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‘The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes’ Review: Netflix revisits her life and death 60 years later


Hi again, Norma Jean, as the 60th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death brings renewed opportunities to revisit her life and legacy without actually bringing anything significantly new to the party. “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” has a hook in recorded interviews with those who knew her, but offsets it with a clumsy device to illustrate these conversations.

The footage comes courtesy of Anthony Summers, author of the 1985 Monroe book, “Goddess.” The interviews include a wide variety of those who crossed her path, offering the old Hollywood kick by hearing excerpts of his chats with directors John Huston and Billy Wilder and Monroe’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” co-star Jane Russell.

The documentary, unfortunately, undermines, with the unnecessary wrinkle of letting actors “play” these people by lip-syncing the sound, a pointless attempt to create the impression that the viewer sees the other side of these conversations. Given that there are plenty of video and movie footage of Monroe to merge, it’s a pampering that’s way too sweet for its own good, adding a sense of showbiz pizzazz that does nothing to support the credibility of the project.

Beyond that, director Emma Cooper devotes much of the last half of the film to the “mysterious” part of the title and decades of speculation as to whether her death in 1962 was a suicide, an unintentional overdose, or, as Summers puts it, “something more sinister. . ”

Inevitably, that conversation turns to Monroe’s reported relationship with John and Robert F. Kennedy, the subject of a seemingly endless number of documentaries and delicate (mostly television) films over the years.

Marilyn Monroe with Robert Kennedy (left) and John Kennedy on the night of the latter's 1962 birthday celebration.

As well-documented as all that was, it’s hard to avoid a certain sleaze factor in the narrative, and the cheesy reenactments certainly don’t help. There are also some confusing choices, like showing Monroe as famously singing “Happy Birthday” to the president months before her death, but not including his amusing response.

In truth, the emphasis on the Kennedy plays almost as a distraction from hearing more intriguing observations, such as Huston, quoting Monroe’s downward trajectory from “The Asphalt Jungle” to “The Misfits” (which he directed 11 years apart); or Wilder says of his reported difficulties working with the actress, which he directed in two of her best films, “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like It Hot,” “I had no problems with Monroe. Monroe had problems with Monroe . ”

For her part, Monroe talks in tape-recorded interviews about her twins’ desire to be happy and be a good actress, and says a little sadly with the benefit of hindsight: “You have to work on both of them.”

Like other stars who died young, Monroe has been frozen in time, with enough intrigue around her and the famous men she dated and married to push conspiracy theories and ensure that she herself remains that media gift six decades later. , which continues to provide, including a recent CNN documentary. As film critic Christina Newland wrote: “It’s vanishingly difficult for Marilyn Monroe to be seen as a real human being.”

In that sense, watching “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe” serves as a reminder, to paraphrase Elton John’s musical tribute, that her light burned out long before the exploitation of her ever did.

“The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” premieres on April 27 on Netflix.

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