Sundance 2015 Review: LISTEN TO ME MARLON, The Brando Doc Speaks Eloquently

Contributor; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
Sundance 2015 Review: LISTEN TO ME MARLON, The Brando Doc Speaks Eloquently
In one of the more iconic moments in cinema history, Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, is conversing with his would be assassin, played by Martin Sheen. They speak of life and betrayal, of duty and ideology. We see Brando half bathed in shadow, his heart of darkness contrasted by a shimmering light that reflects off his bald pate. We also hear that Brando drawl, speaking of horror and vengeance. We find Kurtz recording into a tape machine, collecting thoughts for posterity, knowing full well the ramifications of his behaviour and the remarkable events that have led to that particular moment.

It's not hard to find echoes of this performance moment in the remarkable and affecting documentary Listen To Me Marlon. In the first moments we're treated to one of Brando's own attempts to bottle his own mortality - a disjointed, almost psychedelic representation of his face captured, as he explains in voice over, by using a series of lasers. Towards the outer edges of the image Brando's physicality falls away into diffuse clouds of particles but within the plane of the main capture the remarkable features of this immortal talent are captured in haunting fashion, a surviving piece of this man dead now for more than a decade.

Crafted through a series of personal recordings, interviews, self-made hypnosis tapes and even answering machine recorders, this is like an archaeological excavation of a hoarder, one whose compulsion is to self document. Rather than Facebook postings or the haikus of a thousand tweets, Marlon had his tapes, and that voice, that mumbling mid-western drawl that's both soothing and unsettling.

The herculean task taken on by director/writer/editor Stevan Riley is both overtly astonishing and, when looked even closer, may be a far more accomplished task than even the film's fans may recognize. The incorporation of disparate elements into a coherent whole, the capacity to tell this tale with a collection of stock imagery, film clips and personal revelations, is of course highly commendable. Yet the film works its particular magic when those elements collide, when you hear recordings of various qualities buttress together to form a whole "performance", not unlike the roles for which Brando continues to be lauded.

We're treated to a decent overview of his career, a kind of greatest hits (and misses) from his varied career. The obvious points are checked off, to be sure, including the tragedy involving his children. Yet rather than a simple articulation of facts, the synergy experienced when recognizing these events tied to Brando's own philosophizing is at times breathtaking.

Similarly, some of his more iconic scenes, from the lustful carryings on in Last Tango in Paris to the death march through the tomatoes in Godfather, take on even more salience. The film holds the power to both educate and illuminate things one already was well aquainted with, making this a rare gem of a documentary indeed.

In the closing moments Brando speaks of wanting a recording device in his coffin so that after his death he can provide some advice to those still living. In some ways, ways that are far from macabre and are instead revelatory, Marlon is speaking to the present from the past. It's a virtual sealing in amber, perhaps, but there's a unique, palpable sense of connection between the viewer and this most private of men, a look behind the facade that reveals at times more than the living Brando would have ever allowed.

Hypnotic, energizing, and astonishing, Listen To Me Marlon speaks in eloquent ways to the complex talent that was Brando, a bundle of impulses, contradictions and accomplishments that are as ineffable and kinetic as the disparate pixels that combined resolve to create the laser projection of his face.

Listen to Me Marlon

  • Stevan Riley
  • Stevan Riley
  • Peter Ettedgui (co writer)
  • Michael Borne
  • Marlon Brando
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Documentarylisten to me marlonMarlon BrandoreviewSundance 2015Stevan RileyPeter EttedguiMichael BorneBiography

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