Saturday, March 28, 2015

“Listen To Me Marlon”– Movie Review



The final weekend of The Film Society Of Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films series began with a screening of the documentary, “Listen To Me Marlon”.


When the estate of Marlon Brando uncovers many boxes of audio tapes recorded by the late actor himself, they engage a filmmaker to incorporate them into a documentary to memorialize Brando’s life and legacy. 


From self-hypnosis recordings to semi-coherent ramblings to reflective observations about his life, the late actor Marlon Brando left several hundred hours of audio tapes stacked high in cardboard boxes left to his estate; for nearly a decade after his death, they remained untouched and nearly discarded several times until his family decided they could be put to better use by a filmmaker who could somehow manage to stitch them together to create a fluid narrative about this legendary performer’s life.  It is with this in mind that we see a pastiche of clips from home movies, archival footage and snippets of Brando’s performances, narrated by the actor himself. 

Brando spoke extensively about his past, including his childhood and early struggles as a young actor.  From his childhood, recollections included strongly mixed feelings about his father as well as adoration of his mother, who passed away when the actor was still young.  This caused the difficult relationship with his father to only intensify and even after the young Brando matured and became an enormous success, their relationship was never repaired.  Stella Adler was Brando’s acting teacher when he arrived in New York City; he credits her immensely with developing his talent.

With respect to his many films, Brando maintained that “Mutiny On The Bounty” was one of the most difficult shoots he had ever endured.  His primary source of frustration came from the way his character, First Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, was portrayed; due to his strong beliefs, he was constantly embattled with both the producer and director.  “Apocolypse Now” was also problematic; in an interview with Francis Ford Coppola, the director claims that at the time Brando agreed to play Col. Kurtz, the actor was already overweight.  By the time Brando arrived on set for his first day of shooting, Coppola says that the actor had ballooned up even more, to the point that this forced the director to shoot him in the shadows for the most part.   


As much as Marlon Brando was something of an oddball for much of his life – especially true in his later years – the late actor comes across as incredibly thoughtful, articulate and endlessly fascinating.  At 100 minutes, this is one documentary you’ll wish went on for hours; the more you learn about Brando, the more curious you get.  Director Stevan Riley seems to have been fascinated by his subject matter and it certainly manifests itself in “Listen To Me Marlon”.  Riley’s ability to sift through hundreds of hours of audio recordings and find a cohesive narrative speaks well of his ability as a storyteller. 

While extraordinarily talented, Brando was also a very complicated and private man.  This comes across most poignantly during his later years, in particular, with the depiction of the personal tragedies two of his children – son Christian and daughter Cheyenne – encountered upon reaching adulthood.  Once Brando survived their loss, he could no longer be comforted even by his beloved getaway of Tahiti.  Although the documentary does not spend an extensive amount of time delving into the lurid details behind what happened, there remain enough facts for viewers to draw their own conclusions.

Following the screening was an interview with director Stevan Riley.  Riley said he did not seek out this project; as a documentary filmmaker, he was approached by a representative of Brando’s estate who wanted to see this film get made.  He mentioned there were so many audio recordings by Brando there wasn’t enough time to listen to all of them, but he did play somewhere around 200 hours of the late actor’s tapes.  Riley, a young documentarian, readily admitted that he wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about his subject matter prior to making the film. 

Listen to Me Marlon (2015) on IMDb

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