Cinema Review: Listen to Me Marlon | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, September 25th, 2020  

Listen to Me Marlon

Studio: Showtime
Directed by Stevan Riley

Aug 25, 2015 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share

A surreal, dreamlike quality permeates Listen to Me Marlon. The documentary forgoes dreary conventional narration in favor of audio recordings meticulously taped and hoarded over the years by the film’s eccentric subject, the late actor Marlon Brando. Those never-before-heard recordings give the doc an immersive intimacy, and director Stevan Riley does an excellent job finding images to match— from early black and white shots of a buff, shirtless young Brando climbing trees in his native Nebraska, to eerie latter-day digitized renderings of his face as he recites a MacBeth soliloquy with an unspeakable world weariness.

An equal feat is the way that Riley stitches those images together, letting them fade and go fuzzy, be they shots of Brando on set or stock footage that he likely would have seen in his youth and that mirrors his life’s trajectory. The latter includes ethereal glimpses of dandelions swaying in the Nebraska breeze; sped of shots of bustling New Yorkers; and, best of all, shots of the kind of vintage locomotive that brought Brando to the Big City, paired with Brando’s voiceover of describing the peculiar noise of riding those rails in his all the more distinctive cadence.

Riley sticks steadfastly to this “in my owns words” style. Sometimes that results in heart-wrenching vulnerability, as Brando describes how he “struggled to maintain the sanity and sense of reality that’s taken away by success,” after brisk montages of throngs of fans and leggy interviewers who blush at the star’s flirtatiousness. In other moments, Brando is bitterly petulant and obliviously petty, calling Francis Ford Copolla a “cocksucker” after the director’s public complaints about the star’s obesity on the set of Apocalypse Now. He even addresses his infamous latter-day laziness, describing his disinterest in learning lines and his reliance on cue cards and line feeding via an earpiece. And while Riley admirably avoids the chief pitfall of many docs and biopics— glorification of the subject— audiences will likely long to see more of a “warts and all” approach, and hear more quotes from cast-mates and directors about how difficult Brando could be on set, or clips of his family dishing on his womanizing ways. But the best we get in that regard is pouty defensiveness and stubborn justifications from the star.

However, anything else would have been a betrayal to Riley’s vision. That’s because Listen to Me Marlon is not a gossip rife tell all, no matter how much we’d like it to be. What we’re left with instead is something far more strange, distinct and satisfying, if confounding—an intimate glimpse into the mindset of an exasperatingly brilliant talent.

Author rating: 7/10

Rate this movie
Average reader rating: 5/10


Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.