‘Blonde’: A Biopic Too Far?

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Poster for ‘Goodbye Norma Jean’ (1976)

Following recent reports that Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel, Blonde (loosely based on Marilyn’s life) may finally reach the big screen with Jessica Chastain in the leading role, Ball Smazig argues that ‘We Need to Stop Making Marilyn Monroe Movies‘ in a post for the Oh No They Didn’t  gossip blog. (And given the poor quality of many past biopics, even some diehard MM fans may agree.)

“Her legend is well-worn territory at this point, and so filmmakers who are interested in it need to find a way to make their project stand out. As a prominent historical figure, especially one who is portrayed so often onscreen and in pop culture, every detail of her story has been put onscreen at least once, which means that no matter how a project attempts to differentiate itself, it always ends up recycling the same information over and over again. It also means that there are numerous stories about Old Hollywood that are left untold, stories that are just as compelling, enticing and heartbreaking as Monroe’s.”

Jessica Chastain in Talks for ‘Blonde’

Jessica Chastain, photographed by Daniel King

Director Andrew Dominik is still planning to film Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Blonde – to be produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company – but with a new leading lady. The Wrap reports today that insider sources are suggesting Naomi Watts is out of the picture, with Jessica Chastain now in the running. According to a thread on the IMDB message board, Dominik revealed his new favourite in February.

“Dominik adapted Blonde on spec and his agency, CAA, will represent the film’s domestic distribution rights.

Worldview Entertainment optioned the long-gestating project in May 2013, and will produce the film with Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner’s company Plan B — which according to the LA Times, boarded the project in June 2012.”

As Celia Foote in 'The Help', a character thought to be based on Marilyn
As Celia Foote in ‘The Help’, a character thought to be based on Marilyn

At first glance, Chastain is not an obvious choice to play Marilyn. However, her performance in The Help as Celia Foote, a character whom some have speculated may be based on MM, earned her an Oscar nomination.

My own misgivings about this project do not concern the actress or the director, who are both very accomplished, but the source material. While Joyce Carol Oates is one of America’s most prominent writers, Blonde is less of a biographical novel than a brand of speculative fiction. It was previously adapted for television in 2002, to mixed reviews.

Egor Bogachev’s ‘Russian Monroe’

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Artist Egor Bogachev is featured in ‘Russian Neon‘, a new exhibition at Erarta Zurich, Switzerland, on display until May 20. His work explores icons of religion, politics and pop culture, blending such disparate figures as Marilyn and Vladimir Lenin.

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“Bogachev’s series Russian Crusades takes contemporary pop culture idols and reworks them as religious icons, combining tsarist garb with neon halos to create works which are ‘symbols of the ambivalent cultural self-discovery of Russia after the end of the Soviet Union.’

In his second series, Lenin Line, Bogachev’s work centres on the Russian leader, whose face is merged with a number of spiritual symbols. Inspired in part by the photography of Russian artist and constructivist pioneer Alexander Rodchenko, the neon colours present psychedelic images of the historical leader intended to ‘neutralise the pathos of Lenin as a historical figure.'” – Nadia Beard, Calvert Journal

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‘Goodbye Miss Monroe’ in Melbourne

Anna Burgess as Marilyn in 'Goodbye Miss Monroe'
Anna Burgess as Marilyn in ‘Goodbye Miss Monroe’

Goodbye Miss Monroe is a new play by Liam de Burca about choreographer Jack Cole, reports the Herald Sun. Cole is played by Matt Young, while Anna Burgess plays the various Hollywood actresses he coached, including Marilyn and Rita Hayworth.

Goodbye Miss Monroe will be staged at the Chapel off Chapel in  Prahran, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, from April 29-May 4.

De Kooning’s Marilyn at the Smithsonian

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Eight years before Andy Warhol, the Dutch-born American painter, Willem de Kooning was perhaps the first great artist to immortalise Marilyn. His 1954 expressionist work is featured in a new exhibition, Face Value: Portraiture In the Age of Abstraction, opening at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC tomorrow (April 15) through to next January, reports the Times Colonist.

During the summer of 1957, De Kooning was a neighbour of Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Amagansett, New York. “Totally abstract, Marilyn looks like a cross between a grinning child and a screaming fury, not like the soft and gentle Marilyn,” Lois Banner wrote in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012.) “Yet he captured part of her essence – childlike, but angry when crossed. The portrait was hung in the Museum of Modern Art, and it produced a stir. Arthur detested it, but Marilyn didn’t mind: she thought artists had the right to their own vision of the subject they painted. It led to the many pop art portraits of her.”

Liz Smith on Kazan, Miller, and Marilyn

Photo by Inge Morath
Photo by Inge Morath

Liz Smith, ‘the grande dame of dish’, has shared her thoughts on Elia Kazan’s recently-published letter about Marilyn in her latest syndicated piece – and it’s a doozy. You can read it in full here.

“The cruel irony/P.S. to this is that Kazan, after years of estrangement with Arthur Miller, would collaborate with him again, mounting one of (I think) the worst moments in American theater history — Miller’s play After the Fall. This was Miller’s confession/denunciation of Monroe as a castrating, self-destructive witch, from whom he had to escape. That Monroe was two years dead and unable to defend herself appeared of no interest to her ex-husband or her ex-lover. Miller’s pretense that the ‘Maggie’ of his play was not Monroe — or his version of her — compounded the insult. Marilyn’s good friend, author James Baldwin, walked out of After the Fall, so furious was he over Miller’s characterization of her. (The star, Barbara Loden was costumed, bewigged and given the appropriate Monroe-like gestures, in case anybody didn’t quite get it.)

THOSE who disliked Arthur Miller — and there were many — found some satisfaction in the fact that After the Fall was his last success. He would wallow in epilogue and various variations on Marilyn for the rest of his life.

Miller’s inactivity as a writer — except for his tedious screenplay for The Misfits — was often blamed on Marilyn. He himself said it. But right after the Miller/Monroe divorce, columnist Max Lerner opined that it was less likely that Monroe had constricted Miller, but that he had sought her out precisely because he had run out of material.

Several weeks before her death, an interviewer faced Marilyn with Lerner’s observation. Did she have a comment? She paused, and then said: ‘If I answer, will you promise to repeat my quote in its entirety?’

The writer said yes.

Marilyn replied: ‘No comment.’

This is the only thing Marilyn Monroe ever said criticizing a husband — or anybody else in public life for that matter. She was, as Kazan noted, ‘not vicious.’ And it is an indication of her agony, being blamed for the failures of a man she literally saved; standing with him and risking her own career as he was grilled by The House Un-American Activities Committee, in the matter of his youthful communist flirtations.

Miller and Kazan left that Marilyn out of After the Fall.”

Marilyn: The Globes’ Golden Girl

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It’s great to see Marilyn getting some attention on the Golden Globe website. She is pictured here on March 10, 1960, clutching her Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, after her triumph in Some Like It Hot.

The Golden Globe was originally an international press award, and European critics were much quicker to reward Marilyn’s talent than the Hollywood establishment (she was never nominated for an Oscar.)

Unfortunately, the article contains one glaring error. The photo is incorrectly dated as being from 1952, when Marilyn had won the Henrietta award for Best Young Box Office Personality.

The bespectacled lady sitting beside Marilyn has not been identified.

Marilyn and mystery woman, without glasses
Marilyn and mystery woman, without glasses