Marilyn Monroe review: CNN’s docuseries returns to a screen legend : NPR
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The year 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, one of cinema’s most iconic, scrutinized and enduring sex symbols. To commemorate the occasion, CNN is launching the new four-part documentary series, Cropped: Marilyn Monroe, who takes a very different and original approach to his subject.
Throughout her career, and for decades after her death, Marilyn has been objectified, scrutinized and judged – mostly by male writers, biographers and historians. The 1973 book, Marilyn: a biography, paired a sexist, sexist essay by Norman Mailer with photos of the actress taken by photographer Lawrence Schiller.
Schiller appears in Cropped, but here he talks about Monroe’s acute awareness of the camera – how she posed, what images she selected, and how she used them to enhance and leverage her own celebrity status.
But most of the time, the voices we hear in this new documentary are female. Actress Jessica Chastain narrates, and an all-female editorial team led by Sam Starbuck re-examines Marilyn’s movies, marriages and career paths from her perspective. And we hear from female film critics and historians, including the always informative Alicia Malone of Turner Classic Movies.
We also hear from several female actors. Some younger people explain why they find Marilyn inspiring both on and off screen. And peers like Joan Collins and Ellen Burstyn, who competed in the same sexist studio system as Marilyn in the 1950s, reflect on how women were treated in Hollywood back then. It’s a revealing new approach to familiar terrain.
In Cropped: Marilyn Monroe, we learn how, as a young actress, Marilyn survived and thwarted the potential scandal of the emergence of some earlier nude photos. We also see how, as a more mature actress, she once again embraced nude photography – this time as a weapon, for media attention and bargaining power.
This was during a time when her movie studio, 20th Century Fox, was spending almost all of its money on the Elizabeth Taylor costume drama. Cleopatra. Monroe found herself in the spotlight – and although she had a long and often combative relationship with the studio and its executives, and was fired, she was eventually rehired, given a big raise and a obtained the terms of the contract that it had demanded.
We learn a lot more not only about his trading methods, but also about his motivations. It wasn’t the first time in Marilyn’s life that she fought the studio system and won, but it would be the last. She died in 1962 of an overdose at the age of 36.
But his films would survive, and Cropped sees them with fresh eyes. There’s the sparkle of his small-screen appearance in the 1949 Marx Brothers comedy happy love — the brothers’ last film, but Marilyn’s first. There’s the comedic confidence of his brilliant work in The Seven Year Itch and Some like it hot and the subtlety of its portrayals in later dramatic works such as Bus stop and The misfits.
Marilyn took control of her career when and how she could, even starting her own production company to cast her own roles. And she took those roles seriously. Towards the end of his life, when a reporter for Life the magazine asks if it was sometimes difficult for her to pitch her performance, she instantly bristles at the word, saying, “I don’t pitch anything.”
At this stage, there are no plans to do Cropped an ongoing documentary series, reassessing the careers and legacies of selected filmmakers and performers. But there should be – because Cropped: Marilyn Monroe plants its flag in a new territory.