From ‘Love, Marilyn’ to ‘Miss Simone’


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’ US DVD Release

81i3YOoJPFL._SL1500_ Neil Lumbard’s detailed and insightful review of Love, Marilyn – released on DVD in the US today – has been posted at DVD Talk.

“Some might critique 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.

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.

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.

Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortensen, was always someone who the public — and even those closest to her — seemed to never fully comprehend. 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’ on DVD

Photo by Fraser Penney
Photo by Fraser Penney

Love, Marilyn will be released on DVD in the UK on Tuesday, October 28. (International release dates here.) Here are a selection of British and European reviews, firstly from Sight & Sound magazine:

And a few more, both good and bad – it’s interesting to note that the film magazines and blogs are more appreciative than critics in mainstream media.

“Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus clearly has enough skill to turn the unprecedented access she has to all things Marilyn Monroe into something unique. Right off the bat Love, Marilyn is a very slick, high value production…Moving along at a steady clip and providing a constant stream of information, it’s a celebration as much as it is the tragic look at a pressured life.” – Filmophilia

“As for diehard Marilyn fans, there may not be any major revelations or shockers, but they are likely to appreciate the thoughtful overview of the person behind the myth…Overall though, the effect is a positive one and Garbus deserves credit for experimenting with an interesting style to delve deeper into the mystique of an already heavily scrutinised icon.” – Filmoria

“Those who simply know the name Monroe – to the most dedicated cinephile will find something in this film, a film, which spends it’s time challenging perceptions and opening out the vast and intellectual mind of Monroe. It is clear from those taking part in the project, that they each owe Monroe something so important and integral to their own careers, that their love shines through in this film and in their readings.” – Front Row Reviews

“Some things we’re sick of due to their inevitability and sheer volume but after Liz Garbus’ engrossing Love, Marilyn I can delete the first one from the list. It completes a loose trilogy of sorts for the director who is drawn once again to a troubled psyche like she was in Bobby Fischer Versus The World and There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane.” Entertainment Ireland

“There are some moments of wonderful clarity from various sources, including Monroe herself…a valiant attempt to make this investigation a more personal one in every aspect, something which we’ve not really been presented on the big screen before.” – Cine-Vue

“There aren’t many revelations here but revered writer Arthur Miller emerges in a surprisingly negative light…By contrast, another Monroe husband, baseball player Joe DiMaggio, a conservative figure who wanted Monroe to be a traditional wife and mother, is shown to have treated her with far more affection.” The Independent

“Their source material is two boxes of letters, poems and diary entries found at the home of the star’s acting coach and confidant Lee Strasberg. Monroe’s writing is beautifully succinct, but the cast deliver it with such mannered intensity that it comes across like the worst of Monroe’s performances: insecure, abstracted and ill-focused.” – The Guardian

“It’s a simplistic approach and a not particularly effective one. The constant parade of celebrities, each given lines from Monroe’s scribblings or relevant to a raft of observers that includes directors, studio chiefs and co-stars, is actually a distraction.” – Yorkshire Post 

‘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.)


Cloris Leachman on Marilyn, Strasberg

Cloris Leachman, photographed by Andrew Southam

Actors Studio alumni Cloris Leachmanwho has had a long, distinguished career on stage and screen, spoke to HitFix recently, sharing her candid opinions about Lee Strasberg, Marilyn and more.

“Leachman called me from a hotel room twenty minutes late, apologizing for her tardiness. ‘I was watching Marilyn Monroe,’ she said, explaining that a documentary about the star was on HBO. While she admitted she didn’t know Monroe personally, she said, ‘I was in the first group of the Actor’s Studio, then two years later, Lee Strasberg [who famously coached Monroe] took over and I couldn’t stand him.’  Still, she was more interested in talking about Monroe. ‘She was so fragile. It’s too bad.'”

Canyons of Difference: Lohan, Schrader and Marilyn

Most Monroe fans heave an exhausted sigh each time comparisons to Lindsay Lohan are made. For us, these parallels arise simply because Lindsay is perhaps the world’s most famous MM fan. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Most recently, I saw her reading her idol’s own words in Love, Marilyn. Checking through my tags, I’m surprised to find that Lindsay has now produced no less than 22 posts. The Canyons will be screened at the Lincoln Center (where Arthur Miller’s Marilyn-influenced play, After the Fall, was the inaugural theatrical production in 1964) on July 29th, reports IndieWire.

