donate or subscribe
Follow Us Twitter Facebook

Brando narrates new must-see documentary, ‘Listen to Me Marlon’

July 28, 2015

Film review by The People’s Minister of Information JR

“Listen to Me Marlon” is a documentary film by Stevan Riley that takes a candid look at the life, activism and work of the legendary, charismatic and mercurial film icon Marlon Brando, whose career spanned five decades. The late Brando narrates the film exclusively with sound taken from hundreds of hours of audio that he himself recorded privately over the course of 40 years.

Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire”

This documentary talks about Brando’s family life, with his alcoholic mother and abusive father, as well as the many women he loved and the nearly dozen multi-ethnic children that he sired. This masterpiece delves into the “method acting” techniques that he mastered from his mentor Stella Adler, eventually revolutionizing film acting in Hollywood.

“Listen to Me Marlon” takes you behind the scenes, with photos and archived footage of some of Marlon Brando’s most classic and popular movies, such as “A Street Car Named Desire,” “On the Waterfront,” which won Brando his first Oscar, “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “The Godfather,” to peep the passionate and dedicated actor behind the celebrity at work.

Brando’s radical political beliefs are also discussed in depth in the documentary, with archival footage showing Brando speaking at Black Panther Bobby Hutton’s funeral in Oakland in 1967 and refusing to accept an Oscar in 1973 for his role in the classic movie “The Godfather” to protest the way that Indigenous people are depicted in Hollywood.

“I was given by my mother a sense of the absurd,” said Brando. “She had false teeth. Once in a while, she’d laugh. While she was laughing her teeth would come off of her gums. The more I’d laugh, the more she thought it was funny, and we’d both end up laughing real hard,” explains Brando in one of the lighter moments of the film.

“My mother was an alcoholic. We lived in a small town and my mother was the town drunk. She began to dissolve and fray at the end.

“My father was a traveling salesman. I was making more in 6 months of work than he made in 10 years. He measured everything by money,” explained Marlon Brando, as he talked about his lifelong tumultuous relationship with his father. “He couldn’t understand how this nerdy son of his could possibly do that.

“My old man was tough. He was a bar fighter. He was a man with not much love in him. I would stay away from home, drinking and whoring all around the Midwest.

He proverbially turned lemons into lemonade.

“Listen to Me Marlon” is a documentary film by Stevan Riley that takes a candid look at the life, activism and work of the legendary, charismatic and mercurial film icon Marlon Brando, whose career spanned five decades.

“If I have a scene to play, and I have to be angry, it must be within you, trigger mechanisms that are spring loaded, that are filled with contempt about something. I remembered my father hitting my mother when I was 14.”

He goes on to describe how he uses his early childhood trauma in his acting. “Things that are extremely painful to you, you don’t want them in your consciousness, you wanna forget them. You could imagine having to go to some place every night and have to go through all of that. Get yourself upset. If you have to cry or to scream or to be ruined in some way, that’s work. That’s hard work.”

Marlon Brando and his acting teacher Stella Adler revolutionized acting in motion pictures.

“In the ‘30s and ‘40s you had a certain kind of acting. You knew who you were going to get when you went to the movies: Gary Cooper, Bogart, Clark Gable, Crunchy Fruitloops. It was just like breakfast cereals; it was the same in every role – gestures of anguish and despair. And that kind of acting became absurd. The astounding thing that most people don’t realize is that all motion pictures today, all acting today stems from Stella Adler,” proclaimed Brando.

Brando as “The Godfather”

Brando as “The Godfather”

In this first person narrated documentary, it could be said that Stella Adler is the co-star of “Listen to Me Marlon” because of the influence that her “method acting” technique had on Marlon, and the amount of time that the documentary spent on describing her influence and techniques.

“I had never done anything in life that anybody ever said I was good at. She put her hands on my shoulders and said, ‘Don’t worry, my boy. I see you. The world wants to hear from you,’” said Brando describing Adler’s psychological effect on him.

“‘Don’t be afraid,’ she said. ‘You have a right to be who you are, where you are and how you are,’” said Brando.

“Be in a state of honesty up there,” said Stella Adler, “speak out the thoughts that are tormenting you.

“Reality – realness carried by an actor to achieve the truth – this is the most modern technique,” declared Stella Adler to an interviewer. “The play has nothing to do with words. You do not act words; you act with your soul.

“You have to constantly act. It is not important to defend your faults in the theater, it’s important to overcome them.”

Stella had studied in Paris with the great Russian teacher Constantine Stanislavski and brought back her experience and knowledge of this particular form of acting to her job at the New School of Social Research, which Brando attended.

“If I hadn’t had the good luck of being an actor, I don’t know what I would’ve been. I probably would’ve been a con man.

“Since I don’t do anything else well, and up until this time, I haven’t decided what else I would like to do, I might as well put all of my energy into being as good of an actor as I can,” said Brando in a frank, archived, black and white interview.

