Greetings again from the darkness. Was he greatest actor of all-time? Or was he a lazy actor only in it for the payday? Was he a defender of Civil Rights and Native American rights? Or was he as disturbed as his Colonel Kurtz? This film from director Stevan Riley addresses all of these questions and more, but what makes it fascinating to watch, is that the only talking head here is that of its subject … Marlon Brando.
Utilizing a treasure trove of Brando’s private audio recordings, and blending those words with some rare photographs and clips, Mr. Riley delivers one of the most unusual posthumous autobiographical documentaries ever released. Bookended by a tragic shooting at Brando’s Mulholland Drive house, the film explores his Omaha childhood with a mother who taught him about nature and music, and a father who was abusive and not a loving man. Both parents were alcoholics, and seemed to set Marlon up for a lifetime of family issues.
Brando’s movie career can be divided into two different chapters. He burst onto the scene in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, and maintained the rebellious sex-symbol status through The Wild One (1953) and On The Waterfront (1954) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). Ten years later, a career resurgence brought The Godfather (1972), Last Tango in Paris (1972), Superman (1978), and Apocalypse Now (1978). This second phase solidified his reputation as difficult to work with and as a man with questionable mental stability (and creative use of a hearing aid). Listening to Brando’s self-analysis during these eras provides insight into the enigma … we learn some of what was going on with the troubled genius.
Some of the film’s best segments: learning about his acting (and life) mentor Stella Adler, hearing Brando discuss his “I coulda been a contender” speech and why the masses so closely related, an explanation of his love/fascination with Tahiti (started in Military School and continued while filming Mutiny on the Bounty), and especially a glimpse into his pain-gone-public during the ordeals with his divorce, and his son and daughter (Christian and Cheyenne).
These audio tapes are more intimate and revealing than diaries would be, as we hear Brando’s unbridled emotions in his voice. He was internationally famous for playing roles, but perhaps no role was harder for him than that of being Marlon Brando. A reclusive man who values his privacy does not easily transition to 40 foot silver screen, and his own words let us in on just how difficult this was for him.