Marilyn: The Last Sessions is a documentary made by Patrick Jeudy in 2008, based on a 2006 novel by Michel Schneider. The author was inspired by a 2005 article in the Los Angeles Times, containing a transcript (from memory) by John Miner, a detective involved in the original investigation into Monroe’s death, of tapes that he claimed were made for her psychiatrist, Dr Ralph Greenson, shortly before she died in 1962.
The tapes have never been found, but the publication of Miner’s transcripts proved controversial, which reflected the continuing public interest in Marilyn. Some experts on Monroe’s life pointed to factual anomalies in the text, outlined by Melinda Mason in her response, ‘Songs Marilyn Never Sang’.
While Miner’s transcript was a catalyst for Schneider, the material in his novel – and this documentary – are largely unrelated. Schneider has re-imagined the relationship between Monroe and Greenson over the last two years of her life.
In the documentary, Schneider’s text provides a voiced narrative to a 90-minute montage of newsreel and home movies, film scenes and footage of the cities where Marilyn lived. Visually, it is impressive. Scenes from Don’t Bother to Knock are used to illustrate how Marilyn’s character, the disturbed Nell, resembled her own mother, Gladys. And the death scene from Niagara is used to evoke the shadowy rumours about how Monroe’s life ended.
A recorded interview that Marilyn gave to George Belmont for Marie-Claire in 1960 is also played. However its source is never overtly stated, leaving the audience to assume that these are the private tapes allegedly made for Greenson.
A stag film, The Apple-Knockers and the Coke, is included here, but the girl featured is not Monroe. As early as 1970, New York cinemas were marketing the clip as starring MM, but her friend, James Haspiel, has established that the actress was, in fact, Arline Hunter: a former Playboy model who had gained some notoriety for imitating Monroe’s look.
Thorough research would suggest that no blue movie footage attributed to Marilyn has yet been proved genuine, but this does not fit the dramatic agenda of The Last Sessions. It is also stated that in the final months of her life, Monroe had been caught having sex in public by police. Perhaps this is another case of ‘artistic license’, as I have never heard of such an incident.
The heady eroticism that Marilyn projected in her films and photo shoots was an artful illusion, and in reality she was not nearly as promiscuous as Schneider and Jeudy have implied. Furthermore, by emphasising her personal problems and tragic experiences so strongly, the film-makers have done Monroe a disservice. Her determination and quick wit are nowhere to be found in this two-dimensional portrait.
Whatever Marilyn’s inner thoughts may have been, we can only speculate. This makes an intriguing premise for a novel, and I look forward to reading Schneider’s book when it is finally published in English this August. But this approach works less well in the documentary form, and the blurring between fact and fiction ultimately disappoints.