For Completists Only, by Jack Fleischer
Marilyn in Manhattan is just a tiny slice from the life of Marilyn Monroe. It’s not really even a biographical documentary, so much as a slight pastiche of canned interviews and documentary footage relating to the screen siren’s attempt to become part of the New York intelligentsia. At less than an hour, it might work as a DVD extra or a History Channel time filler, but if you’ll pardon the reference, there’s nothing here to blow your skirt up.
While this film focuses on Monroe’s East Coast search for artistic legitimacy, it spends the majority of its energy focusing on her relationship with frequent photographer Milton Greene. While there are some interesting interviews with actors and historians, the primary interviews come from Greene’s wife and child, whom Monroe lived with for a time during her brief cross-country transition.
For the true Marilyn Monroe aficionado, there are small pieces of insight into the time between 1954 to her death in 1962. The footage is familiar, and while I can’t say that I noticed anything particularly new or compelling, it was interesting to see her addressing reporters as her then husband Arthur Miller dealt with the McCarthy Hearings. I was also struck by the passing revelation that Monroe liked to doodle. Not a groundbreaking revelation, but it was new to me, and I appreciated it all the same.
But really this documentary comes across as a footnote to Monroe’s established legacy, rather than enriching it. It’s a shiny and well polished to the point of being over-produced. Along with platitudes and fuzzy lenses, the soundtrack is constantly being juiced with a string heavy orchestral backdrop.
This documentary also seems to be pulled between it’s original theme of Monroe’s attempt to be taken seriously as an actor, and the more sensationalist aspects of this point in her life. The last third of the film is spent rehashing the more sensationalist aspects of her death centering on her pill use and second hand hearsay about a Kennedy conspiracy. Even if these stories are true, this doc doesn’t make the effort to add evidence to the rumors. Ultimately these mass appeal items detract from the documentarian’s original intentions.
Marilyn in Manhattan isn’t a full documentary, so much as a footnote. I haven’t been informed as to how this doc is being distributed, but it’s easy to imagine it playing on an endless loop in a small, gray, Berber carpeted room in the bowls of a Marilyn Monroe History museum. Perhaps it’s a must see for any die-hard Monroe fan; for the casual student, there are better options.