Review: ‘Marilyn Monroe: Life After Death’

A tribute to the 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 by photographer Milton H. Greene.

A tribute to the 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 by photographer Milton H. Greene. Showtime, which produced the film, will air it this year, and the subject’s fame might warrant limited theatrical release.

Director/writer Freedman, who produced Errol Morris’ impressive docu “A Brief History of Time,” avoids a tedious chronological approach to Monroe’s life and instead focuses on her gradual rise to stardom and her immortality.

Hugh Hefner discusses how Monroe’s nude pictures inspired him to use them as the first Playboy magazine centerfold. Columnist Liz Smith talks about how Hollywood never took Monroe seriously as an actress and poked fun at her when she left for New York and enrolled in acting classes at the Actors Studio. Biographer Donald Spoto highlights Monroe’s acting achievements.

Docu’s most interesting section details how Monroe’s persona has lived on for 30 years after her death — and shows no signs of stopping.

Regrettably, there’s no explanation of why Monroe has become such an icon, and pic doesn’t distinguish between her various roles as 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 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 longtime friend. Digital video enhancement of formerly unprinted stills magnifies Monroe’s luminous photogenic qualities.

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 articles, books and exposes.

Marilyn Monroe: Life After Death

Production

A Showtime Networks TV presentation of a Freedman/Greene production. Produced by Anthony Greene. Executive producer, Steven Hewitt. Co-producer, Peter Marshall. Directed, written by Gordon Freedman.

Crew

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 Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival, Jan. 14, 1994. Running time: 75 min.

With

Narrator: Roscoe Lee Brown.
With: Dr. Joyce Brothers, David Brown, Amy Greene, Hugh Hefner, Leon Katz, Norman Mailer, Liz Smith, Donald Spoto, Susan Strasberg, others.
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