The 20th Hamptons International Film Festival kicked off five days of film on Thursday night at Guild Hall to a sold-out screening of Liz Garbus' "Love, Marilyn," a documentary featuring lost letters, new interviews, and old film footage by and about Marilyn Monroe.
"Marilyn Monroe is someone who has always fascinated me," said Director of Programming of HIFF, David Nugent. "Liz Garbus is an amazing filmmaker, and she put together a really smart, winning film, so we're really happy."
Monroe is someone who has fascinated millions of others as well. Her life — and death — have inspired over 1,000 books. "Love, Marilyn" draws on the existing museum of books, previous interviews, and the boxes of never-before-seen letters to create an image of an extremely vulnerable and self-conscious actress, often known best for her dazzling smile and charm.
The Marilyn Monroe often thought of as an on-screen star and personality off the stage is what drew many out Thursday's screening.
"She came in as a bombshell, but she was different," said Bridgehampton resident Sande Berger. "Particularly with attractive women, people's immediate reaction is to think they can't be smart or have a brain. But she could 'do it,' and prove people wrong."
Though a life cut short – 50 years ago to be exact – has still left a generation wondering what more she could have proven.
"Marilyn is like our modern Greek tragedy," said Garbus prior to the screening, touching upon a point made in the film. "I mean, she's someone who encapsulates beauty, vulnerability, femininity, but then had this tragic ending. I think she represents this myth of femininity and because she died so young and we were sort of robbed of her aging, that myth is embodied. So she is sort of this receptacle for a lot of our ideas about femininity in the 20th century."
The film itself features a cast of actors and actresses dramatically acting out many of Monroe's lost letters, as well as writings by others penned about her, chronologically following Monroe internally as she makes her way from eager young model, to a jaw-dropping leader of a sexual revolution, to a power female figure leading her own production company - all the while depicting someone who writes she was "Alone!!!" and "deeply terrified" through much of it all.
A female cast from Lindsay Lohan to Viola Davis to Ellen Burnstyn – and most frequently Jennifer Ehle – just to name a few, read Monroe's lost letters. Meanwhile Adrien Brody reads Truman Capote's accounts and Oliver Platt reads a letter of an exasperated director working with Monroe toward the end of her career, to name a couple of examples of other perspectives offered.
Modern day interviews throughout include perspectives from history professors and Monroe biographers, as well as Amy Greene, who was on hand Thursday night and was a close personal friend of Monroe.
"Marilyn was person with many different contradictory sides, as all of us are," Garbus said in a question-and-answer session following the screening. "She was cool, but intense, and fearful, and strong. She was all of those thigns. And I feel the different actresses were able to bring out those different aspects of her."