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'Listen To Me Marlon' offers candid insight into a Hollywood legend
Marlon Brando with young Christian Brando in the Showtime documentary Listen To Me Marlon. - photo by Josh Terry
In a way, Listen to Me Marlon is an autobiographical documentary. Director Stevan Riley has combined years of actor Marlon Brandos personal audio recordings with a wealth of footage to create a self-narrated portrait of one of Hollywoods most celebrated actors.

Thanks to the candid quality of those recordings and some excellent production from Riley, Listen to Me Marlon is a powerful and insightful experience.

In one of the first recordings Riley shares, Brando describes a procedure where his different expressions were scanned into a computer in order to create a three-dimensional rendering of his image. Throughout the film, Riley uses this animated character to mouth the words on Brandos recordings, giving Listen to Me Marlon a surreal, beyond-the-grave quality.

The documentary follows a simple chronological path, picking things up after Brandos childhood when he moved to New York City. There he fell under the tutelage of Stella Adler, an actress who pioneered the technique of method acting.

Brando was shy but responded to the idea of using the memories of a troubled childhood to channel the emotions he needed on stage.

From there, the film covers Brandos breakthrough as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire and the transition into a movie career that netted him his first Best Actor Oscar for On the Waterfront in 1954. Highlights and lowlights follow, all punctuated by Brandos own insightful commentary.

Over the course of an hour and a half, a theme or two emerges. Brando is happy to enjoy some of the fruits of fame namely women. But his natural shyness winces under the cultural spotlight, and he becomes increasingly alienated and withdrawn over time, until tragedies involving his children draw him back into the public eye.

This alienation ties into Brandos lifelong affection for Tahiti. As a young man in military school, Brando would read National Geographic articles about the exotic island and daydream about escaping there. He finally visited Tahiti while filming Mutiny on the Bounty, and eventually has a daughter, Cheyenne, of Tahitian descent.

Listen to Me Marlon is very thorough, and Brandos recordings are plain and candid, partially because many of the tapes were made as he was trying to conduct a kind of self-hypnosis style of therapy.

Its fascinating to hear the actors perspective on his well-known experiences, especially when, as in the case of Apocalypse Now, his story is starkly different from his directors. (Francis Ford Coppola has gone on record insisting that Brandos awful condition on set led to a number of creative compromises and production delays, but Brando disagrees.)

Brandos perspective on the nature of his career is informative, if cynical. At one point he insists that if he hadnt become an actor, he would have become a con man, since the two professions are so similar. On a more enlightening note, he observes that the quality of his performance on screen is a reflection of his audience, who essentially does his job for him by projecting them into their own experience.

Its a valuable and unique piece for anyone who is a fan of the actors films, or a student of acting itself. And you may find yourself wishing other historical figures had made similar recordings.

Listen to Me Marlon is not rated, but pushes into R-rated territory with some periodic profanity and vulgar language, as well as a few violent images from some of Brandos films (such as The Godfather).