One thing to know about me: as someone born in 1998, I didn’t know much about Marilyn Monroe before watching this documentary. My knowledge of her was limited to her being an iconic blond actress and model who wore a white dress on a windy day. I only knew “Gentlemen prefer blondes” because a scene where Monroe eloquently defends her choice to marry a rich man was all over social media. Parallelly, one other thing to know about me is that I like a good mystery. And Netflix’s “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” which premiered on April 27 offers just that. Ready to jump headfirst into Monroe’s glorious life (and death) story?
The documentary is built around the words of Anthony Summers, a journalist who investigated Marilyn Monroe’s death. Twenty years after her passing in 1962, Summers collected data for nearly three years. The case was being reopened with the aim of clearing it up. The initial explanation was that the actress died from an overdose of sleeping pills. However, the mysterious circumstances of her passing at the young age of 36-years-old were the grounds for many suspicions. Like any other celebrity whose life got abruptly interrupted, rumors and theories arose in the aftermath of Monroe’s death. There has to be a hidden truth, a shocking concealed fact that would somehow lead to the conclusion that Hollywood’s immortal sex symbol’s soul either committed suicide or worse… was murdered.
A thousand people were interviewed by Summers. That got me thinking: where does loyalty stand in death territory? Does someone’s demise justify disclosing the personal words they confided in you? Some might think that one loses one’s right to privacy the minute they step into the limelight. Well, I don’t know about that. The border is so blurred, making it impossible to tell what’s right from what’s not. Throughout the documentary, the real voices of the friends and relatives of Monroe shine a light on the unknown life of the star. While some interviewees seemed to have no difficulty giving away details, there is something inherently disturbing in talking about someone’s life that way. In the meantime, there is also something about listening to someone’s life story through the people who knew them. So mystical, so thrilling and so diabolically hooking.
650 tape-recorded interviews later, so much of the actress’s life is outed. Although Summers used them to write “Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe,” the audio interviews are heard by the world for the very first time. Going through “The Golden Girl of Hollywood”’s life is compared to “going into the lion’s den” in the documentary. And reasonably so. Viewers follow Monroe as she skyrockets to earthshaking stardom, from her waif days to her series of failed relationships and drive to be “the best that [she] can do” as an actress. She wanted nothing less than “to be perfect,” and God, that is vehemently satisfying to hear. She just exudes the power to make you want to work even harder to achieve your full potential. There is just something about a beautiful woman who achieves success, fame and who is so witty and smart with her words. It is almost as if she had it all, making for a great role model. All the while, she describes fame as “fickle,” which “compensation” is burdened with “drawbacks.” But the worldwide renowned actress seemed to regard happiness as an illusionary goal. And her struggle with mental health was of no help.
Monroe was not only revealed to be intimately involved with both the Kennedy brothers, but evidence was found to suggest that she was leaning towards being a leftist. Then, we learn that she was also mixing with communists in South America; how puzzling is that? In the midst of a raging Cold War, the international political climate was obviously very tense. Next, viewers find out that Monroe had conversations about nuclear powers with the Kennedy brothers. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a bewildering element straight out of an addictive TV show. Who would have known that real life could be more entertaining than fiction? But then again, they say that fiction is based off reality.
It is pretty mind-boggling how some of the biggest stars the world has known faced a tragic fate. Natalie Wood, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson: it feels like the more dazzling the spotlight, the darker the end. What struck me most in the documentary is how intricately difficult it is to figure Monroe out. Throughout the film, you learn that she is extremely ambitious, driven and intelligent. Her choice of words and voiced thoughts exemplify it just right. “The true things rarely get into circulation; it is usually the false things,” she says. That is probably the most frustrating, yet delicate aspect of documentaries. No matter the amount of data and material found, you’ll never get to know more than what is accessible. But then I guess, that is what makes a story so fascinating, right?
“The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” is now available on Netflix.