From ‘Love, Marilyn’ to ‘Miss Simone’

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Just released on Netflix, What Happened, Miss Simone? is a new documentary about legendary jazz singer and civil rights activist, Nina Simone. Director Liz Garbus’s previous film, Love, Marilyn, is reviewed at CraveOnline today, with critic Ernest Hardy considering the parallels between these two ostensibly very different women.

“Garbus performed a similar feat in her 2012 documentary Love, Marilyn, which is not as strong a film as Miss Simone (in part because it’s more flat-out worshipful of its subject, its transparent goal being to proselytize on Monroe’s behalf), but still builds an argument for Monroe as one of the most complex, misunderstood pop figures of the 20th century… the film ends up being quite moving, and an interesting complement to the Simone documentary. As Monroe’s insecurities and crippling loneliness are catalogued, and as she is historicized as someone who kicked off America’s sexual revolution while still being exploited and maltreated, you can’t help but juxtapose the battles of the most famous icon of white womanhood with those of Simone.

The singer/activist was making music at the same time Monroe’s career was in full swing, and her career was, in part, about battling the very racial and cultural fetishes Monroe embodied. Similarly, she was never financially compensated commensurate with what her work earned. Both women were self-made artists trapped in and penalized for personas they crafted (brilliantly, consciously but without awareness of the eventual costs); both strove hard to be the best artist they could; both created work and images deeply rooted in American mores and cultural signifiers but that continue to resonate with people around the world; and the internal worlds of both women swirled thickly with the fallout of their childhoods, throughout their turbulent lives. We should refrain from simplistic alignment of the two, but it’s worth noting where they and their work converge in complex conversations (about race, sex, gender, art, power and powerlessness) that won’t be silenced any time soon.”

‘Love, Marilyn’ in the UK

Liz Garbus’ acclaimed documentary, Love, Marilyn, finally reaches Britain on October 18th, with a limited theatrical release followed by the DVD release on the 28th. To see it on the big screen, check Cineworld listings nearer the time.

Confirmed DVD release dates for other countries include: Italy (October 9th); Canada (October 15th); Germany (December 5th, also on Blu-Ray); Australia and the USA (December 31st.)

 

‘Love, Marilyn’: USA Reviews

A selection of US reviews for Love, Marilyn, which was screened on HBO on Monday.

“There’s a certain genius to the concept behind Liz Garbus’ documentary…the film itself is kind of a mess, albeit a mess you can’t stop watching because, after all, it’s Marilyn.

The brilliance of the concept, which is not unlike the approach that Todd Haynes took on the life of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, has to do with Monroe the performer. Pop a camera in her face, and she became a different entity.

The written material itself is fascinating, of course. There may not be any bombshell revelations here, but we get more of a sense of her trying to be authentic as she writes poetry, lists her goals in life and work, and records information about lesser-known Italian Renaissance painters she is studying. It’s not coincidental that the writing becomes more worked-over the deeper she gets into psychoanalysis and dependence on prescription medication, reflecting her growing struggle to know what being authentic really meant.

Garbus was painted into a corner on this project from the beginning: You simply can’t do anything on Marilyn Monroe, even readings of recently unearthed writing, without slamming into the mythology. But having all these actors trying to be Monroe is at times very confusing and even, at times, silly. At those moments, we’re not reminded of the often fragile co-existence of the movie star and the yearning product of many foster homes in the same body but, rather, of the transparency of having other people speak her words.

Of course, the idea behind Love, Marilyn is to reinforce the obvious, that Marilyn Monroe cannot speak for herself. Fortunately, her written words are not entirely drowned out by the artificiality of the film’s concept. The words are hers, and that counts for something.” – David Wiegand, Houston Chronicle

“I confess:  Whenever I want a pick me up or a reason to smile I’ll reach not for a bottle of gin but a Blu-ray of Marilyn Monroe singing.  ..With her exaggerated diction, delicious double takes, deftly disarming sweetness and that smile, that brilliant lovely, life embracing happy smile, that construct ‘Marilyn Monroe’ which she dreamed up and created as surely as Charlie Chaplin created the Little Tramp has become an enduring archetype.

Love, Marilyn doesn’t try to demystify Monroe much less ‘explain’ her but lets her own voice be the dominant teller of her story.  It’s a remarkable, enchanting and, yes, sad movie.” Stephen Schaefer, Boston Herald

“Watching Love, Marilyn, Liz Garbus’ pointed, poetic and occasionally overwrought documentary about the life of Marilyn Monroe, I kept thinking about The Great Gatsby, another tragedy in two acts recently resurrected for our viewing pleasure.