“The first movie I ever did was called ‘The Men.’ I played a paraplegic and lived in a hospital with paraplegics for three weeks. Physicality is a tough thing. I spent a lot of time studying everything that they do. I wanted to see how they got in and out of their chairs, the manner in which you crawled from one place to another. A paraplegic can do the most amazing things … races without their chairs. I saw guys walk on their hands. They could do one arm pull-ups. They could do everything,” said Brando.

“You have to know your character, putting yourself in a different state of mind – what they felt like, what their frustrations were knowing that they couldn’t have sex.

“At night, I think about it, dream about it, and I wake up being absorbed by it.”

In 1954, Marlon Brando won an Oscar for his role in “On the Waterfront.” An anonymous television reporter says, “You can bet that Marlon Brando’s impact on the world of movie acting will still be felt 500 years from now.”

Unfortunately, Brando did not feel the same way.

“When I saw the picture finally, I was so embarrassed, so disappointed in my performance. It’s a very strange thing, this business of storytelling. You don’t always know when you’re good. People will mythologize you no matter what you do.

In 1954, Marlon Brando won an Oscar for his role in “On the Waterfront.” An anonymous television reporter says, “You can bet that Marlon Brando’s impact on the world of movie acting will still be felt 500 years from now.”

Throughout “Listen to Me Marlon,” you could sense Brando’s love-hate relationship with acting and Hollywood.

“There’s something absurd about it, that people go with hard earned cash into a darkened room, where they sit and they look at a crystalline screen upon which images move around and speak. And the reason that they don’t have light in the theater, is because you are there with your fantasy.

“The person up on the screen is doing all the things that you wanna do. They’re kissing the women that you wanna kiss, hitting the people that you wanna hit, being brave in a way that you want to be brave. The audience will lend themselves to the subject. They will create things that are not there,” said Brando bluntly as he talked about winning his first Oscar.

“I know there are times when I did much better acting than that scene in ‘On the Waterfront.’ It had nothing to do with me. The audience does the work; they’re doing the acting.”

Today we have Pachino, De Niro and Nicholson, but before all of them, there was Marlon Brando, whom they studied.

“Get (the audience) on your time, and when that time comes and everything is right, hit ’em. Knock ’em over with an attitude, with a word, with a look. Be surprising. Figure out a way to do it that has never been done before.

“You want to stop that movement from the popcorn to the mouth. You want people to stop chewing. The truth will do that. Damn, damn, damn – when it is right, it’s right. You could feel it in your bones. Then you feel whole. Then you feel good,” says Brando as he describes his mindset as a master of his craft.

“It was pre-‘60s, people were looking for rebellion, and I happened to be at the right place at the right time, in the right state of mind. In a sense, it was my own story: rebelling for the sake of rebelling.”

In one clip, a magazine is shown, where the cover reads, “Could there have been Elvis without Brando?”

Brando with his Tahitian family, his third wife Tarita, his daughter Cheyenne and his son Teihotu

Brando with his Tahitian family, his third wife Tarita, his daughter Cheyenne and his son Teihotu

When Brando was a child, his father sent him to military school as a punishment for misbehaving. While there, he spent a lot of time in the library reading National Geographic magazines, and that is what piqued his interest in Tahiti. For most of his life, he had a love affair with the island nation. His first time going to Tahiti was during the filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

“The Tahitians have the beauty of sleeping children. And when they awaken, they will awaken into the nightmare that the white man lives in – the nightmare of the want of things.”

This land of Brando’s serenity would later turn into a hell when, decades later, one of his daughters commits suicide on the island.

“’Mutiny on the Bounty’ was perhaps my worst experience at making a motion picture. I never want to do that kind of picture again, as long as I live.

“How delicate it is to create an emotional impression. They cover up their sense of inadequacy by being very authoritative, commanding things. Don’t ever be intimidated by directors,” says Brando in describing this experience. “There was a great deal of friction, confusion and desperation, disappointment and disgust. There were fist fights.

“All my life I questioned why I should do something. I had contempt for authority. I was resistant. I would trick it. I would out maneuver it. I would do anything rather than be treated like a cypher.”

A reporter’s voice is spliced into this segment of the documentary to give context to how the big studio execs and their media maids felt about Marlon’s behavior on set. “He’s been called a supreme egotist, uncooperative, temperamental …”

Brando responded in an interview on live television: “Well, everybody has to have a whipping boy, and certainly the studio – they have to find a scapegoat. They have to find somebody. I was the most logical person.”

In a very unguarded comment, Brando says, “I didn’t make any great movies; there aren’t great movies. In the kingdom of the blind, the man with one eye is king. There are no artists. We are businessmen and merchants, and there is no art. Agents, lawyers, publicity people – it’s all bullshit. Money, money, money – if you think it’s about something else, you’re going to be bruised.”

During the segment that shows Brando giving solidarity to the Black stuggle in “Listen to Me Marlon,” he laments about the effect of the Martin Luther King speech that has since been titled “Beyond Vietnam” on him, as well as the assassination of the civil rights icon.

