The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes
Sex, violence, language in investigation of icon's death.
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The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes delves into theories around the overdose death of the iconic figure. There's also language, sex, and violence in the recreation of past events. The theories involve famous people and touch on historical events as well as Marilyn's apparent childhood trauma and mistreatment by men throughout her adult life. People recall her past difficulties with drugs and alcohol, especially toward the end of her life and seen in erratic behavior on the shoot of her last movie. Historical images and reenactments show people drinking alcohol and smoking cigars and cigarettes. Interviewees talk about a lot of potentially disturbing topics, including child molestation, domestic violence, mob threats, miscarriages, and the Cold War-era threat of nuclear war. Marilyn was considered a "sex symbol," and friends and colleagues talk about her marriages and affairs, recalling recordings of her "lovemaking." There's discussion of indiscretions, "getting laid," "pimping," and men grabbing women's breasts and treating women like "pieces of meat." Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "goddamn," "smart-ass," "whore," "SOB," "for Chrissakes.
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What's the Story?
Irish author Anthony Summers walks viewers through his interviews and investigations involving the death of the still-revered celebrity in THE MYSTERY OF MARILYN MONROE: THE UNHEARD TAPES. Summers says he has 650 taped recordings of people talking to him about Marilyn in his research for his 1985 book Goddess. The documentary reenacts more than a dozen of those interviews to piece together the perspectives of some of those closest to the actress on what made her so alluring, what drove her unhappiness, and what were the circumstances surrounding her untimely death in 1962. Interviewees include friends, film industry colleagues, members of her surrogate family headed by her psychiatrist, law enforcement representatives, ambulance drivers, former government employees, and more. The documentary also includes significant archive footage of the actress and clips from her films and other work.
Is It Any Good?
As an interviewee in this documentary notes, Marilyn Monroe has always elicited a combination of fascination and empathy among both men and women, and this film proves that point again. The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is set up like a whodunit, complete with dramatic music and moody footage to complement the glamorous archive images and clips of 1950s and 1960s Hollywood. The film opens and closes on the voice of the actress and a brisk introduction starring the film's main narrator, author Anthony Summers, who tells us that after years of research and 1,000 interviews for his Monroe book, Goddess, he concluded that the circumstances of Marilyn's death were covered up. Summers delivers evidence about the day and night of her death (no spoilers here, though the book was originally published in 1985) and plenty of analysis from friends and colleagues about Marilyn's psyche, her character, and her actions.
There's so much detail here, viewers may feel they need to take notes lest they miss something. Summers leads us through excerpts from more than a dozen recorded interviews to flesh out a story that spans the movie industry, Kennedy-era politics, and the larger Cold War context of the 1960s. The filmmakers opted to use actors -- placed in dimly-lit, mid-century-styled clothing and settings -- to lip-synch the taped interviews. It's a curious choice that gives the viewer something to look at but also puts false faces to the voices of very real people, some of whom were famous in their own right -- like John Huston, Billy Wilder, and Jane Russell. These are supplemented with quite a lot of archive footage and location tape as well, particularly of Los Angeles through the decades. The lasting effect of Monroe's childhood trauma is broached, and it's clear most of the interviewees cared deeply for her. Audiences still seem to as well.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why Marilyn still holds such fascination for people even 60 years after her death, as The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes demonstrates.
Which of the first-hand memories of Marilyn did you find most compelling, and why? Were you surprised by how many people Summers was able to (and did) talk to?
What did you think of the film's use of actors to reenact and lip-synch taped interviews?
What do you make of the various theories involving Marilyn's death? Which convinces you the most?
- On DVD or streaming: April 27, 2022
- Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Summers
- Director: Emma Cooper
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: History
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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