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Lots of us talk to ourselves – to make sense of things or calm our frazzled nerves. Not many of us record those conversations though, and none of us have the vocal prowess of Marlon Brando. What I’m saying is, when Brando speaks…we all want to listen.

LISTEN TO ME MARLON tells of the life and career of Marlon Brando. Specifically, it allows Marlon to tell it himself. Over the years, Marlon recorded hundreds of hours of audio, a combination of meditation, affirmation, and audio diaries. So as the visual of the film takes us from his beginning as a graduate of The Actors Studio to the tragic deaths of his children, the primary storyteller is Marlon himself.

It’s always a good idea to let exemplary storytellers sit in front of a mic and talk, and Marlon Brando is indeed an exemplary storyteller. His timbre is solemn, sometimes sad, and always deliberate. He speaks about himself, but often speaks about artistry in general, or even humanity on the whole. As he does, he finds a curious sweet spot between ego and humility. What we come to understand is that even though Marlon was a man who could be enigmatic, and likewise easily hurt, he was also a man of true humanity, who had a genuine love for life.

We forget about this sometimes because for many Marlon was plaster cast into the doughy, cantankerous, curmudgeonly grump that embodied his latter-day roles. What we forget is that he was a man who ceased to believed that he had to work, and would continually turn down roles until he found a part that made him want to work.

Listening to his life’s philosophies – including this aloof later-life period – is fascinating, and the film knows just how to frame Marlon’s splendid words with charming and sexy video of him throughout his life. Soon we understand that where acting was concerned, he desperately sought to do it differently, and surprise his audiences by not tipping off where the next hard hit was coming from.

What’s somewhat ironic is that the film is occasionally dotted with video footage that Marlon did where a university digitally mapped his face as he spoke. The effects capture the basic shape and structure of ‘Latter-Day-Marlon’, and show us him reciting poetic ideas. It’s an early test at creating a ‘virtual Marlon’…the sort of technology that would later be used to motion-capture actors in film like AVATAR. The ironic part is that as fascinating as the artificial video creation is, it can’t hold a candle to the genuine audio article.  He was a guinea pig for these motion capture video, but the audio is what became far more fascinating and worth keeping.

LISTEN TO ME MARLON isn’t only interested in talking about one actor, or even one man. It has a lot to say about the world we live in, and the very fabric of what makes us human. It ponders what draws us to our idols, and just how easy it is for those gods and goddesses to topple. The words spoken by this legend are indeed a calming and reassuring presence. I can’t say for certain whether these tapes helped Marlon find his centre…but I would suggest that anyone who watches this film and listens to his words will find the joy and inner peace Marlon was hoping to achieve.

 

LISTEN TO ME MARLON plays at Hot Docs 2015 tonight, Sunday April 26th – 9:45pm at The Bloor. It plays Isabel Bader twice; Tuesday April 28th – 2:15pm, and Friday May 1st – 10:30am. Then finally  at The Regent on Sunday May 3rd – 6:45pm.