LISTEN TO ME, MARLON (2015)
Featuring footage of Marlon Brando, Christian Brando, Cheyenne Brando, Anna Kashfi, Tarita Teriipia, Vivienne Leigh, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Francis Ford Coppola, Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, Richard Harris, Lee J. Cobb, Bernardo Bertolucci, Maria Schneider, David Niven, Susanna York, Stella Adler and Bob Crane.
Written by Stevan Riley.
Directed by Stevan Riley.
Distributed by Passion Pictures. 102 minutes. Not Rated.
Marlon Brando was a very talented, a very complicated and eventually a very disturbed man. He lived a very fabulous life and also a very tragic one. He knew great love and great loss. He was intellectual, progressive, insecure, fun-loving, self-critical, deeply compassionate, occasionally vain, often eccentric, sometimes selfish and often baffling. He had big passions and big appetites. He was a ladies man and yet he almost never settled down for a traditional romantic relationship.
He loved beauty (particularly a life-long passion for the island of Tahiti) and was fascinated by ugliness. He both appreciated and undersold his talent, even his profession of acting and filmmaking. He had oddball interests. There is a legendary story of his excessive fascination with extremely diminutive actor Nelson de la Rosa in one of his last films, The Island of Dr. Moreau. This film shows that he had his head digitally preserved for filmmaking use after he was gone, an visual effect that is somewhat disorienting and spooky with cold, dead-looking eyes.
Listen to Me, Marlon probably comes as close to giving people a look at his inner workings as you can ask from a film.
The legendary actor apparently was rather obsessive about making audio cassettes of himself just talking. He made these tapes for meditation, or as therapy, as entertainment and as a personal history. He also recorded business meetings, doctor’s appointments and even canoodling with a few unnamed ladies in his life.
Brando’s estate has given writer, editor and director Stevan Riley complete access to these tapes, most of which had never been heard by anyone but Brando himself. Mixing these tapes as narration with a mixture of personal photos, home movies and television and film clips, Riley is able to give a pretty intriguing overview of the life and work of the late movie star, who died in 2004.
It’s a mostly very intriguing look at what a Brando autobiography might have been like. Starting out as a small, insecure child in the heartland, child of a cold father and an alcoholic mother, it traces his growth from starving New York actor to the toast of Broadway from A Streetcar Named Desire to becoming the flashpoint of the method acting movement. It also shows how he drifts from his pure talent as his career exploded.
Brando could be a harsh personal critic. He freely admits that he was disappointed in his Oscar-winning performance in On the Waterfront and that he was not at all sure he could pull off his trademark role of Don Corleone in The Godfather. Also, he was self-aware enough to know that his exploding fame and fortune made him more headstrong and difficult to work with as an actor.
The final half-hour or so dealt mostly with his personal tragedies, particularly the 1990s when a tabloid scandal exploded as his son Christian was imprisoned for killing the abusive lover of Marlon’s daughter Cheyenne. Then a few years later the emotionally fragile Cheyenne committed suicide.
It’s hard to listen to some of the darker passages, but Brando’s tapes also had a meditative beauty that salves some of life’s deepest hurts. The final soliloquy, undoubtedly recorded to help with insomnia or meditation and at the same time soothingly feeling like an acceptance of mortality, shows a man who was at peace with a pretty fascinating life.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 7, 2015.