“Listen to Me Marlon” brings Marlon Brando back to life, at least for a little while.
The documentary, which opens Friday at the Opera Plaza, focuses on a collection of tapes that Brando recorded during his life, so, in a sense, he narrates his own story.
The film serves up new views and impressions of a man that many consider the greatest screen actor of all time.
Director Stevan Riley, who visited The City with Brando’s daughter Rebecca to promote the movie, says the title comes from a self-hypnosis recording Brando made. Oddly, it was the first tape Riley listened to when beginning the project; he simply grabbed it randomly.
“Those meditation tapes were a very direct dialogue with himself,” says Riley. “He kept referring to himself: ‘Listen to me, Marlon, this is a voice you can trust.’ Speaking about these trust issues was important.”
Brando’s daughter describes her dad as very analytical, forever asking questions about the people around him. “He thought that he could understand himself by understanding others, and vice-versa,” she says.
The film also uses some ghostly 3D digital scans that Brando, a technology nut, had taken of himself.
Although some of Brando’s artifacts and themes in the movie likely were not intended for the general public, the director tried to strike a balance between respecting Brando’s privacy, and, Riley says, “focusing on the things he wanted to communicate in his life.”
The movie explores details of Brando’s life, from his incredible success with the play and film of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and other works, to his troubled private life, tragedies, and tales of women and obesity.
It also touches on his eccentric behavior, about which Riley says, “Some of those things were true in a sense, but at the very least you understand them better. You understand why he cared so much. It wasn’t just needless, impetuous behavior on his part.”
Rebecca Brando remembers her father as “boyish and playful.”
She says, “I see him as a warm protector,” she says, “like how he wanted to humanize the Godfather, Don Corleone, that’s how he was.”
One favorite of her father’s movies is 1995’s “Don Juan DeMarco,” in which Brando played a psychiatrist treating a young man (Johnny Depp) claiming to be Don Juan.
“His role seemed improvised because he seemed so much like my dad,” she says. “That was my dad, on film.”
IF YOU GO
Listen to Me Marlon
Starring Marlon Brando
Written and directed by Stevan Riley
Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes