Posted in: Actors, by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Documentary, Film Reviews

Film Review: ‘Listen to Me Marlon’ (1)

‘Listen to Me Marlon’

One summer evening, while visiting the shooting set of Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend, I found myself chatting with John Hurt, never a knockout in looks but always a terrific actor. The easy banter, the charming way he leaned to light my cigarette, the suggestive slide of his eyes—suddenly there was a spotlit place where an ordinary encounter had been heightened into the possibility of dramatic story and character. Then he was summoned by his director, to disappear from view behind a poolhouse door. As he emerged, pointing a gun, it was as though that door frame had been a camera wipe. Hurt was Other, lethal and hard, a slight man moving with the weight of his own history and the terror of the moment. Not sure how to convey how astonishing this alchemy was; Hurt had transubstantiated, shaping how he would be seen by the camera.

Acting is authentic mystery. Sure, you can say it’s just putting on a face and pretending to be somebody, something you’re not. A matter of craft, in the word’s positive and negative meanings. But beyond consummate liars and confidence men, there are those capable of unforgettable transformation. Such protean players look like magicians, able to access other selves, body and soul. Are they vampires—like Liv Ullmann’s hollowed-out actress in Persona? Do they dredge truth out of the dark well of their past, tap into collected memory, to illuminate characters that look and feel like us? And what’s the cost to the chameleon? Does it sear like flaying, or is there ecstasy in becoming wholly Other?

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Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Documentary, Film Reviews

Film Review: ‘Listen to Me Marlon’ (2)

His parents were Midwestern Gothic: the father a bitter drunk who settled things with violence, the mother a poetic type who couldn’t lay off the booze. Yet in the way of strange, sad American stories, these two souls created a combination of DNA and childhood trauma that birthed one of the definitive actors—why not say artists?—of the mid-20th century. The son got his father’s name, Marlon Brando, an ideal moniker for an icon of bigger-than-life coolness and rebellious disdain. If you’re already up on Brando lore, and especially if you’ve read his oddball autobiography, this new documentary won’t uncover much that’s new. But it’s a pleasure to watch, serving up Brando as a model for other artists who aspire to sincerity and honesty in their work.

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