(Documentary B&W Color 35mm)
A tribute to the legendary star and sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe: Life After Death is an uncritical celebration of the actress's beauty, talent, and continuous allure for generations of viewers. Though Gordon Freedman's documentary doesn't shed new information about Monroe's career or life, it contains fabulous stills, some never seen before, by famous photographer Milton H. Freedman. Showtime Networks TV, which produced the film, will air it later this year, and the subject's international fame might also warrant a limited theatrical release.
Director-writer Gordon Freedman, who last year produced the impressive documentary A Brief History of Time, shrewdly avoids a tedious chronological approach to Monroe's life and instead focuses on some selective issues, such as her gradual rise to stardom and her immortality, hence the title.
Hugh Hefner discusses how Monroe's famous nude pictures inspired him to use them as the first Playboy magazine's centerfold. Columnist Liz Smith talks about how Hollywood never took Monroe seriously as an actress and how it poked fun at her when she left for New York and enrolled for Method classes at the Actors Studio. Biographer Donald Spotto highlights Monroe's acting achievements in the movies produced by her company, particularly Bus Stop.
Docu's most interesting part details how Monroe's persona has continued to live for 30 years after her death–and shows no signs of stopping–beginning with Andy Warhol's Pop Art and continuing with gallery shows and repeated showings of her movies. Marilyn Monroe vividly documents the thriving of a whole merchandising industry–dolls, posters, paintings, mugs, even wine–that has cashed in and continues to exploited the star's ichnographic appeal.
Regrettably, the film doesn't provide an explanation of why Monroe has become such an icon, and it doesn't distinguish among her various roles as a movie star, sex symbol, cultural icon–and myth. After 45 minutes or so, docu just repeats–albeit with majestic photos–what was said and shown before.
Producer Anthony Greene and visual consultant Joshua Greene do succeed in paying homage to the unique talents of their father, the late Milton H. Greene, as a photographer–and as Monroe's business associate and long-time friend. The new technology used, a digital video enhancement of formerly unprinted stills, magnifies Monroe's luminous photogeneity.
Ambitious docu aims at honoring Monroe with the respect and dignity she never had, but ultimately it amounts to a handsome presentation of what's already known about the star from numerous articles, books, and exposes. Still, it's always fun to watch the stills and take a nostalgic journey with the filmmakers of Hollywood's yesteryear.
A Showtime Networks TV presentation of a Freedman/Greene production. Produced by Anthony Greene. Executive producer, Steven Hewitt. Co-producer, Peter Marshall. Directed and written by Gordon Freedman. Camera (color), Bing Sokolsky; visual consultant, Joshua Greene; editors, Gib Jaffe, Joe Saccone; music, Peter Carl Ganderup; production design, Alan Roderick-Jones; sound, Troy Wilcox; associate producer, Amy McCubbin. Reviewed at the Palm Springs Int'l Film Festival, January 14, 1994. Running time: 75 min.
Narrated by Roscoe Lee Brown. With Dr. Joyce Brothers, David Brown, Amy Greene, Hugh Hefner, Prof. Leon Katz, Norman Mailer, Liz Smith, Donald Spotto, Susan Strasberg, and others.