As suggested early in "Love, Marilyn" (9 tonight, HBO), actress/cultural icon Marilyn Monroe has been written about, explored, examined, dissected, and probably, exploited many many times.
But this documentary has something different; it has Monroe on Monroe. The film, by director Liz Garbus, uses recently discovered personal papers, letters and diaries by Monroe to let the woman explain her thoughts. The result is a well-done work, one that's both bittersweet and illuminating.
Monroe's words are supported by interviews with some who knew her as well as the words of others, among them Gloria Steinem, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, all who all wrote about Monroe. Actors perform the Monroe's words (and the writings of the others). Among the participants are Glenn Close, Adrien Brody, Viola Davis, Winston-Salem native Jennifer Ehle, Raleigh native Evan Rachel Wood and sad Marilyn wannabe Lindsay Lohan.
The film takes you though Monroe's life, from her orphaned beginnings to her determined stride to the top to her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller (who does not look good in this telling). I've read some about Monroe and I can't say I learned a lot that was new. It's more about the shadings her words add to what you might know.
Those words show how thoughtful, intelligent, lonely, insecure, desperate, Monroe was. What was new to me was her shrewdness; like many women, Monroe was taken advantage of by her employers. She was undervalued despite being the studio's biggest star. And so she learned how to work the system, forming a production company that would allow her to do the work she was committed to doing and get the money she deserved.
And that's the value, I think, of this film. It posits Monroe squarely as an artist, a sensitive one who seems to have been ultimately upended by the struggle to control her own destiny, to be treated as the full creative being she wanted to be. It's tough to view this film and not have a new respect for Monroe. After all, she was the creator of the Marilyn Monroe character and that character is still being talked decades later.