Monday, October 24, 2016

Listen to Me Marlon

Year 8, Day 297 - 10/23/16 - Movie #2,475

 BEFORE: I had a birthday weekend that essentially amounted to an eating tour.  Cake at the office on Friday, out for a giant deli sandwich that night with a friend, and then the German restaurant in Queens on Sunday.  It's not really my birthday until I make the rounds and eat all the things. 

And now I'm embarking on another long-term project, I'm determined to replace all the music I have on cassettes with either CD or downloaded files, because I have a ton of music that I bought over the years that I simply can't listen to on my phone.  So I have boxes of music that I can't enjoy, what's the point of that.  Sure, it burns me that I have to pay TWICE to listen to the same music, and that's been a sticking point for years, and why I haven't started the process. I've heard about these devices that will play cassettes and transfer the songs into MP3 files, but it seems like a lot of work to figure out if the device will work with my Mac, then comes the tedious process of playing all those cassettes to make the files, when I'm not even sure that will work right.  

Instead, I'm going to start at "A" and buy two albums on iTunes each week, which will get expensive over time, but hey, I just cancelled home phone service, so that's $65 or $70 bucks I'm saving each month now that I can throw at this project.  Plus I'll get an incentive to come into the office each Monday, with a couple of CDs in my pack and the name of two albums to download, and I'll get new (old) music on my phone each week!  It could take me two or three years to go from Aerosmith to ZZ Top, but hey, by week 2 I'll have Badfinger songs on my phone, so that's something to look forward to.   

Meanwhile, I'm reaching the home stretch on this year's films, 25 movies to go - that's four more Halloween films, then 12 movies in November and 9 in December.  No problem, I can more or less coast to the finish from here.  Marlon Brando carries over from "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and...what's that you say?  This documentary about Brando's career seems out of place in a horror chain?  Well, I heard that the film is narrated by a digitized scan of Brando's floating head, and if that isn't spooky, I don't know what is.  


THE PLOT:  A documentary that utilizes hundreds of hours of audio that Marlon Brando recorded over the course of his life to tell the screen legend's story.

AFTER: Speaking of audio cassettes, he attempt here is to give some insight into the mind and acting style of Brando, via the tapes he recorded, sort of a cross between an auto-biography and a form of self-hypnosis.  Frequently he imagines himself on a tropical beach, bathing in the sun, or sneaking out of the house as a child in the morning to go sit under a favorite elm tree.  The danger, of course, is that the calming nature of Brando's messages to himself could easily put viewers to sleep.  

Of course, what everyone wants to know is about method acting, the style that got him nominated for Academy Awards eight times, winning twice, for "On the Waterfront" and "The Godfather" (the latter of which he shockingly declined, due to Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans as villains in Westerns.  He wasn't wrong, just ahead of his time in this way of thinking.)  Regarding acting, Brando singles out Clark Gable, James Cagney and other actors of the previous generation as being safe, predictable, and delivering whatever the directors feel the audiences wanted out of their performances. By contrast, Brando studied with Stella Adler so that he could breakthrough this wall of fakery, and try to deliver something more real, something with feeling.  Because the theory states that if he's feeling an emotion, he should be better able to convey that on film, even if the physical action involved equates to doing nothing.  The "method" goes back to Stanislavski, and his three pupils, Adler, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner.  I bet they were a fun bunch when they all got together.   

To put it another way, when performing "A Streetcar Named Desire" on stage, any actor could have come out and read the lines as written, and pretended to experience the emotions connected to them, but Brando would get out on stage, scream, cry, break dishes, punch the walls, and experience the emotions for real, all in the name of giving a more honest performance.  I wish Brando (and this film) could have touched more on what this meant to him, and how it affected him years down the road. 

For that matter, based on what I read last night, I would have loved to have seen more of the disputes on films late in Brando's career - I think someone made a whole documentary about the difficulties involved in making "The Island of Dr. Moreau", with writers and actors quitting and being fired in a constant stream.  Compared with, say, Coppola's experiences working with Brando on "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now".  Even there, it seems there was a world of difference between those two films, you don't really hear many complaints about directing Marlon in the 1972 "Godfather", but then by 1979's "Apocalypse Now", Coppola complained about how difficult he was to manage, demanding script rewrites and showing up greatly overweight. 

If I'm a little skeptical about the earnestness of Brando's insights into his own career, it's only because I'm aware of how editing down so much material could easily skew it, merely by deciding what to leave in and what to leave out.  It makes me wonder what the agenda was, whether to humanize a mythical acting figure by pointing out his feet of clay, or to lionize him by only focusing on his most iconic roles: Don Corleone, Marc Anthony, Colonel Kurtz, Terry Malloy, Fletcher Christian and Stanley.  Even when reference is made to his portrayal of Jor-El in the first "Superman" movie, his $14 million paycheck for a few days work is spun as Brando getting one over on the film's producers, not being greedy, for example. 

There's also insight into Brando's personal life, thanks to news footage and interviews that focus on his short marriage to Anna Kashfi, the mother of his son Christian, and his later marriage to a Tahitian actress, the mother of his daughter Cheyenne.  But a little research on Wikipedia tells me that Brando had 16 or 17 children (some adopted), so why does the film focus on just these two?  Well, that's easy, because of the incident where Christian shot Cheyenne's boyfriend, but I think that mentioning this without the context of Brando's other kids does him something of a disservice. 


Also starring (in archive footage) Stella Adler, Dick Cavett (last seen in "Bobby Fischer Against the World"), Bernardo Bertolucci, Bette Davis (last seen in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"), Francis Ford Coppola, Sacheen Littlefeather, Karl Malden (last seen in "The Cincinnati Kid"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Catch-22"), Kim Hunter, Trevor Howard, Al Pacino (last seen in "Two For the Money"), Robert Duvall (last seen in "The Judge")

RATING: 4 out of 10 wind chimes

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