‘Bud’ Brando means a lot to me. He was the subject of my Undergrad dissertation and to this day he fascinates me. Not just a pretty face he appeared to be a mass of ambiguity and encompassed the beautiful; a masculine yet feminine dichotomy, enigma and myth. There was an ambition and an underlying vulnerability I was drawn to, hell, even empathised with but by the end of my research, these ambiguities, half-truths and general lack of consistency allowed me to dissect the actor’s persona and his choice of film roles yet the man remained somewhat of a mystery.
Recently screened at the 59th BFI London Film Festival, Stevan Riley’s film Listen to Me Marlon opens with a digitised print of Brando’s face – one used during his incarnation as Superdad, Jor-El. It’s an eerie image, like a death mask but also rather apt given that fatherhood is such a huge part of this documentary. It/Brando begins to recite a monologue before news coverage takes over, detailing the shooting of Dag Drollet at Brando’s home in 1990. Dag was the boyfriend of Brando’s daughter Cheyenne and father of her son Tuki – he was killed after a struggle with her elder brother Christian. Cheyenne would later commit suicide. It was a tragedy that changed the actor overnight and something he never appeared to get over.
Riley edits shots of an empty home against the audio soliloquies and these are intercut with video footage and archival interviews of Brando during his heyday and beyond. He does a tremendous job at giving an audience, unfamiliar with the star, a real glimpse at the man. A lot of the visual segments are not necessarily new but the tapes are revelatory. The actor grew tired of psychoanalysts and began self-hypnosis in an attempt to understand himself. The man depicted throughout this documentary is one with unquenchable curiosity; intelligent, articulate and thoughtful – a shy and sensitive soul determined to have love and freedom. His enigma remains somewhat intact, and thanks to writer/director/editor Riley an audience can experience a real intimacy with a largely misunderstood Marlon.
Listen to Me Marlon is a beautiful, affectionate gem of a film which perfectly balances the fact with fiction; the philosophical man and myth. To hear the distinctive nasal tone of the much-mimicked actor and to note the change in octave and speed as he gets older is actually very moving. This is a last testament of sorts: Bud in his own words. And what wonderfully warm, sad and amusing words they are.