I'm not that into documentaries. I feel the same way about them as I do about musical comedy. I think it's gonna be shit (you made a joke rhyme. Big whoop) so I don't give it a chance but this week I happened across a couple of biographical docos that I kind of enjoyed.
The first was Love, Marilyn about, guess who, the screen icon Marilyn Monroe. Now, many a documentary has turned it's gaze on this 50s doyen but what distinguished this film was its use of extracts from her own recently-discovered personal journaling. This included diary entries, poetry, even recipes. It was supplemented with extracts from biographies and accounts from people who knew her to create a new collage of recollections about her life.
I didn't know that much about the girl from humble beginnings, the foster care, her mother's mental illness, the last name Mortenson which then became Baker, it was the little details that built up a picture of the girl behind bombshell. The most interesting thing for me was Marilyn's constant battle with the demons that can plague all performers, the not feeling good enough, the stage fright, the nerves, the self-flagelation and constant and unrelenting demands made upon yourself to do better the next time. It was illuminating to see that it didn't matter how high up the tree you got, you could still get scared. Although you're closer to the stars you're also a lot further from the ground.
Marilyn's was a light that shone brightly and briefly but in her time she planted herself firmly into the annuls of movie history in a way many of her contemporaries have not. There was something profoundly mesmerising about Marilyn. Looking at her face was almost like looking at a hologram where in one instance you saw the innocence of the unwanted orphan child but adjust your focus and the highly sexualised goddess pops out of the screen and almost jabs you in the eye.
On paper, once she became a leading lady, things were set up nicely for her. She was a star, had a contract with a major studio and had created a niche for herself playing comedic roles as the dumb blond. However there was a malaise which belied this. Marilyn became increasingly dissatisfied with playing to these stereotypes and she also discovered that her co stars, some of whom were not even under a studio contract, were garnering significantly higher fees.
A less brave person would stick with the studio and perhaps try and negotiate for a slightly bigger slice of the pie but Marilyn knew her worth and knew she wanted more, she wanted something beyond the money and movies, she wanted satisfaction. To feel satisfaction in your work is one of greatest and hardest things for a person to achieve. Marilyn left her studio contract took herself to New York to study amongst jobbing actors to learn about her craft. Her goal was not just to be in movies but to be a great and noteworthy actor and she didn't want any shortcuts, she was willing to put the time in. She trained, she danced, she sang, she threw her whole being into this pursuit.
Seeking that contentment and freedom of expressions can lead to some difficult decisions which those around you may not always understand as was the case with Beyonce. In Life Is But A Dream, she explains how she had to make the tough choice to take over the reigns of her management from her father who had basically created a career for her from scratch.
Beyonce states early on that more important to her than anything was her need to grow as an artist. She started to feel penned into particular expectations and she was outgrowing the pigeonhole she found herself. This caused her to make the decision to breakaway. So important was this to her that she stated that she didn't care if she never sold a record again. It would still be worth it to be creatively free. Personally I'm not really aware of a before and after as far as her work is concerned but I very much dig the fact that she is a woman at the top of her game who's still willing to make tough calls to honour her journey.
Once she took over her management she then had to decide, now, what do I want? At the top of that list presumable was bloody awesome rapper husband, baby and perform at the Super Bowl. check, check, CHECK!
Well I'm guessing from her expanding and ever-blooming success her choices are paying off and then some.
And even though Mrs Carter may not be quite the enigma Ms Monroe was (the only question she illicits from me is how come your skin's so light in some photographs?? You look like a member of the Cullen family - I am not proud of that Twilight reference. I didn't even have to check the name. I just knew it), she may not be an enigma but even she, with her musical global dominance, mega fortune, fame, beauty and talent is still dogged by those things that tug at the consciousness of all performers. Do people like what I'm doing, was I good enough, can I do better?
It wasn't by chance I came across these documentaries. They both inspired and reassured me as I've been troubled by performers anxiety on many occasion (the very first panel show I did was a pilot for channel 4. I was shaking so much that when I picked my glass of water I was so scared I'd spill it that I ended up clinging onto it for the entire recording) but also it's I appreciated hearing them speak about seeking the means to express oneself authentically. This is something we should all give ourselves permission to do.
It's easy to back yourself into a corner where people have fixed ideas of what you do or who you are. After a while it can be very difficult to break free of that. If I learned nothing else from these documentaries, I saw how important it is to keep growing, developing and changing. Oh and after seeing Beyonce hack at her barnet with a pair of scissors, I also learned it's ok to cut your own hair.
Finally, I am vindicate! (I've been doing that for two years. I HATE salons). Perhaps documentaries aren't so bad after all.