BAFTA VOD film review: Listen to Me Marlon
Ivan Radford | On 13, Feb 2016Reading time: 2 mins
Director: Stevan Riley
Watch Listen to Me Marlon online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
In the run-up to the 2016 BAFTA awards, we look back at the year’s awards contenders. See our full list of BAFTA nominees and where to watch them online.
Everyone knows Marlon Brando. Marlon Brando the actor, who blew audiences away in On the Waterfront. Marlon Brando the activist, who sent Sacheen Littlefeather to collect his Oscar for The Godfather to protest Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. Marlon Brando the eccentric, who turned up to work without trousers on during The Score, so that Frank Oz couldn’t shoot him from the waist down.
When someone has passed into legend to such a degree, a biopic or documentary about them is always destined to feel like a retread of old ground. Listen to Me Marlon deserves endless praise for that never being the case. It’s not an exaggeration to say that after watching this, you may never look at Marlon Brando in the same way again.
Director Stevan Riley’s secret weapon is Brando himself: he’s got access to hours upon hours of audio tapes that the actor recorded over his career, which have never been made public before. We’ve all heard the stories, yes. But we’ve never heard Marlon Brando tell them.
The result is a frank and often mesmerising account of his life, from his childhood in Omaha to his experiences on Apocalypse Now. His observations are cut together with a range of clips from his movies and talk show interviews. Riley has a wealth of material at his fingertips. What he teases out is just how self-deprecating Brando was, not just in terms of his own status or craft, which he came to view as nonsense, but in terms of his own life.
A portrait of an introverted artist emerges, one who was fragile as much as he was famous. When we see him wearing an earpiece to avoid learning lines on set, that well-known awkwardness is filtered through family tragedy and a weary melancholy. It’s a masterpiece of editing: the film’s knack for overlaying private meditation with familiar footage gives all those well-recited myths new, poignant life. If the self-examination becomes soporific as the runtime goes on, it only adds to the eerie final sight of a digital map of Brando’s head, reciting his own words to an empty screen, disembodied and despondent. A biopic or documentary of Brando is destined to feel like a retread of old ground. Listen to Me Marlon is neither. Somewhere between a secret diary and an experimental art project, it’s like a self-help video that we were never meant to read – a unique, hypnotic experience.