When it comes to making a fascinating documentary, picking a subject is half the battle. The second series of Maysle shorts that screened this afternoon proved that maxim to be true: the subjects were Marlon Brando, Truman Capote, Orson Welles, and the artist Christo.
The short on Mr. Brando was especially electric just as the man himself was especially electric, a charismatic force with few rivals. Of course, as the 30 minute documentary reveals, he would have mocked such a suggestion coming from a man like myself, one who had never met him and is only repeating banalities he has heard elsewhere. “Meet Marlon Brando” is several things — a portrait of an artist, an unflinching look at a difficult man — but its most interesting feature is its hostility toward the celebrity media. As the great actors points out to interviewer after interviewer (“Meet Marlon Brando” captures one day during a media junket for his film “Morituri”), we don’t actually know the man apart from what we read through the media’s filter.
Unfiltered Marlon Brando is a sight to behold, alternately humorous and snide. This short is a deconstruction of the notion that we can truly know what drives a person from a 15 minute interview, and a reminder to not believe everything we read in the newspaper. Though Messers Capote, Welles, and Christo are interesting subjects, Mr. Brando proves that a truly great documentary needs a truly fascinating subject.