8 December 2015 | MisterWhiplash
"There's no such thing as a 'great' movie."
Marlon Brando was, to say the least, a somewhat enigmatic figure in the public eye for many years - notwithstanding (or because directly of) reports from set or that time he was on Larry King, he could be beautiful, compassionate, difficult, weird, crazy, tragic (re: his kids and what befell them/they did), bizarre, provocative, secret, shy, BIG, and so many things, but above all a box of contradictions. These get to be seen on a bigger canvas and some added context with Listen to Me, Marlon, a documentary that uses (mostly) audio-recorded bytes from Brando as he spoke into a tape recorder for many years, whether it was preparing for a role (as we hear for Apocalypse Now and Last Tango in Paris), self-hypnosis (he had to meditate a lot one can see), and just stuff to leave behind for his kids. From 198 hours (!) of recordings director Riley gets a lot of interesting facts and opinions and takes on life, acting, parents, his kids, Tahiti, and the directors he worked with and roles he made flesh.
The contradiction at heart of Brando's career, though it probably extends to his personal life as well, is that he took his craft very seriously - the "method" style and its popularity came by and large from Brando in the 50's via Stella Adler and Stanislavski to use 'real' emotions felt over time to inform the performance - and yet after a short time of making (really) a classic set of films in the 50's, quickly became disenchanted/disillusioned by the process. He's on record here of saying things like 'I've never been in a 'great' movie and there's no such thing as a 'great' movie' and that finding any sort of "art" in it is ridiculous as it's all about money and merchants peddling their works. He may have a point but at the same time undercuts that by how seriously he took digging in to someone like Stanley Kowalski (who was not someone he could identify himself with) or Vito Corleone (who he wanted to give some dignity to as a gangster) or Colonel Kurtz (albeit he perpetuates the myth that Coppola didn't know what he was doing at all until he stepped in, but there's another documentary to see about that whole story of course).
So he felt conflicting things about cinema, and yet cared a lot about civil rights and the rights for Native Americans (the notorious moment where he sent Littlefeather to get the Godfather Oscar is still awkwardly funny and touching at the same time). He was a lot of things, but what's impressive about the documentary is how the director is able to tap into many different things and weave together a complete portrait from just over an hour and a half of clips out of 198 hours. While he does overdo some of the music cues (near the end there's opera singing for Godsakes), there's such a wealth of emotions and perspectives given that incidents like the ones with his kids - when Christian was kidnapped at 13 and then, as an adult, convicted of murder involving his half-sisters boyfriend - make him appear very flawed and all the more human for it.
Though not altogether fully great (maybe it could've stood being even longer, like there's only so much time so here's the Greatest Hits), I felt like I got a lot of out this, almost like a Citizen Kane if all of the takes were from Kane examining his life and work himself. And it provides a good lesson not just for actors but people in general: pay attention to his you "act" in life, as everybody does it and it's both not special and the most important thing in what you do, whether it's on camera or (especially) off.