**** out of ****
What do you want people to say about you after you die? Do you want a biographer to re-piece your life, like in The Final Cut, to leave behind a happy illusion? Or would you have the courage, the honesty, the self-awareness to put it in your own words? Marlon Brando never skimped on honesty, and in this dreamy documentary by Stevan Riley we learn he archived hours of his own remembrances for the explicit purpose of narrating his own biography.
Riley proffers no talking heads or mournful family members, as almost every bio-doc is forced to do, and so in a way he has his work cut out for him. He arranges images a bit like a music video: a railroad track at twilight, an old videotape of Brando’s mother, a still of the actor as a young boy. They follow a visceral flow, much like Brando’s speech, sometimes informing the narration (outtakes from The Godfather as he recounts preparing for the role) and other times moving alongside it (beautiful scenes of the countryside where he grew up synchronized with audio from his strange, lonely self-hypnosis tape).
Riley’s real task was cutting over 200 hours of audio into an hour and a half. The film’s trajectory is linear, but Brando can never be trusted to stay in one tense. His drifty, mumbled narration often sounds like a bedtime story where Dad falls asleep before the kids. Some viewers will be put off by a lack of traditional plot. Many still believe the acting icon lost his mind in his 50’s. But to those who connect his blunt, improvised speaking style to his raw performances, and link his spontaneous romances to his knockabout trains of thought, no other documentary has so squarely entered the mind of a dead actor, or of any human being at all. Brando could deliver a line like no one else—he goes into great detail about this fact in the film. Who else, then, would you rather hear talk for an hour?