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Telluride 2012: Liz Garbus looks at fame in ‘Love, Marilyn’

By one count, more than 1,000 books have been written about Marilyn Monroe. The “Some Like It Hot” star was at the center of last year’s “My Week With Marilyn.” And anybody who’s been to Palm Springs lately knows there are constant crowds around the 26-foot-tall statue of the actress.

But wait, there’s more: Documentarian Liz Garbus (“Bobby Fisher Against the World”) has a new look at the troubled blond, based on a cache of her personal papers unearthed in recent years.

“Love, Marilyn,” which had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival over the Labor Day weekend, combines archival footage, interviews and, more than anything else, an array of actors reading the words of Monroe and her friends, colleagues and biographers such as Elia Kazan, Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller.

The actors include Jennifer Ehle and Viola Davis at the more interesting end of the spectrum, with Ben Foster (reading Mailer) and Oliver Platt (as Billy Wilder) emerging as the bigger scenery chewers. But it is the words of the former Norma Jeane Mortensen, who took her life in 1962, that ultimately trump any of the readers’ performances.

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The more compelling selections of Monroe’s letters and diary entries focus on her studying with acting coach Lee Strassberg, who tried to find an emotional core to Monroe that she herself doubted she had. “They cut me open,” the actress writes of the process, “and there is absolutely nothing there.”

But she was incredibly successful in creating her sexpot persona, drawing largely on Mabel Todd’s “The Thinking Body” to perfect her physical appearance and walk.

There are countless hints of Monroe’s suffocating depression, even early in her rise to fame when she laments, “I am alone. I am always alone.” Sadder still is her ongoing (and often unsuccessful) attempts to improve herself. Like a third-grader struggling in vocabulary, Monroe writes, “Words—find out their meaning.”

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