Yet for all the hope pinned on internal illumination, the first thing Love, Marilyn does is remind us how beautiful Monroe really was. Her face has been so thoroughly replaced in popular culture by commercialized replications that the real thing is a surprising thrill to behold.

For fans, there is not much new information here; it’s all in the presentation. Garbus is clearly entranced with her subject, presenting Monroe as both a strong-willed pioneer and a confused victim.” Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

“Directed by Liz Garbus, whose previous films include the critical hit Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011), Love, Marilyn is a diverting, at times incisive, yet flawed biography that tries to accomplish two almost contradictory goals: to outline the contours of the Monroe myth and capture some truth about Monroe as a unique individual.

In a nice if at times overbearing gimmick, Garbus approaches her subject by having actors read from a recently discovered cache of journals, letters, and poems written in Monroe’s childlike scrawl.

What’s interesting about Monroe is how she lives on as a myth, in both senses of the word. In one sense, myths sustain the culture. Like the Horatio Alger story, the Monroe myth has become one of those narratives every community needs as a guidepost to its collective identity, its purpose and direction.

The star carefully, actively cultivated her status as a sex symbol, becoming in effect the first modern self-manufactured celebrity commodity. That was also her undoing: The sole purpose of a commodity is to be used up.” – Tirdad Derakshani, Philly.com

 

New York Shows Love for Marilyn

A launch party for Love, Marilyn was held in New York yesterday, celebrating its upcoming broadcast on HBO (this Monday, June 17th.) Director Liz Garbus is pictured above with actors Jack Huston (John’s grandson), and Lili Taylor, who appear in the film. Among the other guests was Amy Greene.

Variety reports on the event:

“In a room in HBO’s corporate headquarters, attendees enjoyed a beautiful view of Bryant Park and were left to wonder what the exact ingredients were of a ‘Norma Jean’, a purplish concoction created for the event. (The answer? Watermelon-infused vodka and simple syrup, according to a bartender.)

‘You can feel Marilyn through this cacophony of voices,’ said Liz Garbus, the movie’s director.

It’s ‘thespians on thespians,’ said Taylor.

And sometimes, you get the straight story. One of the people featured in the film is Amy Greene, a former model who was a friend of the screen icon.

‘I’m the only one that knew her, and I’m saying what actually happened,’ said Greene, holding forth in a coat closet so her raspy voice could be heard above the din of the reception. ‘No bullshit.'”

Liz Garbus, Lili Taylor, the Today Show

Garbus and Taylor also appeared on The Today Show, and you can view the footage here.

Marilyn also made the cover of the New York Post‘s entertainment section yesterday. Read the full article here.

“‘She wasn’t dumb at all,’ says actress Ellen Burstyn, one of the film’s readers. ‘She was smart — and very well-read. She read all the time, trying to educate herself. But she was fragile. She didn’t have the strength that someone gets if they have a loving mother and father. She was knocked around in foster homes, and she just didn’t have any psychological solidity.’

Still, says Burstyn, ‘she was smart enough to create the character of Marilyn Monroe.’

Amy Greene, widow of Monroe’s favorite photographer, Milton Greene, says Monroe was a lot more clever than she got credit for. ‘She knew everybody loved her as a dumb blonde, and the minute she got off the set she wasn’t that way,’ she says. ‘She was playing a character.'”

Liz Smith on ‘Love, Marilyn’

Amy Greene with Liz Garbus, by Matt Carr

Columnist Liz Smith has reviewed Love, Marilyn for the Huffington Post.

“It is the female stars Ms. Garbus lured that lift the film…the women who recite Marilyn’s own words–alternately scattered, precise, desperate, hopeful. There’s not a false note anywhere. Every woman seems deeply affected. As Garbus said, ‘Marilyn speaks to every woman’s inner self–love, family, the desire for perfection, satisfaction in her work. And the fears that she cannot ‘have it all.'”

Smith has also interviewed Amy Greene, widow of photographer Milton Greene, who helped Marilyn establish her own production company.

“Amy is much as she was more than 50 years ago–highly attractive, chic, acerbic. She was fond of Marilyn, but it is a fondness devoid of sentimentality. ‘She wanted to be a movie star. A sex-symbol. She loved it. And she also wanted to be a great actress. She never saw why she couldn’t be both! And she sat in on every meeting. She knew what was going on, all the time.'”

 

 

Garbus, Churchwell on ‘Love, Marilyn’

Sarah Churchwell praises ‘Love, Marilyn’ on Twitter

Sarah Churchwell – author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, whom also appears (as herself) in Love, Marilyn – praised the new documentary on her Twitter account last night.

Meanwhile, Liz Garbus, director of Love, Marilyn – screened at the London Film Festival last weekend – has spoken about MM to FemaleFirst.

