LFF Review: Listening to Marlon
by James McLoughlin
One of the biggest surprises of the London Film Festival recently for me was ‘Listen to Me Marlon’. Almost missing it I passed it off as another documentary amongst a slew of the current trend particularly for fallen idols but felt it was maybe worth a watch anyhow, if only perhaps to justify cynicism for an increasing number of documentaries that rest on their laurels somewhat, constructing a narrative of the ‘truth’ whilst ignoring the inherent lie in their construction.
What makes ‘Listen To Me Marlon’ so compelling from the start is the wealth of archival recordings the filmmaker had access to. Throughout his life Marlon Brando recorded his ramblings, almost as if in knowledge of the documentary that would one day be made about him. They allow Marlon Brando to dictate his own truth, without the perspective of others constantly framing how we see him. This creates a relationship between the filmmaker and Marlon Brando that feels in keeping to the best of his films, a truly artistic partnership that allows the filmmaker to tell a story whilst using the artist inherent in Marlon Brando to dictate and illuminate that story. Marlon’s ramblings are obviously edited into a narrative timeline that guides the audience through his life and career but it leads one to imagine what the documentary would be without such a construct, just a series of ramblings and thoughts of which the audience are subjected to interpret.
It feels in a sense a documentary fully aware of the construct necessary to make Marlon Brando’s words articulate and intelligible and flies in the face of recent documentaries that claim inherently to represent a ‘new perspective’ or the ‘truth’ of the subject which they represent. In being fully aware of the construct at its heart it allows for an altogether more artistic, creative type of documentary, one that together between the symbiosis of the filmmaker and Marlon Brando gets to the truth of subjects ranging from acting to fame to the plight of Native Americans. More documentaries that stretch themselves in this way would be welcome considering their increasing frequency and popularity and the film reminds of the futility of the hunt for the definitive truth.