Growing up, I combed my parents’ bookshelves for anything that had pictures of nude women on it. Unfortunately, most of my father’s books were just words, and my mother’s were in French. However, there were a few volumes that offered a desperate young man some excitement:The Beatles Illustrated it featured a risqué image of Lovely Rita, a subway worker, and some cute cartoon breasts; a history of burlesque offered some grainy black-and-white images that were close to exciting; other Marilyn Monroe movies it did provide some raunchy shots of Monroe, though none of her more famous nudes.
I came across the racier photos of Marilyn in high school when my twin sister started reading about old movie stars like Vivien Leigh and Lauren Bacall. She swallowed our mother’s paperback copy of Bacall’s stellar memoir, Myself, and first came across Monroe’s story in a television documentary. Somehow we caught it on video and it was in constant rotation for a long time.
My sister collected a large number of Marilyn picture books, including photographs of eva arnold other bert stern—and text of Gloria Steinem other norman mail. I looked at them, of course, and appreciated Monroe’s power as a photographic subject, even an erotic one, but it didn’t appeal to me. Everything about her was too much. And I didn’t understand Monroe as an actress, having been weaned on Tina Louise’s secondhand impression of giligans Island, She didn’t yet know that Monroe’s breathy sex-goddess persona was a farce, the conscious style of a nimble comedic actress.
Marilyn had been dead for two decades by then, and what we knew of her was the stuff of myth, interpreted through Warhol’s celebrity machine. Her fame eviscerated her and encouraged her legend.
“Who knows what to make of Marilyn Monroe or those who turn her illness into a metaphor?” paulina kael wrote in his 1973 review of Norman Mailer’s illustrated book, marilyn “I wish they would let her die.”
Nearly fifty years later, the clichéd legend of Marilyn is told in a solemn yet hallucinatory gothic style in blond, the endless new Netflix movie directed by Andrew Dominik, starring Ana de Armas as Monroe. Based on the 1999 novel by Joyce Carol Oates Blond, this is the myth of Marilyn as a horror film: orphan, victim, prey; raped, beaten, convicted. An American nightmare. In the novel, Oates provides a helpful disclaimer (followed by thoughtful biographical recommendations): “blond it is a work of fiction. While many characters portrayed here have some counterparts in the life and times of Marilyn Monroe, the characterizations and incidents presented are entirely figments of the author’s imagination. Respectively, blond It should be read solely as a work of fiction, not as a biography of Marilyn Monroe.”
This goes double for Netflix’s miserable adaptation, which shouldn’t be considered a biography, though it might be tempting to take it as such due to its meticulous visual detail. blond it’s elegant and controlled, then the characters talk and it’s leaden. Because the film is almost completely devoid of humor, we are left with the camp with no pleasure:show girls bad without being show girls funny-bad (unless you count the talking fetus). blond it’s too solemn, technically accomplished, and deadly serious for anything resembling fun. He much prefers punishment.
you may have heard that blond It’s the first Netflix movie with an NC-17 rating, but what makes it NC-17 is sex mixed with brutality, not just explicit sex. This is a movie that wants to turn you on and make you feel bad, so we can really understand what it was like to be Marilyn, a piece of meat. In an elaborate recreation of the subway grid scenes in Itching seven years, Monroe’s skirt goes up and we get a gallery of Hieronymus Bosch-esque leering men, writers, photographers and technicians, as well as a montage of slow-mo replays of her skirt going up, from all different angles. And yes, they show us Marilyn’s crotch and her panties. blond he wants to have his cheesecake and eat it too.
The look is almost relentlessly coy and impressive, and the film often has the feel of a perfume ad (or is it a Lana Del Rey video?). Hairstyling, costumes, set decoration, and production design are excellent. Cinematographer Chayse Irvin’s visual style covers the boardwalk: hyperreal and intimate, then arcing and dramatically theatrical. If many of the scenes are somewhat familiar to you, it is because they are based on famous photographs of Monroe. The light feels familiar; let’s suits, too. blond it is most engaging when it attempts to recreate the mystique of Marilyn through the power of imagery. The scenes with dialogue are so flat, so clunky, that it’s a relief when we can only watch.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Ana de Armas. She isn’t given much to play with, except an ever-tearful, googly-eyed innocent; she often looks more like Brittany Murphy than Monroe. She has done a disservice in the scenes where she stands in for the real Marilyn in clips from the Monroe movies, although it was a momentary pleasure to see the real George Sanders in all about Eve. Through no fault of his own, de Armas simply has nothing like Monroe’s levity, charm or charisma. With this Marilyn we don’t get the goblin behind the traumatized soul.
Reviewing the original CBS film version of blondTom Shales, the great Washington Post television critic wrote: “Ironically, the film seems as cruel and abusive to Marilyn Monroe as the men who pounce on her scene after scene. These are outlandish, poorly acted, drooling male stereotypes: Neanderthals in striped suits who drool, snarl, and stamp their feet at the sight of her. The portrayals are as subtle as old villains with mortgages and mustaches in showbiz melodramas and silent blinks.”
This holds true for the Netflix version as well, no matter how talented the performers are or how high the production values are. Bobby Cannavale comes across as a particularly brutal version of Joe DiMaggio (Cannavale is much more interesting when he’s not playing heavy), and Adrian Brody is angsty and unshaven as Arthur Miller. After successful turns like Pat Riley and Arthur Miller, what’s next for Brody? Bertrand Russell?
There are hints of Terrence Malick and David Lynch in blond; sunset boulevard, raging bull, and the photographs of Weegee are often evoked in scenes with photographers firing flashes (according to production notes, nearly 2,500 flashes were used in Itching seven years sequence alone). And if you don’t get the point, Dominik insists on the grotesque. The mouth of the paparazzi and the crowd at the premiere of some like it hot they dare to exaggerate their monstrosity. For some viewers, this dark and lyrical fugue may be enough to make it big. The filmmakers are not fakers, they do not lack conviction. But his story, successful as it is, is hard work. At 2 hours and 47 minutes, it’s also an endurance test.
My sister devoured most of the Marilyn movies at the old Regency theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (the Regency double-billed Hollywood classics, a kind of TCM before TCM). She wasn’t interested in serious things like bus stop or charming as The prince and the showgirlbut I joined her for a double bill of How to marry a millionaire other Gentlemen prefer blondes. I was surprised how much I enjoyed them.
My sister was and is a devotee of musical theater. After seeing Monroe’s sly yet powerful rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” which was familiar to us at the time as the source material for Madonna’s widely played “Material Girl” video, in Gentlemen prefer blondes, I understood why he liked Monroe so much. Monroe was funny, a real comedian, the bombshell with a light touch. The 1950s reincarnation of Jean Harlow, the original blonde bombshell, with a lot of va-va-va-voom. Seeing Monroe for the first time on a big screen was appreciating the indefinable power of him.
“She was very difficult to work with,” said Billy Wilder, who directed Monroe in Itching seven yearsY some like it hot (his interpretation par excellence), told Cameron Crowe. “But what you had, by hook or by crook, once you saw it on screen, it was just amazing. Unbelievable, the radiation that came out.”
We do not experience that radiation in the note Blond, a movie that it covers its luridness with craftsmanship and respectability. But it’s the same old story. What’s been lost is Monroe’s true sense of talent, sense of humor and charm, the qualities my sister still talks about when we talk about Marilyn. the star in blond is treated like a piece of meat and we, the public, as complicit carnivores. All that remains of Marilyn are the bones.
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