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Love, Marilyn - Movie Review - 2013

Shedding New Light On Marilyn Monroe

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Love, Marilyn - Movie Review - 2013

Still from 'Love, Marilyn'

HBO Documentary Films
Decades after her death, Marilyn Monroe continues to fascinate fans around the world. Yet, despite her ongoing popularity and all that's been written about her in more than 1,000 books both by serious biographers and film scholars, and pulpy popularists -- Marilyn Monroe remains a creature surrounded by almost mythological mystery and spectacular speculation. In emphasizing Monroe's popularity and cultural influence, scholar Sarah Churchill comments in the film, "The ancient Greeks had Oedipus, we have Marilyn."

Sources of Information

Prompted by the recent discovery of two boxes of previously unknown and deeply personal writings by Marilyn Monroe, filmmaker Liz Garbus has created a new documentary that delves into Monroe's psychology and circumstances. It is a respectful film that uses the new cache of writings and a rich array of other resources to shed new light and provide viewers with a new perspective on the iconic actress' life and psyche.

Garbus recreates the arc of Monroe's professional and public life by presenting a well-edited montage of archival footage and still photography of Monroe's public appearances, clips from interviews with her and a variety of clips from her films. The flow of images is supported by a narrative derived from Monroe's own writings, the memoirs of people who were in her circle -- including Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg, among others -- and studies by her biographers.

The writing are read on camera by contemporary stars, including Ben Foster as Norman Mailer, Hope Davis as Gloria Steinem, Oliver Platt as Billy Wilder, Adrian Brody as Truman Capote, Paul Giamatti as George Cukor, among others.

Sometimes the on camera readings flow from or are interspersed with actual archival interviews with the original commentators. For example, Jeremy Piven reads Elia Kazan, who also appears in the film in archival footage, stills and audio recordings, while David Strathairn reads Arthur Miller, who is also on camera in archival interviews -- the most notable of which is with Barbara Walters -- as well as footage and stills of public appearances with Marilyn Monroe, while Janet McTeer gives input as Natasha Lytess, who was Marilyn Monroe's first studio acting coach, stayed with her for six years and helped her develop her breathy voice and other signature mannerisms. The real Natacha Lytess appears in Love, Marilyn in archival footage taken from the TV game show, To Tell The Truth.

Representing Marilyn

Glenn Close, Marissa Tomei, Viola Davis, Evan Rachel Wood, Elizabeth Banks, Lindsay Lohan, Uma Thurman and others read Marilyn Monroe's writings. The conceit of multiple Marilyn casting not only adds another layer of celebrity luster to the documentary, it also delivers an almost subliminal sense of Monroe's tremendous psychological contradictions and vulnerability.

The observations noted by Monroe's own pen -- and some of those provided by those who wrote about her -- reveal that the seemingly superficial and frivolous blonde bombshell was, in truth, a smart, sensitive and observant person who was constantly striving for self improvement in all aspects of her life, and especially as an actress. Her public persona was a brilliant put on, a character that she could assume at a moment's notice, and one she considered to be quite separate from her own personality.

Love, Marilyn traces the chronology of Monroe's life and career and of the development of her public and private personas from her early days as Norma Jeane Mortonson, her modeling career and first screen test, through her early films and the boost that nude photos gave to her career, her roller coaster rides within the studio system, and her stint at the Actors Studio, where she was mentored by Lee Strasberg. The biography is complete, and replete with fascinating detail.

You'll find out a lot about Monroe that you may not have known -- that her professional name was given to her by Hollywood honcho Ben Lyons, whose comments on Monroe's rigorous work ethic contradict those made by others -- directors Sir Laurence Olivier and George Cukor, and actor Jack Lemon, for example -- who found her extremely undisciplined and difficult to deal with while making movies with her.

Marilyn And the Sexual Revolution

In Love Marilyn, Monroe's casting couch affairs are acknowledged and her openly heightened sensuality is credited as an element that set the stage for the huge change in attitudes towards female sexuality that are most often attributed to the influence of Betty Friedan and other feminists writing a decade later. She's also credited with having been responsible for the start of Hugh Heffner's Playboy empire because Monroe's nude calendar was his first cash cow. But, Monroe was paid just $50,000 for posing for the calendar.

The film also delves into Monroe's own thoughts about herself as the sex symbol she created, and that her fans fantasized about.

Biography, Storytelling and Commentary

Love Marilyn is the complete Monroe biography. Nonlinear in structure, it presents Monroe's story in a most interesting and provocative way that leads to an understanding of Monroe's complexities. It also leads to reflection upon how public exposure and celebrity can effect the vulnerable artists who experience it.

The film ends on a strange note that underscores the contradictions in Monroe's life. She had been recently released from a psychiatric hospital and took her own life. Yet the final reading in the film is one of Monroe's own commentaries about hope and a newly acquired ability to relax into the present and accept circumstances. A provocative choice, to be sure. It's one that sustains the mystery surrounding the film's leading lady, the iconic Marilyn Monroe.

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Film Details

  • Title: Love, Marilyn
  • Director: Liz Garbus
  • U.S Theatrical Release Date: November 30, 2012 (limited theatrical release)
  • Broadcast Premiere: June 2013 on HBO
  • Running Time: 105 mins.
  • Parents Advisory: Parents Guide: Content advisory for parents
  • Locations: Los Angeles, New York City, Connecticut and elsewhere
  • Language: English
  • Distribution: HBO Documentary Films

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