Marlon Brando was the movie star of movie stars, and he hated it. He didn’t like the spotlight. He didn’t like people talking about him. He didn’t like that the more people who knew who he was, the more it felt like fewer people really knew the real him. Brando fought with his fame his entire life. Near the end of his life, he took to making recordings in which he told his version of the truth about his life. He hoped that someone would one day take those recordings and make a film about the real Brando.
Listen to Me Marlon is that film. The documentary consists of archival footage and photographs layered over with Brando’s own voice (both from those recordings and from his many interviews) from the entire span of Brando’s life. The film works like a journey into Marlon Brando’s memories. It is an intimate and floating film, reflective and sincere.
Listen to Me Marlon humanizes Marlon Brando, and in saying that, I mean it complicates him even as it reveals more about him. A human, after all, is an immeasurably complex entity. As Peter Rollins says, a human is “an eternity you can walk around.” Listen to Me Marlon is an affirmation of an icon’s humanity, a glimpse into his eternity.
It is also the glimpse that Brando and the filmmaker Steven Riley have deliberately crafted. As such, it is a construction. It is not the objective truth. It can’t be. By Brando’s own admission, people are constantly acting. They are pretending to be what others want them to see. Furthermore, as Gareth Higgins once told me, even if someone tells you what motivates them, you can’t believe them. They might not be aware of their true motivations.
Still, this is, more or less, the Marlon Brando that Marlon Brando wanted us to see. It is good practice to trust people when they tell you something. It is loving to do so, and real love is what Brando said he was always after and didn’t know how to find. He was raised in an unloving home, and so, he says, he had no idea what love looked like. So he chased everything he could find that might be love. Little of it was. Like Ecclesiastes’ Teacher, mostly he just found wealth, sex, and fame, and none of those things satisfied him. So Listen to Me Marlon is ultimately a sad film about a sad man. Remember him next time you see a star on TV. They’re just people looking for love and fame is more of a hindrance than a help.