But others see them both mainly as troubled starlets, when in fact they are different in many ways. Lindsay’s career, thus far, is that of a former child star who has struggled to make the transition to adult roles. She is undoubtedly gifted, though, and I wish her all the best, both personally and professionally.

Marilyn, on the other hand, maintained her star status, despite private turmoil, for well over a decade, until her untimely death: and, half a century on, her movies remain among the most popular of all time.

Paul Schrader, director of Lindsay’s latest film, The Canyons (watch the trailer here) addresses – and exploits – these comparisons in an op-ed for Film Comment. It’s an interesting piece,  though I can’t agree with him that Lindsay has ‘more natural talent’ than Marilyn did (or that she was protected by the studios; or that she sought prestige merely to be accepted.) No disrespect to Lohan, I just think he’s – fatally – under-estimating Monroe.

“While preparing and directing The Canyons I was reading James Goode’s book The Making of The Misfits, and I was struck by the similarities between Marilyn Monroe and the actress I was working with, Lindsay Lohan. (I wasn’t the only one so struck. Stephen Rodrick, a writer for The New York Times Magazine who was on set with us, titled his article about the film ‘The Misfits’, which appeared on the cover with the line: “This is what happens when you cast Lindsay Lohan in your movie.” Not even the Times is immune to the hurricane force of the LiLo phenomenon.)

Similarities? Tardiness, unpredictability, tantrums, absences, neediness, psychodrama—yes, all that, but something more, that thing that keeps you watching someone on screen, that thing you can’t take your eyes off of, that magic, that mystery. That thing that made John Huston say, I wonder why I put myself through all this, then I go to dailies.

Monroe and Lohan exist in the space between actors and celebrities, people whose professional and personal performances are more or less indistinguishable. Entertainers understand the distinction. To be successful, a performer controls the balance between the professional and personal, that is, he or she makes it seem like the professional is personal. It is the lack of this control that gives performers like Monroe and Lohan (and others) their unique attraction. We sense that the actress is not performing, that we are watching life itself. We call them ‘troubled,’ ‘tormented,’ ‘train wrecks’—but we can’t turn away. We can’t stop watching. They get under our skin in a way that controlled performers can’t.

I think Lohan has more natural acting talent than Monroe did, but, like Monroe, her weakness is her inability to fake it. She feels she must be experiencing an emotion in order to play it. This leads to all sorts of emotional turmoil, not to mention on-set delays and melodrama. It also leads, when the gods smile, to movie magic. Monroe had the same affliction. They live large, both in life and on screen. This is an essential part of what draws viewers to them.

But LL is not MM. The differences are even more interesting than the similarities. Those differences are marked by the almost 50 years that separate Monroe and Lohan. Over that time our notions of acting, stardom, celebrity, and talent have fundamentally changed. Marilyn had two things going for her that Lindsay doesn’t. She was the product of a culture that mandated public responsibility. An acting gift, good looks, and a zesty personality only got you so far. To be taken seriously one had to appear serious: study your craft, be mentored, read literature, respect your creative elders, marry a playwright, get the support of an established theater group or studio. To receive the system’s rewards—fame, money—you play-acted by the system’s rules. And Monroe did.

Second, Monroe was a product of the studio system. The studios used their influence in the media and the courts to protect their stars. Damage was controlled and discipline en-forced. It’s inconceivable that Monroe would have faced the legal troubles that have beset Lohan over the last five years. A star’s difficulties only became public when they were impossible to contain; until then, he or she was protected.”

‘Love, Marilyn’ On Demand in USA

Love, Marilyn was screened in the US on HBO earlier this month. For any American readers who missed it, the documentary can be viewed via HBO On Demand and HBO Go until September 1st.

The Love, Marilyn Facebook page also posted recently that details of a DVD release will soon be announced. If you’re in Europe and simply can’t wait that long, it is already available in Spain (as a Region 2 DVD, in English with subtitles) and can be ordered via Amazon UK.

Here are a few more reviews:

“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.” – Jennifer Merin,

“In many ways, Marilyn Monroe is the blueprint for celebrity iconography and idolatry as we know it. She was an enigma of a woman, a creation she herself forged from within herself, seemingly made of fragile glass that would serve as her own ceiling, and later, her tomb. Much has been written, documented, and speculated about the late actress…In Love, Marilyn, director Liz Garbus attempts to let Monroe speak for herself through a series of letters, diary entries, and various documents recovered from a storage box. Like Monroe herself, the box had been shoved away and its physical contents long-forgotten — all that remained was the mythology of hearsay.” – Britt Hayes, BadAss Digest

‘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,


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.'”