Debatably the most intimate documentary biopic ever conceived, Listen to Me, Marlon is a genuine and intimate exploration of the actor’s troubled existence told by the man himself. Excavated from hundreds of hours of audio recordings, Stevan Riley’s is an absolutely stunning presentation going above and beyond the usual aims, methods, and results, of a documentary.
Frequently touted as the greatest actor of, not just his generation, but of all time, Marlon Brando is a fascinating figure. Stunningly handsome in his youth, a breakout talent from his first performance, Brando went on to carve a distinct career in Hollywood classics and cement himself as a post-golden age star. But that’s not the Brando often recalled by the popular conscious, instead we are often spoon-fed the MacDonald’s-guzzling wheelchair-bound monstrosity who went into self-exile after a lengthy and furious divorce from his wife, Hollywood, and self.
Riley’s feature is a towering accomplishment in editing and selective material, cherry-picking the best and most revealing sentiments of Brando’s recordings and interviews. The effect is not to highlight Brando’s bizarre behaviour or feed the flame of his bratty reputation, but to validate Brando as- above all-a complicated human being whose behaviours were a direct result of his growing disenfranchisement from the world he lived in. Brando’s disgust at the commercialisation of life, his support for minorities (the infamous refusal of his Godfather Oscar as a stance against the treatment of Native Americans), and disruptive behaviours on set, all explored as solemn reminders of how isolating fame can be.
The film opens, closes and frequently revisits a 3D image of Brando’s head, crafted from photographs taken whilst he was still alive. By the end of the film, this bizarre talking head becomes a poignant attempt at legacy after the tragic loss of his son and daughter and, in the end, that’s the most stirring case point as to why Brando was a man like any other. Listen to Me, Marlon if comparable to anything, feels like a life flashing tempestuously before our eyes, then ebbing out into a kind of stillness rarely seen in Brando’s career.
Riley excavates the darkest and most soul-bearing recesses of the Brando estate’s archive to answer the question: who was Marlon Brando? And he does it with implicit honesty and utmost care in this fascinating, heart-wrenching documentation. Entirely unlike any biopic you’ve ever seen.
Dir. Stevan Riley
Stars. Marlon Brando, Stella Adler, Bernardo Bertoluccu