‘Listen to Me Marlon’ reveals a side of Marlon Brando we never got to see

“Listen to me Marlon . . . This is one part of yourself speaking to another part of yourself. Listen to the sound of my voice and trust me. You know I have your interests at heart . . . Just relax, relax, relax, I’m going to help you change in a way that will make you feel happier, more useful . . . I want you to accept what I say as true. What I will tell you here and now is true.”

That is the actor Marlon Brando speaking to the actor Marlon Brando. In Listen to Me Marlon, you will hear his steady, therapeutic self-talk as a constant narration. His voice is the road that guides us through this collaged, patchwork story of his life.

Throughout his life Brando recorded hundreds of hours of himself speaking. He spoke about his life, his acting, his childhood, his thoughts. He recorded relaxation exercises (like the one above), he recorded character notes and vocal exercises, he recorded secrets. Now in British writer and director Stevan Riley’s new documentary, Listen to Me Marlon, those hundreds of hours of recordings are woven with footage, images, home movies, and antiquated interviews to produce what amounts to an astonishing documentary about the world’s greatest actor.

For many people our age, Brando is a movie myth. We’ve likely seen his Academy Award winning roles in The Godfather and On the Waterfront. We’ve also likely watched, at the very least, his famous scene from A Streetcar Named Desire when he screams “Stella!” in the pouring rain. We’ve also likely heard our parents and grandparents talk about what a looker he was, what a talent, and then what a recluse. The reality is, if we are movie lovers we should know as much about his work as possible. This was a man who changed acting, and Listen to Me Marlon provides a never-before-seen look at the life of the notoriously private star. A man who in many respects was always acting.

The film takes us through the entire myth of Brando, turning each twist and turn of his story into reality. It offers an intimate peek into his mind and life, glimpses never offered while he was alive. We learn about the little boy in Nebraska whose mother was the town drunk. The young man who comes to New York and falls into acting. The young actor who discovers he’s talented, studies with Stella Adler, and changes the game. We see him rising to fame, and how both troubling and fun that was. We see his pitfalls too, the movies he wishes he hadn’t made, the years when he was believed to no longer be a “contender,” and the new life he made for himself in Tahiti. There is also the brilliance of the roles in his later career (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now), his reputation as spoiled and childish on set, and how all that coincided with personal struggles of insurmountable proportions.

By the time Brando died in 2004, at the age of 80, many remembered him for his personal dramas and on-set reputation rather than his on-camera brilliance. Listen to Me Marlon reminds us that it is the roles we should remember; the creative genius who took acting and turned it into what it is today.

The film also introduces him as a man of tremendous intellect and curiosity, far more than just a pretty face. As the movie is narrated by Brando we get the feeling that the man presented in this documentary is the man as he saw himself. A man who loved the craft, and hated the fame. A man who hit the marks he was supposed to, and dealt with the fame in order to do the work. A man who did what was asked of him in order to be the great actor he was destined to be, until he didn’t.

The film opens in New York on July 29, LA on July 31, and around the country throughout the rest of the summer. It will air on Showtime after the run in theaters.

Related reading:

Everything I need to know, I learned from ‘The Godfather’

What nobody talks about, when they talk about Marilyn Monroe

[Image credits: Listen to Me Marlon]