August 5, 2012 was the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. The occasion had been acknowledged earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival with a 1956 image of Monroe blowing out a candle on a cake chosen as the Festival's signature photograph. The year has included the release of a seven film Blu-ray box set of most of her major films. In addition, at least a half dozen of new books devoted to her have been published; these works range from Marilyn/Magnum, a collection of photographs taken by a number of the agency's most prestigious photographers, Laurence Schiller's Marilyn and Me, an over-sized volume that primarily features photographs taken on the set of Something's Got to Give that is priced at $1,200., Christopher Nickens and George Zeno's Marilyn in Fashion to Keith Badman's The Final Days of Marilyn Monroe. In Love, Marilyn, we are told that over one thousand books have been published on Monroe, a number that continues to grow.
Considering the media attention the anniversary has received, Liz Garbus' feature length documentary Love, Marilyn, is appropriate as a 2012 TIFF screening. Since Monroe's death, there have been numerous documentaries on her life and career, several narrative dramatizations made for television and, more recently, the theatrically released My Week with Marilyn (2011). In contrast to the previous Monroe documentaries, Love, Marilyn is distinguished by having a celebrated documentarian as its writer-director. Garbus received an Academy Award nomination for The Farm: Angola, USA (1998) and in 2011, a nomination for Killing in the Name. In 2011, she also directed Bobby Fischer against the World, her first biographical documentary. The producer of the Bobby Fischer film, Stanley Buchthal, also one of the producers of Love, Marilyn was responsible for bringing the Monroe project to Garbus' attention. (1) Previously Buchthal, along with Bernard Comment, co-edited Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe, (2) a book which contains writings by Monroe that were uncovered by Anna Strasberg, Lee Strasberg's widow, about ten years ago. Love, Marilyn, (the film's title is taken from a letter Monroe wrote to Lee Strasberg probably, according to the books editors, in early 1956, thanking him for his help and encouragement) uses a selection of the writings to illustrate aspects of Monroe's identity.
In the above-cited article, Garbus says she felt that Monroe's writings displayed a multi-faceted personality and that casting a number of actresses would benefit the project. To that end, she chose Elizabeth Banks, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, MarisaTomei, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, and Evan Rachel Wood to read from Fragments. She describes the exercise as: " ... very much a collaborative process because they're not performing Marilyn, they're not being Marilyn, they are bringing out the various facets of Marilyn with their energies-calm, collected, frantic ... all of those different energies-but they are still themselves." (3) In addition, Gabus cast actors to read written commentaries of men who were, to a greater or lesser degree, relevant to Monroe's life. These include: Arthur Miller/David Strathairn, Elia Kazan/Jeremy Piven, Truman Capote/Adrien Brody, Norman Mailer/Ben Foster, Billy Wilder/Oliver Platt, and George Cukor/Paul Giamatti. Writing on Monroe by Gloria Steinem/Hope Davis is also included.
More traditionally, Love, Marilyn uses film footage and stills of Monroe, archival interviews with her and coworkers, contemporary interviews with celebrity friends Amy Greene, photographer Milton Greene's first wife, and photographer George Barris, biographers, Donald Spoto and Sarah Churchwell and critics, Molly Haskell, Thomas Schatz. Ellen Burstyn is interviewed on Lee Strasberg's 'sense-memory' approach to method acting.
Suffice to say, Love, Marilyn offers a lot to digest. …