It seems Ken Burns has created a cottage industry of actors reading from personal diaries in high-quality documentaries. And while we first saw that compellingly used in his 1990 “Civil War” miniseries on PBS, it’s been since endlessly copied by outsiders. They also use those familiar celebrity voices to bring some kind of familiarity to historical figures not alive before the era of film and recordings. However, even notables who lived in the 20th century are getting documentaries where celebrities read their deepest thoughts from personal diaries.
The latest subject in that arena is Marilyn Monroe and the documentary “Love, Marilyn.” When new diaries were discovered that presented personal anecdotes never before made public, it seemed inevitable female celebrities would be brought in to read those entries. But nobody probably ever bothered to wonder if the proper context would ever be applied.
There’s a stark contrast between reading the diary entries of Civil War soldiers and the thoughts of Marilyn Monroe. Nevertheless, any diary reading is going to have to take a vocal inflection that’s decided by the actor or actress and assumed to be taken as fact. When dealing with Monroe, her complex personality might make it more of a subjective exercise, especially when the actresses reading her put more acting into it.
Variety’s Dennis Harvey touched on this back in September when reviewing the film. He thought the actresses used for the film to read the entries were overdone to emphasize Monroe’s emotional states. Yes, we even hear Lindsay Lohan who seems to be on some kind of an obsessive path to be like Marilyn Monroe if not have a similar fate. Having her read Marilyn Monroe’s thoughts is the equivalent to reading Lohan’s own private diary entries (that might be read by another actress down the road).
Is this new trend of having celebrities reading notable diary entries ruining the context of the real meaning? With Marilyn Monroe frequently over-exaggerated through her movie image, finding the real Marilyn is still sometimes a lost cause. This isn’t to say you can’t find record of her real voice out there. In fact, Youtube now has an HBO special that aired her final interview done two days before her death. Taken from audiotapes, we hear her expound on the subject of fame and her life she’d never talked publicly about before.
What’s the most notable about the above is that she doesn’t sound anything like the Marilyn Monroe we know with the wispy and innocent voice. She’s talking as herself there and makes you wish more like it was available. With digital editing capabilities today, having her real voice digitally cleaned and placed in a documentary would finally give some kind of personalization rather than outsiders looking in.
With all the new things being found about Marilyn Monroe lately, perhaps some secret diary tapes will turn up that finally reveal exactly who she really was.