Sundance 2015 Review – Listen To Me, Marlon (2015)


Avoiding the traditional talking head structure, Stevan Riley‘s Listen to Me, Marlon recounts the life of Marlon Brando using the actor’s personal recordings detailing his early years, Hollywood career, and musings on his own personal struggles.

Riley has crafted a documentary like no other, simply because it feels like it has been made by Brando – which in a sense it has, with the late actor providing narration and deeply personal musings throughout. With eerie recreations of Brando’s empty house, unseen archive footage, gravelly recordings, and unsettling computer generated recreations of his face, the ghost of Brando lingers throughout this highly atmospheric piece.

Listen to Me, Marlon delves into many facets of Brando’s life, beginning conventionally by tackling his relationship with his tough father. Interest picks up when detailing the actor’s bond with Stella Adler and his first major successes in the form of A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and The Wild One. Taking a more personal tone, Riley’s film finds further passion when capturing Brando’s love for the paradise of Tahiti – the only pleasant thing he remembers from the filming of Mutiny of the Bounty. Listen to Me Marlon, subsequently tackles his relationship as a Lothario (supported by archive footage), reputation as difficult, and subsequent decline of his career.

Riley’s picture is at its most interesting in its later half detailing Brando’s most outrageous and controversial moments. His reported difficulty on the set of Apocalypse Now still remains fascinating, whilst his refusal to collect is Oscar is another iconic moment that gets screen time. We get a real sense of the hurt faced by the actor after his son Christian was kidnapped by his ex-wife in 1972, and the devastation when the same son was convicted of the murder of his step-sister’s boyfriend in 1990. Further tragedy in the form of Brando’s daughter’s Cheyenne’s suicide in 1995. By the later stages of the documentary, Brando feels like a broken man, devastated by sadness and loss. Through this Listen to Me, Marlon conveys the actor’s continual desires for privacy, presenting him as a tormented soul caught in never-ending spurts of unwanted publicity, establishing a firm and touching narrative backbone.

Controversial absences like Brando’s bisexuality and his unhappiness with his later acting career (his refusal to take a bucket off his head on the set of 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau might have lightened the tone) are unfortunate, inhibiting Listen to Me, Marlon feeling truly comprehensive.

Whilst stylistically fascinating, Listen to Me, Marlon occasionally feels long-winded and recordings can be incomprehensible, however, it cannot be denied that this is an incredibly emotive piece of filmmaking that captures the sensitive man behind the Hollywood titan.

Andrew McArthur

Genre: Documentary, Biography Venue:Sundance 2015 Director: Stevan Riley Cast:Marlon Riley