Listen to Me Marlon (4 stars)

Listen to Me Marlon

Stevan Riley's insightful documentary delves into the life of Marlon Brando

Taking its title from his self-hypnosis tapes, this compelling documentary offers unparalleled insight into the life and career of acting legend Marlon Brando, an intensely private individual who was deeply uncomfortable with his own fame and whose later life was beset with personal tragedy.

Eschewing the standard talking heads approach, British director Stevan Riley (who also co-writes and edits) has assembled a wealth of extraordinary archive material that includes rare photos, home movies, film clips, behind-the-scenes footage, TV interviews and news reports. However, the film's real coup comes in its ability to draw on hundreds of hours of audio recordings made by Brando himself, in which the actor candidly reveals his private thoughts and observations, offering perceptive takes on his acting methods in the process.

After an initial glimpse of the tabloid frenzy surrounding Brando's son Christian, who was imprisoned for manslaughter in 1991, Riley's fluid editing takes us through Marlon's life and career chronologically, charting his loveless childhood, his early success on stage and his subsequent explosion into cinema, winning an Oscar early in his career (an award, it's revealed, that he didn't think he deserved) for On the Waterfront in 1955, after three consecutive previous nominations. The film also covers his involvement in the civil rights movement and his mid-period career decline before his perceived comeback in 1972's The Godfather.

In an eerily effective early sequence, Riley wires up the tapes to a digitised 3D image of Brando’s head (something he presciently commissioned for himself in the 1980s), making it seem as if a ghostly image of the actor is telling his own story from beyond the grave. It's a striking gimmick that is used sparingly but nonetheless casts a lasting spell over the remainder of the film. What a shame that Riley doesn't find time for Brando's only foray into directing One-Eyed Jacks, but his thoughtful approach pays off handsomely, as he delivers an abundance of fascinating detail that makes this highly entertaining documentary a must-see for Brando fans.

Selected release from Fri 23 Oct.

Listen to Me Marlon

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 40min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Stevan Riley
  • Written by: Stevan Riley, Peter Ettedgui
  • Cast: Marlon Brando
  • UK release: 23 October 2015

Documentary on Marlon Brando which offers a wealth of extraordinary archive material, drawing in particular on hundreds of hours of audio recordings made by Brando himself (the title comes from his own self-hypnosis tape.) Riley delivers an abundance of fascinating detail, making it a must-see for Brando fans.