This week, we are presenting the second film in our double bill from the documentary pioneers Albert and David Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens). The 29-minute film Meet Marlon Brando is a close-up look at the spellbinding personality of one of the greatest actors of all time. During a press junket in New York in 1965, we witness Brando countering, posturing, mocking — with all his wits and charm — the predictable questions of the reporters… when he isn’t flirting with the pretty journalists. Brando was incredibly charismatic, and in this must-see film where he is simply himself, he delivers one of his most absorbing performances.
In the short documentary, Brando is interviewed about his latest film Morituri. Without ever interrogating him directly, the Maysles naturally capture the star, creating a collage of moments that, together, create a candid and intimate portrait. That was one of the documentarians’ great strengths: selecting unguarded moments and finding drama in the edit. Here we see the complexity of Brando’s character: intelligent, funny, charming, political, and also vulnerable, and impulsive at times. We also learn that he speaks German and French. As Howard Thompson wrote in a New York Times review: “The actor was never more appealing than in this candid-camera cameo, his best performance.”
”We have labored in each of our films to get as close to the truth as we could.” ALBERT MAYSLES
Albert and David Maysles have had a major, lasting influence on cinema. The brothers revolutionized documentary filmmaking in the late 60s and 70s. They were among the first cinéma vérité directors in America, along with Richard Leacock and Donn Alan Pennebaker – inventing lighter versions of cameras to go into the streets, to capture life as it is, as they observed it. They broke with conventions of documentaries by neither interviewing their films’ subjects nor using voice-over narration.
The directors were known for seeking the truth, working without scripts or predetermined plots. Albert Maysles would often say: “I’m a person whose only point of view is not to have a point of view.” The dramatic power in their films comes from the intimacy of their hand-held camera, and a preternatural gift for finding and capturing spontaneous, revealing moments. Jean-Luc Godard would call Albert Maysles the best American cameraman. Martin Scorsese wrote, in a foreword to A Maysles Scrapbook: “When Al is behind the camera, there’s a sensitivity to mood, to space and light, to the energy between the people in the room.”
The Maysles’ first classic was Salesman (1968), which chronicled vividly the life of four door-to-door bible salesmen. Two of their other best known masterworks are Gimme Shelter (1970), featuring The Rolling Stones’ 1969 American tour, and Grey Gardens (1975), the fascinating film about Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale in their decaying Long Island mansion. The Maysles made dozens of other beautiful films, including documentaries on figures such as Truman Capote, The Beatles, and Muhammad Ali. After his brother’s death in 1987, Albert continued making remarkable documentaries. Iris, about the 94-year old New York fashion icon Iris Apfel, was released in 2014.
We would like to thank Rebekah Maysles, Laura Coxson, and Jake Perlin for making this program possible on Le Cinéma Club.
- Credits for
- MEET MARLON BRANDO
- Marlon Brando