Meet Marlon Brando is a short documentary from 1964 made by the brothers David and Albert Maysles. Pioneers of the American Direct Cinema movement, the Maysles used portable film equipment to capture life with a greater sense of candor, in films like Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens. Here they capture Marlon Brando at a press banquet, less than earnestly promoting his new film Morituri, one of several flops Brando made during his 1960s mid-career slump.
Clearly bored with his duties, he starts to amuse himself by challenging the conventions of the press junket and dismantling its pretenses. Through his wily outbursts, Brando emerges as someone whose savvy understanding of the mass media machine is matched by his brazen attempts to unmask the apparatus. The Maysles demonstrate their own shrewd command of the medium by using just one camera to capture the manufactured rapport between Brando and the interviewers, matching his dubious expressions with their patronizing looks.
The one moment when Brando seems most genuinely engaged is when he spots a beautiful woman on the street and interviews her on civil rights issues in the United States, as if to illustrate the stereotypical notion that sex and politics concocted the heady cocktail that fueled the 1960s. Elsewhere the camera captures Brando’s serial flirting with young female journalists, and again you see him pushing the boundaries of the junket format, testing his abilities to make a genuine connection in a world of artificial warmth.
Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker and critic. He tweets at @alsolikelife.