Is There Method To Listen To Me Marlon's Madness?
Or is Stevan Riley's audio docu collage too Malicky for its own good? Sarah D. Bunting's reaction might surprise you (it surprised her).
Worthwhile Show Attempted
Listen To Me Marlon
A press release described Listen To Me Marlon as "a trove of previously unreleased audio archives, allowing Brando to tell his story in his own unique voice." Evidently, Marlon Brando generated hundreds of hours of audio recordings on cassette tapes -- musings for an autobiography, some of them; others labeled as "self-hypnosis" -- that nobody's heard prior to LTMM's release.
Brando is kind of like Marilyn Monroe, for me; you can tell me as many times as you want to that On The Waterfront is a masterpiece and his performance in it a tour de force, and you might be right, but I just don't get it. I don't get most of his performances. I don't think he's bad, but a lot of it is so mannered and so self-conscious, so into showing the work, that it's not very relatable. His Don Corleone is wonderful and recognizable because it's so quiet, but it's my opinion that Brando is wildly overrated -- not to mention that, if he didn't invent what we now understand as actor bullshit, he's the most recognizable brand in the product stable.
But he's not a boring guy. He's not a boring actor; he didn't lead a dull life. So either LTMM would entertain me with melodramatic musings on the topic of The Method, or it would give me a new appreciation of an artist who's traditionally kind of an eye-roller.
How Far I Expected To Get
As long as it didn't get too sweaty on the topic of Stella Adler? The end. Producer John Battsek is behind some of my favorite docs of recent years: Restrepo, Project Nim, and the utterly captivating The Imposter, and R.J. Cutler (The War Room, American High) is also producing. Good enough for me, though I don't know director Stevan Riley's other work.
When It Won Me Over
What Did It
The über-creepy footage of the digital scans taken of Brando's head -- for use, I presume, in the Superman films -- caught my attention immediately. In it, VR Brando is reciting the "sound and fury" passage from Macbeth, which took me a minute to recognize because he delivered it conversationally. I'd never heard it done quite that way. So, that put me in the back of my chair a little bit.
Then the movie moves into one of Brando's self-hypnosis tapes, and I have to tell you, it shouldn't work at all but something about it just took me by the hand. Stefan Wesolowski's mournful strings; Brando's narration of an earlier time in his life, noting of Nebraska that "that's a wind that you can trust," which makes no sense and at the same time perfect sense; and...whatever you call this filter or exposure or style of shooting.
Brando is remembering sitting under an elm tree, and this series of shots, of farmhouse windows and branches and wheat stalks, is so so effective, lovely, bittersweet in the way of dreams that reunite you with the dead. I paused the screener to try to explain the effect in my notes, and then I unpaused it, because it was starting to feel like trying to act out a smell.
And then Brando talks about his mother, how she could play any song you named on the piano, and then he pauses, and then he says, sounding a little surprised, "I like remembering about her." Something about that locution, "remembering about," resonates with me, maybe because it reminds me of my grandmother and her antique way of saying she'd heard something on the radio -- that she'd "listened about it" on WHYY. Brando goes on to discuss, reluctantly, the realization that, in a small town with room for only one drunk, that drunk was his mother.
It's maybe a little much, Listen To Me Marlon, but it's composed with great care, the collage of interviews and Brando's own cassettes and the 1957 Oscar ceremony, photos of Brando as a boy and of his hell-raising father, news footage about the Dag Drollet shooting. Brando in your ear is by turns rueful, self-righteous, incisive, and crude. But it's really not what I expected and I'd like to watch it again. Riley's other films don't look like my thing subject-wise, but based on his editing of this one, I'll have to at least give them a try.
Worth Taking A Run At It?
If you liked The Imposter and you tend to like Malick, or at least forgive him for trying things, I can safely recommend LTMM, I think, but this is maybe one of those Red Vines movies? You love it or you hate it, but nobody's like, "Sure, it was okay," or dozes off during it. That said: try it. See what you can tell me about that achey shot of the elm tree.