By Stephen Mayne @finalreel
Angry, petulant, charismatic, committed, sulky, lazy, brooding, sexy, raw, difficult, charming, idealistic, thoughtful, devastating, intelligent and difficult again. Millions of words have been written about Marlon Brando and yet he remains an enigma, hidden away beneath moments of flamboyant outrage and unforgettable performances. Attempting to add more words to the picture would likely lead to little in the way of results – unless they come from the man directly. Making use of unguarded recordings mixed in with archive footage, Stevan Riley shows Brando as he’s not been seen before; taken apart by himself.
The ace in the hole for Listen to Me Marlon is a series of self-recorded tapes in which Brando set down intimate thoughts as part of therapy to deal with mounting problems in his personal life. There’s nothing reticent about the recordings as he contemplates events across the span of his career. Alongside these revelations – and while they don’t offer up juicy gossip in the way of hidden secrets, they are so open as to feel like revelations – Riley mixes past interviews with a variety of archive and stock footage in line with the aspect of his life being dissected.
Not that dissecting is an accurate term; there’s no gentle scalpel incision. He smashes open his own head to discuss an abusive father, the sexual opportunities that came his way with fame, the fun and fights on set, and later battles with a fading career, weight gain and family tragedy. He works through each section with quiet composure, a low-key poise markedly different to the grinning, grunting young man visible in old clips, and the bloated, broken old man of later years.
Riley’s film is no simple chronological crawl through Brando’s life either. There’s a dreamy feel as his voice crackles out over an ever changing sea of shots. The fantastic score supervised by Gary Welch, piano swelling up at all the right moments, further serves to whisk away anyone willing to give themselves to Listen to Me Marlon. Sometimes Riley presents half-of Brando’s head digitised, speaking from blue dotted pixels, other times it’s a young Brando flirting with female journalists. There’s a smooth flow, each clip leading onto the next, sweeping everyone in its wake.
Marlon Brando, star of A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and Last Tango in Paris; Marlon Brando the actor who sent a Native American to refuse his Oscar for The Godfather in order to protest the treatment Hollywood meted out to “Indians”; Marlon Brando the lover of women and broken father of a broken family that saw his son go to prison for murder and daughter commit suicide at 25; Marlon Brando, a fighter of causes and of directors, a glutton and a bore, a charming, physically imposing gentleman – all these Brando’s are on display in Listen to Me Marlon, and for once they seem part of the same man.
Listen to Me Marlon is in cinemas now as part of The London Film Festival. Full listings here.