Listen to Me, Marlon
TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, September 25
Film Critic Leslie Halliwell described Marlon Brando and his type as “primitive man” due in part to some of his film roles like The Wild Bunch and Streetcar named Desire, and no doubt influenced by Brando’s early freewheeling, rebellious, anti-Hollywood stance.
He pounded his chest and strutted and roared on film but he was far from that image, according to Stevan Riley and Peter Ettedgui’s eye-opening documentary. Brando says so himself.
Audio recordings obsessively recorded in the privacy of Brando’s home over his lifetime, unheard until this documentary, reveal he was anything but primitive. He was well spoken, educated, thoughtful, and expansively spiritual with endless curiosity about people.
Two hundred hours of recordings, meant to help him with self-hypnosis became an outlet, a deeply personal and private expression of memories, emotions, intellectual and spiritual fragments, questions about his value as an actor, father, husband and human being that paint a picture of a troubled, sensitive and often defeated man.
Brando’s first words describe the digitizing of his face done presumably for posterity. He wondered if digitizing actors was the swan song for the profession. The image is repeated throughout the film as a contrast to home movies and descriptive film clips and summons the idea of the contrasts that lived in him.
He describes how he “found” Vito Corleone in an amusing sequence and describes how the death scene stirred something deep in him. He won his second Oscar for The Godfather.
He talks about betrayal by filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now and The Godfather) and Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris), the film he loathed most, Candy and his negative reaction to seeing himself in On the Waterfront, for which role he won his first Oscar. He was rarely satisfied with his work.
Brando mentions the fear he feels when he’s rushed by fans in public, especially at premieres. “It’s absurd. I hate it, it scares me to death”. To recover, he bought an island thousands of miles away where there were no movie stars.
He realised that as an extremely good looking man he caught people’s eyes, but seems to mock them “…and then they say ‘Hi, Marl’” he croons. He calls himself a “beast” for his sexual exploits.
He was fit and beautiful and sensitive, an ideal movie star, covering constant feelings of sadness and ennui. Now that’s acting.
Brando talks about his fractious relationship with his abusive alcoholic father and mourns the terrible tragedies that befell him. He celebrates the freedom he feels on his Tahitian island kingdom.
The film features one voice only – Brando’s. It’s a surprisingly intimate experience listening in on his life, and seems like a tremendous affront to the man, considering his obsessive need for privacy. Maybe it is.
Brando had collected the tapes in green garbage bags later in life and intended to throw them in the trash because they had no more use. Still, the film was made with the consent of Brando’s estate and the man’s been dead for eleven years.
Brando says he acted one way and felt another and when he told himself to “Listen, Marlon” he paid attention. Just a human being after all.
Listen to Me Marlon opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, September 25 is part of a TIFF Cinematheque Special Screening of classics, rarities, and recent restorations anchored by a retrospective of six Brando films A Streetcar Named Desire, Tango in Paris, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Missouri Breaks, The Wild One and On the Waterfront (1954), which won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Actor.