Hailed as one of the greatest actors of his time, it's pure joy to watch clips of Marlon Brando's extraordinary career and life narrated by no other than Marlon Brando himself.
As a child of two drunkards, and abused by his father, Brando struggled with the feeling of not being wanted and sought the admiration of audiences (and women) instead. Method acting mentor Stella Adler took him under her wing, and his career took off with his sensational performance in “A Streetcar Named Desire” 1950. 12 years later “Mutiny on the Bounty” took him to Tahiti, which he fell in love with and decided to make his new home, only returning to make the occasional movie for survival. He was by then disillusioned by Hollywood, which he blamed for teaching us to hate American Indians by the way they were portrayed in the movies, and made a point of it by refusing to accept his Academy Award for “The Godfather” in 1973. His strong sense of social justice and belief in all men are created equal had also involved him in the civil rights movement earlier. While his career took an upswing in the 70's and 80's, personal tragedy struck 1990 when his son Christian shot his sister Cheyenne’s boyfriend to death, and she committed suicide five years later. The last years of his life was spent largely in seclusion.
The film is compiled of the actor's previously unseen and unheard personal archive including hundreds of hours of audio recorded over the course of his life. This brings a whole other dimension to the story of Marlon Brando's life that is previously known. Brando doesn't shun away from his shortcomings and his pain but analyses himself on tape, giving unique insights to his person, his beliefs and his art. “Listen to me Marlon” is a must-see for every actor, artist, biography-lover, historian and person interested in the complex psyche of a great mind.
“Listen to me Marlon” opened at Sundance Film Festival, and continued to New York as part of the New Directors/New Films series hosted by Film Society Lincoln Center and MoMA in March 2015, with director Stevan Riley present for a Q&A.
Stevan Riley on how the film came about:
-Marlon Brando's estate wanted to commemorate his 10 years of passing. I was approached. At the same time, the estate was unpacking all these boxes that he kept in storage, and there were these tapes coming out. Because Marlon had never given these interviews in the course of his life, and he was so private in his lifetime, imagine if the story was told in his own voice! That was really the ambition.
Stevan Riley on the purpose of the tapes:
-Marlon Brando was dyslexic, which you could see in his handwriting that shows very poor spelling, but had a fascination with words and was really an autodidact who loved learning. I think he genuinely loved all of his technical equipment. The first tapes are from the fifties, as soon as that kind of technology was available and he could get a recorder, he was doing it. It was for many different reasons; he'd tape business meetings to make sure he was covered legally, he'd tape for his family and posterity. The self-hypnosis tapes were from the last few years, I think to help get over his daughter's death. He was going through a lot of pain, that was manifesting itself physically, he was getting panic attacks, so this was all about trying to calm himself and center himself. You can hear the progress. He kept talking about these tapes as good parents, almost like he was parenting himself. I feel like he was curing a lot of pain in the course of doing those meditations.
Stevan Riley on how to balance the story of the man and the myth:
-This is one of the things Marlon Brando was fascinated in; the idea of truth and lies, myth and reality. He started with Stella Adler and Method Acting which was all about social realism and telling the truth, and then by stages he became more and more disillusioned to the point where he thought acting was a lie, and he was lying for a living and that we also lie in all of our every day interactions in life as well. These were things that preoccupied him, and the idea of myths too. He felt we lost control in the face of these myths, the myth of the father, the myth of the mother, the American dream. Ironically, the myth of Marlon Brando which he was living the other end of, he became a victim of as well, as a target of other people's obsessions and devotions. That forced him into seclusion, which was not his nature, so this became the biggest tragedy of his life.
Stevan Riley on the 3D digital footage of Marlon Brando's head:
-There was this one guy working with the Brando archives, and he mentioned that he thought that Marlon had his head scanned before he died, on this 3D scanning machine they used the same technique for on “Terminator 2”. Marlon was fascinated with technology, so it wouldn't have surprised me had he done that. Next question was to find out who did it. On the tapes he spoke about it happening, and from that it was possible to figure out this guy called Scott Philips, who was a friend of his and a Special Effects Supervisor. He had to dig out and it took months, and it was only last minute that addition could be realized in the film, because even when they'd located the drives, they were so big, 8 drives from 1990. We got the tech guys to decode the imagery, do motion capture to lip sync and to make the head move. It' becomes more of a ghostly presence within the film and within the house, that makes you feel that he still might be present around the corner.
The film is shown now at the Ashland Independent Film Festival, and Hot Docs festival in Canada in late April. It's also available at Showtime Networks.
(Also posted on Mogul; https://onmogul.com/searches?utf8=✓&query=Secret+tapes+of+Marlon+Brando%27s+extraordinary+life