Every good relationship starts with a great story. We met while partying in Ibiza during the Summer Solstice. We fell in love shark diving off Block Island. We randomly reached out to Alec Baldwin on Twitter in hopes of getting him to contribute to Whalebone.
See where I’m going here? Age old tales of building a lasting relationship, and how they began. It all started with “Are you vegan? @AlecBaldwin working on August Food Issue of Whalebone Magazine and looking to see if you’d be interested in being featured?”
“How about instead, you come to our HIFF Summer Docs series in a couple weeks, watch a terrific film about Marlon Brando “Listen to Me Marlon,” and support what we are trying to do to celebrate cinema on the East End.” Hell yes Alec.
Next thing I know, I am sitting in the Baker House courtyard in East Hampton, drinking Guava Spritzers (I really just wanted to say it out loud), and listening to Alec Baldwin and director Stevan Riley tell stories about Marlon Brando, flying Coppola’s jet to Italy the next morning, and of course how great Whalebone Mag is (I’m sure someone said that right?). Little did Baldwin, David Nugent, Anne Chaisson, and the rest of the badass crew at HIFF know that when inviting someone from Whalebone, they were getting a full fledged cinephile in myself, obsessed with every every detail of Brando’s life.
Alec presents the Summer Docs series alongside the HIFF team, in an effort to “bring the best in documentary film to Guild Hall during the summertime, when film fans are craving some serious subjects.” Like the rest of the crowd that evening, I came away from the film with a completely different understanding of the life of a troubled legend, and how Alec Baldwin is as much of a badass as I thought he was.
Success took away my sanity… I searched but never found what I was looking for. Mine was a glamorous life but completely unfulfilling.
– Marlon Brando
The film was developed by Showtime Original Documentaries alongside Cutler Productions, with an unprecedented take on the life of one of the greatest actors in history. The film’s director Stevan Riley has created something I never expected, weaving Brando’s personal film footage, screen appearances, and never before heard audio recordings of the actor speaking to…well himself.
From the HIFF press package; “Listen To Me Marlon is much less a factual recital of Brando’s acting career and personal life, than a creative odyssey into the mind and motivation of an enigma. Like an arch hypnotist Brando’s own voice leads the storytelling – there are no interviewees, no talking heads, just Marlon guiding us into the padlocked recesses of his own memory, and through the story of his life. In homage to the corkscrew personality of its subject, previously unheard audio tapes reveal witty and unexpected turns of Marlon’s thinking; dipping between light and dark, humour and self-psychoanalysis…Visually the film conveys hypnotic states and quixotic departures as we lose ourselves in Brando’s spoken daydreams, playful asides and confiding whispers.”
All of you are actors, and good actors, because you’re all liars,” says Brando in the film, “You lie for peace, you lie for tranquility, you lie for love.
The central thinking to Brando’s life was that life is a performance, acting is a lie, therefore to be alive is to lie. Heavy Brando. Heavy.
And check this out…they tracked down an old digital scan of Brando’s face that was recorded during the filming of “Superman” in 1978 (yeah Brando needed the money), fixed it up to modern CG standards, and used it as a beautifully disjointed presentation of sections the audio archives. It was haunting to say the least.
Without giving too much away about the film, everyone thinks they know the life of Brando, his history, his crazy spells, and his incredible ability on stage and screen, but with these personal audio archives, we get a truly unique perspective on what made him tick. Everything from his politics (he marched and often spoke with MLK), to his poverty stricken upbringing in the midwest. Essentially adopted by the legendary Stella Adler on moving to NYC, Brando shattered the rules for what it meant to be an actor in his day, and people have been catching up ever since.
As one of the self hypnosis tapes begins,
Listen to Me Marlon… This is one part of yourself speaking to another part of yourself. Listen to the sound of my voice and trust me. You know I have your interests at heart… Just relax, relax, relax. I’m going to help you change in a way that will make you feel happier, more useful…. I want you to accept what I say as true. What I tell you here and now is true.
When the film was over, the audience was treated with a solid Q & A with HIFF Artistic Director David Nugent, Director Stevan Riley, and led by Alec Baldwin. As a former production guy, all I could think about was how exhausting it must have been for Riley to pore through and transcribe the hundreds of hours of audio tapes, imagery, and somehow weave it all together coherently. But talking with Riley beforehand, I quickly understood how he was able to do it. He had a true fascination with his subject, and representing a side of him that we’ve never seen before. In the words of Producer John Battsek, “If there’s a book with the word “Brando” published in it [Stevan Riley] has read it.”
I’ve been through the Hollywood press/screening gauntlet before, and by the end of it I feel most directors have just given up on telling their story. They just say “just watch the film already, it’s about Brando…where’s the bar?” Not so much with Stevan (maybe prodded by Alec along the way), where there wasn’t enough time in the day to get all the stories out there.
Im sure if I could have convinced him to head back to Montauk and share a mudslide or three, there would have been plenty more.
Needless to say I don’t think this will be our last soire with the awesome gang at Hamptons Film Fest, and certainly not Mr. Baldwin if he keeps picking up our magazine. Hey Alec, our Guest Editor spot for the October issue is all yours. Just saying.
In the meantime watch the trailer below, then go see “Listen to Me Marlon” on the big screen near you, or be lazy and wait for it to come out on Showtime. Also check out the rest of the HIFF Summer Docs series here, as well as festival happenings here. Maybe you’ll have a Baldwin story of your own one day. Man I wish I had a Brando one though.