Sometime in the 1980s Marlon Brando had his face digitized, presumably as a way of leaving just a bit more of himself after his departure from this planet. As we see it in Stevan Riley's documentary Listen to Me Marlon, that speaking, moving hologram looks like a cross between George Washington as engraved on the dollar bill and the solemn, glowing visage of Superman's dad, Jor-El -- whom Brando played in 1978 -- just before blasting his only son into space. The image is fuzzy and staticky around the edges, like a spirit trying to separate itself from the earthly world. Even so, this memorialization of self is also a trivialization of self. Brando uses his digitized face to tell us what the future has in store: "Actors are not going to be real," he says in voiceover. "They're going to be inside a computer. You watch."
We hear a lot of that voice — and see some more of that strange and beautiful digitization -- in Listen to Me Marlon, a portrait of the actor assembled from film clips, stills, television interviews, dramatic re-creations, and, most significantly, more than 300 hours of recordings made by Brando himself. Brando was clearly a little obsessive about these tapes: Some, labeled "self-hypnosis," contain deeply personal observations that are unfiltered but also surprisingly cogent. Others constitute Brando's recollections of his childhood and early years as an actor. The film Riley has made features no talking heads other than Brando's. Instead, it's like a tone poem drawn from the actor's inner and outer life, narrated by the man himself. There's nothing quite like it in the world of Hollywood documentaries.