“Listen to Me Marlon” (2015)
It’s rare to say that the subject of a documentary is also the narrator of the film, but with “Listen to Me Marlon” it makes a brilliant film. Director Stevan Riley has combed through hundreds of hours of audio tape that legendary Academy Award winning Marlon Brando recorded throughout his life. It seems that Brando was almost as curious about his life as was his numerous fans. Riley has created a unique film where he combines those audio tapes with news footage, interviews, roving shots through Brando’s house and movie scenes to create a fascinating and insightful look at a very complex and sometimes troubled man.
Marlon Brando is considered one of the great actors of not just his time period but of all time. Incredibly handsome and charismatic in his youth, Brando became the talk of Broadway and then Hollywood with his first stage role as Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” He went on to make some of Hollywood’s most iconic films. He became in such demand as an actor that studios would throw money at him just for him to appear (some great, others horrible). Marlon in his later life became much like his character in “Apocalypse Now,” Col. Kurtz; isolated, bloated, unpredictable and maybe just a bit crazy.
Riley gives us a way with this documentary to get inside Brando’s world as the actor rarely gave interviews once he became established. And it seems that many times, those early interviews were more like performances for Brando, giving his audience not the real Marlon, but a Marlon that the public wanted. This is very evident in an interview from the 50s where Brando’s father appears with him on a TV broadcast. They both play the part of doting father and loving son, even though Brando disliked his hard drinking, bar fighting father, a man whom Brando blamed for his mother’s untimely death.
We do get to see the real Brando in those self-recordings. He candidly talks about his troubled relationship with his parents (his mother was an alcoholic) and how it affected him his whole life. Brando talks about taking the trip to New York to become something in the Big Apple. He stumbles upon the New School and takes an acting class under Stella Adler. Stella became a surrogate mother to Brando, the first adult in his life that told him he was special and could do something amazing. He talks about his early marriage to model/actress Anna Kashfi, a woman that he cheated on from almost the get go.
The film, through stills and clips from his movies themselves, shows us some of the highlights and low lights of Brando’s film career, concentrating on such groundbreaking films as “On the Waterfront,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Last Tango in Paris,” and “The Godfather.” The film gives us real insight into how miserable Brando was making “Mutiny on the Bounty” and how that film caused him to reevaluate his life and career. The movie also looks at some of the horrible movies that Brando made (mostly as money grabs), such as the 1968 flop “Candy,” to which Brando says to himself on one of the audio tapes, “What are you doing? Don’t you have any pride?”
The film also explores some of the most tragic times in Brando’s life. His son Christian killed the boyfriend of his half-sister Cheyenne at Brando’s home. The movie shows Brando having to testify at Christian’s trial and holding a press conference asking for the public and the press to back off of his personal life. Years later, tragedy struck again as Cheyenne committed suicide. Both events affected Brando, contributing to his becoming more and more reclusive.
“Listen to Me Marlon” is a brilliant and fascinating look that lets us see Marlon Brando not as just as the actor but as the man. The film lets us know what Brando was thinking and feeling during his life, letting us experience just how he saw the world. Brando was a complex and sometimes maddening person, someone we truly did not know, until now. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is playing exclusively in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
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