Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

Listen to Me Marlon
Director: Stevan Riley
Writer: Stevan Riley, Peter Ettedgui
“Cast”: Marlon Brando
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 25.10.2016

Marlon Brando kept an extensive diary on tape. Riley uses that material to paint a portrait of him and his life.

Listen to Me Marlon is a very private portrait that stays personal throughout thanks to Brando’s own narration about himself. It is very well done, but it does reproduce Brando’s own biases.

It’s of course a dream come true for a biographical documentary filmmaker, I think, to have many hours of your subject talking about himself and his life on tape. And Riley really makes the most of it, collating the audio narration with perfectly fitting and interesting images. I didn’t know that there are extensive 3D scans of Brando that will probably allow us to have CGI Brando appearing in films for centuries to come. For this documentary, Riley uses it in a rather conceptual way, though. But mostly, he uses “normal” archive material for the images.

The film sticks with Brando’s perspective at all times. Unfortunately that means that it also reproduces some rather problematic stuff without challenging Brando’s views. With time, it became a bit exhausting to listen to Brando’s endless racist ramblings about the perfect paradise of Tahiti that so obviously exoticizes and fetishizes the “noble savages” who live there but never sees them as humans.

At least he means well when he goes on and on about it. There are also a couple of sexist remarks in the same vein, but not as long or intense as his monologuing about Tahiti.

If you manage to see past that, though, Listen to Me Marlon is an interesting and engaging stroll through Brando’s life I did enjoy it for the most part and it was nice to see behind the facade of some extensive legend building that has happened in the past years, and get a glimpse of the man he was. Or at least thought himself to be.

Summarizing: Worth it.

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