“Actors aren’t going to be real, they’re going to be inside a computer — you watch, it’s going to happen,” he argued…

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In the 1990s Marlon Brando made a prediction: he believed that in the future actors would become obsolete, replaced with digital avatars.
“Actors aren’t going to be real, they’re going to be inside a computer — you watch, it’s going to happen,” he argued. “Maybe this is the swansong for all of us.”
Digitized and reconstituted, Brando imagined actors would have a voice and life beyond themselves. He even had his head scanned and mapped onto a computer at one point by friend and visual effects pioneer Scott Billups, recording facial expressions so as to be replicated in the digital age.

Brando’s prediction was at least partly correct. We know this because he tells us these thoughts for the first time from beyond the grave, reanimated in Stevan Riley’s powerful new documentary “Listen To Me Marlon.”

Raising the dead
During his lifetime Brando was a hoarder of many things, among them cassette tapes. Dyslexic, he would use a dictaphone as one would a notepad, recording to do lists and script annotations. But then there were the moments of introspection and self-analysis; the drunken conversations in bed with lovers. The rage at his parents and the tortured reflections upon his own troubled parenthood.
Hundreds of hours of audio, their reach stretching beyond that of any diary and touching upon what no biographer could. The cassettes collected dust after the actor’s death, before finding their way into the hands of Riley. They were the perfect source material.
Brought together in something of a bricolage by Riley and co-writer Peter Ettedgui, “Listen To Me Marlon” is a Frankenstein of a film, documenting the life of Brando almost entirely in his own words.

It is hard to say whether this is something he intended, argues Ettedgui. Despite audio recordings of Brando telling himself they were “no longer useful, chuck ’em,” the tapes were left among his possessions and Ettedgui suggests “there was, to an extent, a sense of leaving things to posterity.”
In the film Brando muses on an idealized documentary made about his life: “It will be highly personalized…. We establish that he’s a troubled man, alone, beset with memories in a state of confusion, sadness, isolation, disorder… He’s collecting information and bits of film to help him explain, ‘Why are you feeling this way?'”
Ettedgui describes the editing process with Riley as “like there was three of us” in the room, and Brando’s abstract has a heavier hand on proceedings than either the director or his co-writer. He was, Ettedgui argues, “the ghost in the machine.”
The result is an intimate and revelatory new look at Brando’s life. Cut and spliced together alongside interviews into a cohesive quasi-autobiography, the interpolation of public and private reflections reveal a parallel narrative and a beguiling, conflicted mind.

The mythologized figure of Brando was a notorious recluse: a man who spent most of his years away in Tahiti or ensconced in his Beverly Hills bolthole, insulated by the Hollywood elite he would call neighbors but struggled to call friends.
Riley’s film both confirms and denies these charges. Brando is a keen and excoriating narrator, all too ready to peel back the events in his life and expose the raw emotions they evoke.

Latching on to pop psychology, he claims “most people are simply getting over bad emotional habits established in the first ten years of their life.” There is ample evidence for Brando to support his case.
Childhood trauma is the root cause of much of his actions, according to the actor. He alleges his father, Marlon Sr., would beat him and his mother. A cold and distant man, he sent Marlon Jr. to a much-hated military school and never quite understood how his “ne’er-do-well son” could ever achieve such fame and fortune. His mother Dodie was “a town drunk,” Brando claims. The sense of abandonment he felt as a result is palpable in his tapes, though he doesn’t hold any of the enmity towards her that he did his father, who he once threatened to kill as a teenager for the abuse his mother received.

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