A moving portrait of a model on the make and an actress facing her demons, Liz Garbus’s Love, Marilyn brings the Hollywood icon back to life.
All Of Me by Mark Wilshin
History, they say, is written by the conquerors. Marilyn’s story has been written (largely) by men – Norman Mailer, Truman Capote as well as the men who fought for her mind and soul and would have all of her – playwright and husband Arthur Miller, celebrity photographer and business associate Milton Greene and acting coach Lee Strasberg. But thanks to two boxes of personal writings found buried deep in storage, and Liz Garbus’s documentary film Love, Marilyn, compiled of archive footage, film excerpts, talking heads and actors’ interpretations of diary entries, outpourings and correspondence, a different Marilyn emerges – passionate, intensely driven and overwhelmingly sensitive. Caught between Los Angeles and New York, Marilyn’s mental schism is caught in two self portraits – a slender, lithe goddess entitled ‘Life is wonderful so what the hell’ and another of a dark, forlorn little orphan with one sock fallen down round its ankle, ‘Lonely’. A conflict that brings the world’s most photographed woman back to life.
“I will be as sensitive as I am without being ashamed of it.” A quotation from Marilyn Monroe’s personal effects that Garbus accompanies to the filming of Something’s Got To Give, the blonde bombshell’s final film in which she acted before being signed off sick, singing for the President and being promptly fired by 20th Century Fox. Recently divorced from Arthur Miller and rescued from Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic by former flame Joe DiMaggio she’s suicidal and addicted to barbiturates, but it wasn’t always that way. She descends on Hollywood with a grim determination to become a star, rebaptised by Ben Lyon on his casting couch, on contract but voraciously taking acting lessons, dancing, singing, fencing, horse riding. Not so much Cinderella as Lee Daniels’ Precious. Coached by Natasha Lytess, she has a profound drive to succeed, embarking on affairs with producers, observing and devouring everything around her and like Charlie Chaplin’s visit to the Keystone Studios prop cupboard, creating her Marilyn – a delicate blonde with a breathy whisper walking on air.
And she becomes a star. Her derrière in Niagarasending her stocks sky high. But saddled with an infinite number of roles as gold diggers, sex pots and bimbos, America’s first sex symbol wants more. And so she heads to New York to found Monroe Productions with Milton Greene, marry the Pulitzer prizewinninng playwright Arthur Miller and enrol in the Actors Studio under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg. Newsreels and photos reveal not just how much Marilyn loved her second husband, but also how happy, united and equal they appear, as a couple, and how deftly she deals with paparazzi questions. She’s also astute enough to play the studios at their own game, calculating exactly her own worth and producing The Prince And The Showgirl, directed by Laurence Olivier and acting the English knight offscreen. But while she had Marilyn down pat, becoming a serious actress was another matter entirely. Visiting a psychoanalyst and following the Strasberg Method of sense memory, exploring her painful past Norma Jeane Mortenson brought up a lot of emotional heartache that had prior-to been carefully buttoned down. Exposing a vulnerability from which there was no return.
The crisis comes after her return to 20th Century Fox, having cleverly negotiated a fee to rival Elizabeth Taylor’s as well as script, cinematographer and director approval. After the dramatic challenges of Bus Stop, Marilyn found herself underused and stereotyped as Sugar in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, the klutziest bimbo of them all, and insulted in The Misfits. Penned by Arthur Miller, it was hardly a flattering valentine to his wife, and the shoot became an emotional crucible, divorced from her (wandering) husband and scapegoated for Huston’s gambling debts, Monroe went into rapid decline, insomniac, addicted to sleeping pills and terrified when she became unwittingly interned in a psychiatric unit. Thanks to her diaries however, Garbus suggests a hope and a strength that Monroe came through her darkest hour, the suicidal actress determining to live – her eventual overdose simply a tragic accident.
There is a vibrancy to Monroe, a rare flame that lights up both photographs and the screen. So it’s perhaps no surprise that there was such a public, emotional outpouring when she died, or that she has become the focus of so many biographies and studies. But with her words brought to life by actresses such as Jennifer Ehle, Glenn Close, Evan Rachel Wood, Janet McTeer, Uma Thurman, Marisa Tomei and Ellen Burstyn, there’s a kind of collective reclamation of Marilyn as a feminist icon. Some performances are more self-consciously “acted” than others – either without direction or left to give their own interpretations of the actor’s gift. But with a new found drive, steel and poignancy to Marilyn Monroe’s story, Liz Garbus’s Love, Marilyn is an intensely moving portrait of a woman with the smarts to take on Hollywood and the courage to expose herself. And not just in the calendar that made her a star.
Love Marilyn is released on 18th October 2013 in the UK