend, it’s a fashion craze being born.
Looking back at this writing, I’m appalled at myself for being so cavalier and laughing at death and sneering at perversion. Forgive me, Maria, and go into the light, relax and let go and merge back with the One. We have your films and we’ll never forget you. You showed us that true freedom and spontaneity are dangerous things, not just words to bandy around, and you rocked both, you made film exciting, you set the bar for the 1970s. You made us love you and in loving you we learned about what real art can be.