Listen To Me Marlon


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

With exclusive access to previously unheard audio archives, this is the definitive Marlon Brando cinema documentary.
"Riley really does listen to Marlon and, by extension, encourages us to." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

It's easy to see why Marlon Brando continues to hold such a draw for documentarians and audiences. He began his career as the heartthrob to die for, his muscular acting style marking him out, enjoyed a spectacular fall and resurrection in popularity and was outspoken on a number of equality issues - most famously sending Sacheen Littlefeather to collect his Oscar for The Godfather to protest against the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry. Later, he seemed to become larger than life, both in size and in terms of his personal story, as he became increasingly reclusive and tragedy befell his family.

After Mimi Freedman and Leslie Greif opted for the traditional route in their excellent 2007 assessment Brando, director Stevan Riley takes the increasingly popular tack of attempting to explore the actor from a first-person perspective, like fellow Sundance film What Happened Miss Simone?. Where Simone had her letters, Brando goes one better as between the usual archive footage - much of which, it must be said, will be familiar to those who have watched other documentaries on the star - Riley is able to incorporate snippets from the hundreds of hours of self-hypnosis recordings made by Brando as he tried to pick through the problems in his life (read what the director said about the film).

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"Everybody's got a story to tell, something they're hiding," says Brando, and Riley - who also edits the film and shows excellent control of what must have been a massive amount of material - attempts to take us beneath the surface. The result is less a chapter and verse overview of Brando's life than an impressionistic, emotional journey haunted by the spirit of Brando, who had himself "digitalised" before his death and here speaks - via digital imaging - from beyond the grave. It's a melancholic and evocative journey, which finds its best emotional beats in the exploration of the star's relationship with his father and again shows what a revealing documentary the Maysles' Meet Marlon Brando was, all the way back in 1966.

Riley really does listen to Marlon and, by extension, encourages us to, by finding ways to illustrate his thoughts, such as the rapid fire shots of people that follow a statement he makes for studying people for just three seconds in order to weigh them up. "We need myths," says Brando. "We live by them and die for them." - Riley with Brando as accomplice, explores the myth behind the one of the 20th century's biggest and most enigmatic stars in a film that acts as an emotional companion piece to other, more fact-based assessments.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2015
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Documentary uses first-person tapes to explore the life and career of Brando.
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Director: Stevan Riley

Writer: Stevan Riley, Peter Ettedgui

Year: 2015

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: UK

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Meet Marlon Brando