John-Paul Pierrot, Marketing Executive, previews today’s Discover Tuesdays title.
Director: Stevan Riley.
Featuring: Marlon Brando. UK 2015. 103 mins.
Expertly crafted by Stevan Reily, this extraordinary documentary is more than simply a portrait of a screen icon – it gives us a window into the soul of a complicated and remarkable man. The life of Marlon Brando, perhaps the greatest actor of all time and a true one of a kind, is an inherently intriguing subject for a documentary. But Listen To Me Marlon elevates itself from being a straightforward biographical documentary through Reily’s inventiveness in telling Brando’s story.
Perhaps surprisingly for a famously private individual, Marlon Brando made hundreds of hours of personal voice recordings throughout his life. Reily has raided his audiotape collection and artfully composed this revelatory film by placing Brando’s reflections on life and love over archive footage and his screen and television appearances. The result is a deeply personal collage of the cultural icon that spans his entire life. Brando, with that distinct and charming slurred voice, narrates his own history. This is the closest a film can get to an autobiography – with Reily playing the role of expert ghostwriter.
Brando contemplates all elements of his life, from his youthful cheekiness to a string of personal battles that sent him into reclusiveness, and philosophises about the wider world. The film puts on display Brando’s emotional complexity. This was a socially conscious person thrown into the perilous limelight of celebrity. He had a curious, almost childlike affinity to Tahiti, where he purchased an island in the late ’60s after being drawn to the relaxed way of life and the local people’s disregard for superficiality. He was also a champion for the American Indian Movement and involved himself with the Civil Rights Movement. Here was a film star who was never afraid to shy away from his own political thoughts and public scrutiny of them.
The film also, of course, reminds us how much of an enigmatic and towering actor he was. Reily charts his career, beginning with his electrifying early performances (The Men, A Streetcar Named Desire) under the tutelage of acclaimed acting teacher Stella Adler. Brando refused to follow a tired tradition of overacting that consumed Hollywood’s Golden Age, and his strong will to act differently and draw the viewer into a false sense of security meant that he became the archetype of the modern actor. Reily also casts an eye over Brando’s disappointments – namely Mutiny On The Bounty and Candy – before his triumphant comeback as Vito Corleone and in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris.
Listen To Me Marlon makes rewarding viewing for cinephiles and for everyone interested in discovering how a great mind ticks.