“Marilyn created a figure of female sexuality and femininity at a time in the U.S. of great repression…I think it is naive or simplistic to say that Marilyn was an early feminist but what she did do was discuss sexuality.

The approach that I took in the film was to get a cast of actresses but none of them were playing Marilyn what they doing was using their experiences as actresses today to bring to life Marilyn’s experiences. They had insights into them that even I, who had read the documents twenty times didn’t.

Stylistically it is very different to anything that I have done before and I haven’t seen a film like it. I felt that I was doing something that was risky as I had a whole bunch of different actors reading fragments of thoughts and ideas.

You had to edit them to become cohesive and yet still relish their fragmented nature as they are not meant to be a narrative – they were meant to illuminate moments in time and brief thoughts; some of them fleeting.

So I had to respect that and then provide the viewer with a cohesive narrative and that was a balancing act.

[MM] created a new type of American figure and that was quite brilliant. Maybe some of it was instinctive but you don’t create that by accident…In the movie we show a lot of her press conferences and you see the way that she talks to the press – she is so clever and she handles the press so well.”

 

Variety Reviews ‘Love, Marilyn’

Variety has reviewed Love, Marilyn, giving us a fuller picture of the cast and materials. (David Strathairn as Arthur Miller is surely inspired casting!)

“With: F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Banks, Adrien Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Hope Davis, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Ben Foster, Paul Giamatti, Jack Huston, Stephen Lang, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Marisa Tomei, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Lois Banner, George Barris, Patricia Bosworth, Sarah Churchwell, Amy Greene, Molly Haskell, Jay Kanter, Richard Meryman, Thomas Schatz, Donald Spoto.

Two unearthed boxes of diary entries, letters and whatnot (some of which were published in 2010 as Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe) provide the novelty and appeal to what would otherwise be a standard life-overview. The erstwhile Norma Jean Baker’s awful childhood, her stormy marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, the paralyzing effects of her insecurities on film shoots, her problematic alliance with the Actors Studio, her pill consumption, et al., all constitute familiar terrain that makes Love, Marilyn seem redundant at times.

The first-person testimonies are more interesting, from archival clips of Susan Strasberg, John Huston, Joshua Logan, Jane Russell, Laurence Olivier and others to excerpts from memoirs and other writings by one of her many shrinks (read by F. Murray Abraham), Miller (David Strathairn), and analysts Gloria Steinem (Hope Davis) and Norman Mailer (Ben Foster), among others. Particularly flavorful are Oliver Platt and Paul Giamatti as Billy Wilder and George Cukor, respectively, both recalling their exasperation working with the hypersensitive box office sensation. There are also present-tense interviews with biographers, critics, Actors Studio contemporary Ellen Burstyn, and close non-celebrity friend Amy Greene (who shares some salty thoughts on Marilyn’s husbands).

While there’s no question Garbus has recruited first-rate talent to pay homage here, some of the most impressive names prove heavy-handed or simply miscast in attempting to channel the love goddess’s fragile spirit; moreover, having them act against green-screened archival materials has a tacky, pop-up televisual feel. Probably most effective in their straightforward readings are Jennifer Ehle, who gets a fair amount of screentime, and (perhaps surprisingly) Lindsay Lohan, who does not.

Limiting clips from predictable movie highlights, and skipping over several well-known titles entirely, the pic tries to emphasize lesser-known materials, including numerous candid photos, behind-the-scenes footage, and one uncomfortable live appearance on TV’s Person to Person.”

More Screenings Set for ‘Love, Marilyn’

Photo by Sam Shaw

A screening of Love, Marilyn will open The Hamptons Film Festival at East Hampton, Long Island, on October 4th. (Marilyn stayed at Long Island in the summer of 1957 with husband Arthur Miller.)

In other news, the Canadian theatrical rights to Love, Marilyn have been acquired by distributor Mongrel Media. And a video interview with director Liz Garbus has been posted by the New York Times.

HBO Acquires US TV Rights to ‘Love, Marilyn’

HBO has acquired TV rights for Liz Garbus’s documentary, Love, Marilyn, in the US, reports Variety.

“The film is written, directed and produced by Garbus and produced by Stanley Buchthal and Amy Hobby. Executive producers are Anne Carey, Olivier Courson, Harold Van Lier and Enrique Steiger.

Love, Marilyn coincides with the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death and features footage, audiotapes, handwritten letters, diaries, notes, poems, journals and notebooks.

Interviews and archival footage features Arthur Miller, Joe DiMaggio, Amy Greene, Molly Haskell, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Elia Kazan.

Deal was negotiated by David Koh, Josh Braun and Dan Braun of Submarine Entertainment along with Stanley Buchthal of Diamond Girl Productions LLC and Harold Van Lier of Studio Canal on behalf of the producers and director with HBO.”