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Love, Marilyn is a new documentary that explores Marilyn Monroe in a way that has never been explored before as it features a gigantic array of Hollywood celebrities reading from both books written about Marilyn and from personal papers, diaries, and letters which were written by her without being previously released to the public. The wide array of material written by Marilyn which is now presented in this documentary is eye-opening and presents her through her own voice.
Directed by the Academy Award nominated director Liz Garbus and edited by Azin Samari, the documentary film contains a plethora of clips from previously available archival footage which features Marilyn Monroe in publicity events and an expansive array of interviews with herself and with those who were close to her during her lifetime. These glimpses into Marilyn's public and private persona are fascinating and offer viewers a better idea of who Marilyn really was.
The celebrity guest list includes the likes of F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Banks, Adrien Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Hope Davis, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Ben Foster, Jack Huston, Stephen Lang, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. This impressive array of actors offer up a number of insights into her through their personal readings. Some of the readings are deeply emotional both for the words and insight provided into the mind of Marilyn Monroe but also for the way they are read -- which often provides a sense of sympathy and understanding to what Marilyn had to go through in the Hollywood system, even if it is far different today than it used to be. Some might crituque the documentary a bit negatively in the sense that some of the readings seem to have as much to reflect about the way the readers feel in providing narration towards the life of Marilyn Monroe, but I viewed it as another way in which our society and culture has tapped into Monroe's life to such an extent that it has a strong connection for so many.
The film covers a lot of ground in its short 108 minute run-time as it focuses on Marilyn's early life growing up in foster-care and without parents to her beginning her studio career and what ambition she brought to the table in all of her activities and skills. It covers her relationships, both personal and public. It looks at her work with studying acting and perfecting her skills, seeking therapy, and expanding her public persona. It covers so much ground that there is a particularly good chance for some of this material to be new to someone even if they have explored many sources of information about her life, career, and persona. What ultimately separates Love, Marilyn from the rest is the way it builds a better understanding of her in a realistic way, providing glimpses into why she may have worked so hard in life and what difficulties she had to work through -- or try to as best she could.
Love, Marilyn explores her personal relationships with baseball whiz Joe DiMaggio and award-winning playwright Arthur Miller, presenting the ups and downs of these relationships and the way in which her relationships weren't able to be positive influences that she needed. DiMaggio wanted a wife who'd abandon her work - which in Marilyn's own word's she described as a kind of 'love' - and eventually raise children for them. Miller is presented as having used her image to overcome political scandal, and would later go so far as to write about her as being unintelligent, bringing her down in his words, and would even mock her openly as having a joke of an image within the screenplay he wrote for her as a sort of 'love letter' with The Misfits.
Without making a determining statement on the death of Marilyn Monroe, which many believe to be the result of a suicide, the film portrays the way in which she suffered both from mental anguish and a sense of heroic determination to move forward and keep herself in the acting spotlight. Working in cinema was a professional life goal of hers and one in which she had worked hard to expand her abilities and to take the kind of roles she wanted. Yet with her personality and public appearance often being summed up solely on her sexuality, she so frequently faced unfair disadvantages, both in terms of how the studio system treated her throughout the production of many films and in the way she was thought of at the time as uneducated and 'dumb' to many -- despite her efforts to learn, her efforts to grow, and her constantly evolving ways of expanding herself in film and in life. Monroe was a incredibly intelligent and business-smart person who was often misunderstood within the Hollywood system. Yet it is to her credit that her work and her life is still at the discussion of so many individuals within and outside of the filmmaking industry.
Some of the personal diaries read are eye-opening to the poetic nature of her writing and distinctive voice. Other pieces show the way in which she was determined to please the individuals around her even at her own expense - such as when she was determined to dramatically expand cooking for husband DiMaggio despite immense work demands.
Perhaps most horrific about hearing from her personal diaries, at least from my own perspective, was hearing the diaries she wrote detailing her thoughts on considering ending her life. In one passage of the film, we hear how she had detailed her love of bridges but how she sometimes wished to jump off one and end it all. There are many moments where her writings bring to question her mental stability but also her strength. It adds to the complication of Marilyn Monroe.
The film also sheds light on how hard she worked to perfect things like her walk, voice, and other elements of her public persona which she even wrote about in her diaries -- in one such example, she had written about how she walked to seem as if she was being lifted into the air from a pulling umbrella -- and how this helped her persona in film and in public, something in which she would often 'turn on' somehow when trying to be the "Marilyn" that the world had come to expect. Despite the fact that she was really a soft-spoken, sensitive, and emotionally resonant human being who was, in some ways, perhaps always looking for the love that she never received in her youth.
In one scene of the film, viewers will even see archival footage of a old interview with one of the adults who helped raise her in an orphanage - she's described as someone who is essentially quiet and who doesn't stand out much and who keeps to herself. I wondered while watching this: what made her seem that way? I wondered how much that individual had actually thought to interact with her to see who she really was. Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortensen, was always someone who the public -- and even those closest to her -- seemed to never fully comprehended. Love, Marilyn attempts to present her as herself as close as it can -- through her own words and voice. As a result, I found great beauty and importance in this profoundly moving documentary work.
Love, Marilyn's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for the film is remarkably presented from a technical standpoint. The bit-rates and encoding utilized provide for a pleasantly sharp, smooth, and fine looking DVD with notable color, depth, and the sort of impressive film vibrancy found on modern productions. Yet the transfer does not just present us with the speaking-role parts of actors participating on the project. There are so many clips from varying sources of differing degrees of quality that it impacts the 'quality' of the presentation without being the fault of a technical issue in the production of the release. Putting aside any reservations about some of these selected clips quality, for the most part everything (including said clips) is going to be perfectly serviceable for the documentary presentation.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio does more than I would have expected for a surround sound track included on a documentary. While most of the film is still front and center oriented there are instances of clips and music being expanded into the surrounds in an effective way. As for dialogue clarity and overall ambiance, I found the film exceptionally good sounding. The fundamentally basic sound design is not overly surprising but it is highly effective.
There are no supplements included on this DVD release.
Love, Marilyn is a profoundly moving and important documentary that shine light on the subject of Marilyn Monroe and her life in a way few documentaries have been capable of doing so well. While there have been many accounts of Marilyn and her life, this is a notable and worthwhile experience that works to summarize huge events in her personal and professional life. Fans of Marilyn Monroe should absolutely seek out this impressive film, which has a lot to offer and share with its viewers in a way that has not been done before: her own words as brought to life by an array of gifted actors.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.