An intentional weirdo

Songs My Mother Taught MeSongs My Mother Taught Me by Marlon Brando
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know why I wanted to read a biography of Marlon Brando. And I really don’t know why I wanted to read an autobiography of Marlon Brando. This is the actor, mind you, who was legendary for wasting people’s time on film sets, and demanding a huge salary for it. So the obvious expectation would be an overpriced and overlong book.

I got the book from the library, so at least it wasn’t overpriced for me. And the page count wasn’t too heavy. So when I started reading it I was hopeful that this book would defy Mr Brando’s reputation.

He says in the introduction that he isn’t going to go into details about his wives or children, so this was never going to be a terribly personal book. What I was expecting, therefore, was a book full of Hollywood anecdotes and an insider’s insights into the movies. It delivers on those points, and if you like a book about Hollywood, how movies are made, and the kind of things that Hollywood people get up to, then this one is fine. Not excellent, mind you, but fine.

The more personal material in this autobiography are the parts concerning Mr Brando’s mother and siblings. None of it was particularly memorable, but it’s in there.

Where he is most candid is in detailing his dealings with people who came into his professional orbit. He mentions one occasion in which he made an indecent proposal to an actress he had only just met, which was accepted, and which (taken together with some of the other incidents in this book) made me think of him as a bit of a degenerate. He explains his behaviour on the set of Apocalypse now, how he just messed around, put on airs, and wasted a lot of the director’s time, just because he could. He tells of a few films in which, not wanting to give too much of himself, he simply walked through the roles for a big fat paycheque.

There was nothing in this book that made me warm to Brando, but it was fascinating just the same. Perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Brando’s reputation is intact, albeit with a few additions. This man was a weirdo, but an intentional weirdo.

I think the only reason I wanted to read it was that I had just gone through a phase of watching Brando’s films (not all, there are some I avoid like gangrene) and a documentary or two about him. He seemed loopy enough that he might write an interesting and insightful book about how one becomes such a person. He partly succeeded.

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