be honest, the notion of Marlon Brando talking to himself probably isn’t that
shocking. You might not have guessed it was through self-hypnosis tapes, but
that probably still feels like it fits. They happened to be part of a large collection
of private Brando recordings preserved by his estate. With its blessing,
director-editor Stevan Riley has shaped this archive into a ghostly
first-person confessional narrative, “written by” and “starring” the famous actor.
The Brando that emerges is exactly what we expect, yet deeper and surprisingly
revealing throughout Riley’s Listen to Me
which screened during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, in advance of its future
audio diaries and rarely seen interviews, Brando pretty much covers all his big
career milestones (like Streetcar,
Waterfront, Last Tango, and Godfather) as well as his more notorious
misfires (Guys and Dolls, Mutiny on the
Bounty, and Countess from Hong Kong).
He also opens up regarding his troubled childhood and the profound influence of
his acting teacher Stella Adler. Yet, as if often the case, some of the best
sequences are relatively small moments, like his shameless flirting with a
series of female interviewers during an early 1960s press junket.
Brando loved Tahiti, which he speaks of with deep affection. In fact, Brando is
quite eloquent on his private tapes. Clearly, he is not speaking with an
audience in mind, because he definitely lets his public mask slip. He is often
painfully honest in his assessment of his own character and rather dismissive
of much of his own work. His curt appraisal of his Oscar winning turn in On the Waterfront will be especially
vexing to some fans, but it contains a real nugget of wisdom when recommends
giving the audience the space to create a performance themselves. (Don’t you
wish Meryl Streep had given us more of that kind of space in Osage County?).
only real misstep is the overuse of a disembodied head, generated from a laser scanning
session Brando consented to. It sort of breaks the intimate mood, evoking a Max Headroom vibe instead. However, the
archival news reports of Brando tragic family scandals feel shockingly honest
and raw. We get a sense the Brando on television and the private Brando were
essentially one and the same.
For those of us who grew up when Letterman was
still funny, it is strange to realize how spot-on Chris Elliott’s
impersonations on the Late Show really were. All those Brandoisms
are true, but we can understand better where they came from. Listen is the rare bio-doc that might
make more fans for its subject, because it allows Brando to humanize himself.
Recommended for fans of 1960s and 1970s Hollywood, Listen to Me Marlon was a hot ticket at this year’s Sundance Film
Festival that should soon find a wide audience on Showtime.
Labels: Documentary, Marlon Brando, Sundance '15