By Gregory Crofton
Many people today have no idea who Marlon Brando was. But to older generations around the world, Brando was it, the actor’s actor. Magnetic on screen, he revolutionized his profession by replacing tired techniques with a more realistic approach taught to him by Stella Adler.
Brando was also a private man who tabloid reporters chased after, eager to snatch up and publish any detail about his personal life. Celebrity and fame pained him for a number of reasons, one being that it made observing others, one of his favorite pastimes, more difficult.
LISTEN TO ME ME MARLON, made by Showtime Documentary Films in concert with Brando Enterprises, is a journey most fans would never expect to be invited to take – listening to the best of hundreds of hours of his personal recordings, an audio diary of sorts. Why would Brando, even posthumously, want these things broadcast to the public? It’s not clear that he did, but Brando Enterprises decided to release a documentary to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of his death. He died in 2004 at the age of 80.
What you get is Brando’s story told in his own words, a technique documentary filmmakers are gravitating to more frequently. The audio, pieced together from 300 hours of recordings, is coupled with images and a stirring soundtrack. Some of the images are re-creations – set builders assembled a facsimile of Brando’s living room in a London studio – others are archival film and television clips.
The doc is mesmerizing at times, though for non-Brando fans, it may prove to be a slog. The audio can be difficult to hear. However the end result is inspiring, especially if you love Hollywood movies and are curious about the acting profession.
“Never let the audience know how it’s going to come out. Get them on your time,” says Brando in the film. He continues: “You want to stop that movement from the popcorn to the mouth. Get people to stop chewing. The truth will do that. When it’s right it’s right. You can feel it in your bones. Then you feel whole. Then you feel good.”
The documentary wades through his long career effortlessly, providing interesting facts along the way like how he was paid $14 million for 12 days of work on SUPERMAN, and how he rewrote his character for Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW. The movie also opens and closes with a digital version of Brando. Sometime in the late 90s his head and face were digitized. Director Stevan Riley, who also wrote and edited the film, combines computer graphics with some of this face mapping to bring a greenish-blue disembodied Brando to the silver screen. It is haunting.
For more information about the film, you can visit its site here.