“In the speech he says, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to get there with you, but I’m not afraid tonight.’ God, I still remember that. Ah Jesus, that’s terrible. He knew he was gonna die.”

Lil Bobby Hutton, the youngest member of the Black Panther Party, was shot down in cold blood by Oakland police two days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968. Thousands filled the shore of Lake Merritt for a memorial rally, where Marlon Brando spoke. Here he is at the rally with Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale.

Lil Bobby Hutton, the youngest member of the Black Panther Party, was shot down in cold blood by Oakland police two days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968. Thousands filled the shore of Lake Merritt for a memorial rally, where Marlon Brando spoke. Here he is at the rally with Panthers cofounder Bobby Seale.

In the late ‘60s, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda are credited with helping to bring the Black Panther Party and their politics to a mainstream white audience. In 1967, Brando gave a speech at the funeral of 17-year-old Black Panther Bobby Hutton who was unjustifiably murdered by Oakland police.

“That could’ve been my son lying there and I’m going to do as much as I can. I’m going to start right now to inform white people of what they don’t know. A white man can never dig it, ‘cause he never dug it, and I’m here to try to dig it.”

White young people are shown protesting Brando’s involvement in the Black Liberation struggle with picket signs that said “Marlon Brando is a nigger-loving creep.”

Another point that points to Brando’s character is when a television interviewer asks Marlon straight up, “Have you considered the fact that you might suffer bodily harm yourself?”

Brando thinks for a second, looks around, smiles and says, “Yes.”

In “Listen to Me Marlon,” he puts his politics out there for everybody to see. “I’m standing up, not for the Black race; I’m standing up for the human race. All men are created equal.” This was a huge statement coming from Hollywood’s golden boy at the time when Black people were fighting against Jim Crow laws and police terror.

In the late ‘60s, Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda are credited with helping to bring the Black Panther Party and their politics to a mainstream white audience.

“This is life and death. This is real life. We’re talking about human relations. We’re talking about human rights, racial issues, and that’s why I care. “

Besides Brando’s work in the field of human rights, I was most familiar with his film “The Godfather.” So I was glad that this movie in particular was talked about in the documentary.

“It was demeaning to do a screen test, but I needed a part at that time. I wasn’t sure I could play that part either. The greatest fear an actor has is fear and how you’re going to be judged. I don’t want to get caught trying, I don’t want to get caught being afraid, that my story, my pretending, my lie is gonna be disbelieved. That’s gonna steal your performance away. You have to look at the cameraman, the producer working in the corner and say, ‘I don’t give a fuck about any of you,’” says Brando about his award winning role in this classic film.

“Putting on a mask, building a life, little by little I got into this part and then suddenly something gets a hold of you. What is the nature of criminality? Where does it come from?

“We have this antiquated belief in the myth of good and evil. I don’t believe in either one of those. And I thought it would be interesting to play a gangster, and not from the point of view that he was the bad guy, but that he was a very gentle hero.

“If I were brought up in that society, I’d be like them. In certain circumstances you could do the same thing,” said Brando in a moment of truth.

'Listen to Me Marlon' graphic“Listen to Me Marlon” is a very rich film that documents the life of one of America’s first rebellious enigmatic movie stars. A lot of time during the documentary is dedicated to Brando’s work with Native Americans, his playboy love life, as well as the drama with his children that left his son serving a 10 year prison bid and daughter Cheyenne dead.

I learned a great deal of historical information and was given incredible insight into the inner workings of movie making as well as life, from a man who hasn’t taken a breath in over 11 years. I guess this immortality speaks to the beauty of the art form.

One of my favorite quotes in the film is when Brando discusses his financial interest in filmmaking. “I’m interested in making enough money so that I could say ‘Fuck you’ to money, but that’s all.” I can definitely relate to that sentiment.

This is surely a must-see documentary for everyone who is a lover of cinema, Hollywood, rebelliousness, youth, activism and passion.

“Listen to Me Marlon” opens Aug. 7, 2015, at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness in San Francisco, Landmark’s Shattuck Cinema, 2230 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St. in San Rafael, and Camera 3, 288 S. Second St. in San Jose.

This is surely a must-see documentary for everyone who is a lover of cinema, Hollywood, rebelliousness, youth, activism and passion.

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com.

Tags

Filed Under: Culture Stories
Tags:

7 thoughts on “Brando narrates new must-see documentary, ‘Listen to Me Marlon’

  1. 4liker

    It is a much less RAM consuming software as well as has a very little dimension, these functions assist in the app to run faster as well as download swiftly.

    Reply
  2. androdumpperr

    Actually, Andro Dumper is an application for mobiles yet it could be downloaded and install for laptop computer or desktop computer for all different kinds of operating systems.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

BayView Classifieds - ads, opportunities, announcements



Click and find the
TravelVisaPro.com