Little Known Films: Listen to Me Marlon (2015) Documentary, 103 Mins
Despite his towering public profile, Marlon Brando was a deeply private man. Yet in the documentary Listen to Me Marlon, the actor lowers his defenses to reveal his innermost thoughts. Director Steven Riley’s film is a fascinating collage probing its subject’s psyche and is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.
The film was commissioned by Brando’s estate and is constructed entirely out of hundreds of hours of audio recordings made by the actor himself. It’s doubtful that Brando ever thought the tapes would one day provide fodder for a documentary, but thanks to them, Riley has managed to construct a tribute to the actor that his fans have long deserved.
Riley opens his film with an excerpt showing a digitized 3D image of Brando’s head narrating sections from the tapes, creating the effect of the actor speaking from beyond the grave. There are no (other) talking heads, no re-enacted moments from his life – just scenes from Brando’s work laced with archival interviews in which the actor discusses his life in that melodious, mumbling, unmistakable voice.
As morbid as the concept might seem, Riley gradually justifies his stylistic conceit through Brando’s candid and insightful commentary. Among the film’s many revelations is the actor’s self-aware humility. Riley puts the video and audio footage together in a way that suggests how Brando’s Method approach to acting was largely based on his childhood with an alcoholic mother and violent father.
The film takes its title from a refrain in the tapes: Brando telling himself to listen while he tries, in effect, to hypnotize himself into a serenity that eluded him during most of his life.
You can experience that serenity for yourself when a special screening of the film, in conjunction with the Showtime Entertainment Network, will take place at the Palisades Library on Saturday, June 4th at 5:00 pm.