Sunday, May 6, 2007
Tonight I watched Turner Classic Movies new documentary on Marlon Brando, entitled simply BRANDO. This three hour two part documentary recently played at the Tribeca film festival and is now scheduled to appear at Cannes this summer. Hopefully a dvd release will appear soon after that.
BRANDO is about as good as a three hour documentary on a life can be. It would have to be at least four times this length to even scratch at the surface of this man's life and work though. At three hours it can only hint at aspects of it, but the aspects it does hint at are eye opening and finally very moving.
TCM's documentary, directed by STEVE MCQUEEN ESSENCE OF COOL filmmaker Mimi Freedman, plays basically in chronological order from Brando's childhood up until his death a couple of years ago. It's format is pretty typical and is told with film clips, photographs, home movies and talking head interviews. What makes BRANDO special is the amazing amount of unseen photographic and filmed footage they have come up with. We see hundreds of rare photographs throughout and are treated to home movies of Brando all through his life. The two most fascinating home movies are Brando and Montgomery Clift clowning around and shots of Brando in Tahiti in the sixties (looking more at peace than he has ever looked before.) Also on display are a number of rare audio and video interviews with Brando, who is surprisingly candid at times but always still mysterious.
The new interviews are very well chosen and feature a wide variety of family, friends and peers. It is fitting that the voice that opens the documentary is Al Pacino, who was the one actor we can actually see Brando symbolically passing the torch on to. Pacino is joined by other famous faces including Jane Fonda, Johnny Depp, Frederic Forrest, Hary Dean Stanton, Karl Malden, Dennis Hopper, Martin Scorsese and many others. They all, even when airing disappointments, are there to clearly honor the man that had meant something very specific and personal to them. Also worth noting is the film's interesting and fine score by Ennio Morricone offspring Andrea
Brando's cinematic career is only a partial focus here. The first four films are covered pretty heavily as are the early seventies and his brief quality work in the early 90s. Many films deserving of attention are left out completely and some aren't looked at enough. Two highlights are interviews with Michael Winner, discussing THE NIGHTCOMERS, and Arthur Penn, talking on THE CHASE and THE MISSOURI BREAKS. I was also glad to see some intelligent discussion on Brando's ONE EYED JACKS, his most underrated achievement.
The highlight for me of the film section was the look at LAST TANGO IN PARIS with Maria Schneider and Bernardo Bertolucci speaking candidly about Brando and their peerless film.
BRANDO doesn't shy away from the personal demons, the sense of abandonment specifically, that plagued him throughout his whole life. One gets the picture clearly from watching this that after LAST TANGO IN PARIS his career and personal life seemed to snowball into a sad scattered despair that he couldn't escape from.
The main selling point of the film is the look at Brando's tireless work with the civil rights movements of African and Native Americans in the 1960s and 1970s. Here we see amazing clips of Brando with Martin Luther King Jr., The Black Panthers and many Native American Rights leaders. It is in these moments when we seem to have the clearest view of Marlon and it's eye opening and important footage.
Towards the end of this emotional three hour program John Travolta says basically that no other actor's death had ever affected him the way Brando's had. I feel the same way, I still remember the moment I heard the news in an Elvis museum in Memphis (ironically while staring at a photo of Brando that had been Elvis'). It shouldn't have been a surprise or had caught me off guard but the idea of living in a world without Marlon Brando hadn't crossed my mind. It seemed, and still seems, inconceivable to me. Like I was being asked to admit that an ongoing dream I had since my youth was no longer with me. I still can't concede that...
BRANDO isn't the greatest documentary I have ever seen but it is a good one. Most importantly it serves as a reminder to how important Marlon Brando was in his life and continues to be, even in death. Regardless of what he thought of his own life, career and films or mistakes that he might have made...this man moved people and changed lives. He was and will always be...the greatest.