Missed opportunities

May 15, 2022

The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is a recently released Netflix documentary that is unsure of itself

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he Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is a mouthful. Recently released on Netflix as an addition to their ‘true-crime’ repertoire, it showcases re-enactments of previously unreleased tapes alongside archival footage and pictures of the starlet. The tapes were the basis for Anthony Summers’ Goddess, which is one of the better Marilyn Monroe biographies out there.

The documentary starts off with Monroe’s own voice as she asks, “How do you go about writing a life story? Because the true things rarely get into circulation.” This statement holds true for most of her life, and the circumstances of her death, which have been extensively covered and speculated about for decades.

Unfortunately, this documentary is rife with the same tabloid sensationalism that it was desperately trying to avoid. Putting in extensive interviews with Summers and featuring supposedly ‘unheard’ tapes does not a good documentary make. It largely focuses on the mysterious circumstances of Monroe’s death, which has always been a source of conspiracy and tabloid fodder.

The tapes feature Monroe’s friends, colleagues and her doctor’s descendants for some odd reason. Nothing new is really brought to light, and the information is arranged in an attempt to put some pieces together. It speculates that it was not the circumstances of her death that were being covered up, rather it was her involvement with the Kennedy brothers. Apparently, the Kennedys were advised to cut her out for the sake of national security, and when they did, she lost control and took her own life. It seems like a very weak attempt at appeasing the powers that be, while also feeding into baseless conspiracy theories.

The documentary speculates that it was not the circumstances of her death that were being covered up, rather it was her involvement with the Kennedy brothers. Apparently, the Kennedys were advised to cut her out for the sake of national security, and when they did, she lost control and took her own life.

Her marriage to Arthur Miller (author of Death of a Salesman) was covered, and the couple’s alleged communist ties were heavily focused on, which undoubtedly stoked the red scare at the time. In the documentary, it is implied that her potential association with communism is what put a strain on her relationship with the Kennedys.

Needless to say, the director’s take on the events that transpired is safe at best and ignorant at worst. Monroe’s involvement and clandestine rendezvous with John F Kennedy and Robert F Kennedy has never been a secret (not a well-kept one anyway). This documentary was a great opportunity to look into who she was before stardom. If it was her own demons that got the better of her in the end, it seems like a missed opportunity to talk about her state of mind, struggles and the culture that may or may not have contributed to her untimely demise. Clocking in at 1 hour 34 minutes, the production feels like a confusing drag.

Surely, it’s a bit far-fetched that a farm girl who left behind everything that was familiar to her in order to become arguably the biggest starlet of her time, in the ’50s no less, would end it all because a couple of politicians broke up with her. Hollywood has always been a nightmare for women to navigate ever since its existence. Being conventionally attractive is not the only thing that took her to the top, there was definitely something intelligent behind the charismatic face and husky voice. Unfortunately, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes fails to give the events, and Monroe herself, any depth, continuing on with the age-old damsel in distress, woman of weak disposition stereotype. Towards the end, it becomes the very thing that it set out not to be, which is shameful sensationalism. Feel free to give this cornucopia of disappointment a miss.


The author is a staff member.



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