Marilyn and Jane’s ‘Feminist Buddy Comedy’

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of Marilyn’s most popular movies, and it just seems to get better with age. In an article for Bust, Samantha Mann describes how it surpassed her expectations.

“Lorelei and Dorothy are the makers and shakers throughout the film. They are the ones who make events happen; events are not happening to them. Often in film, women are on the receiving end of action, or stand adjacent to it, but here, the women act on their own desires and motives to move the action forward. They unabashedly chase the things they want—Monroe’s character is chasing money, and Russell’s character is chasing a poor man to love. It would be easy to reduce Monroe’s character to merely a gold-digger, but she is looking for power and access in a culture driven by money. She is upfront about her intentions, and does not let society’s thoughts about her behavior change her plan of action.

Lorelei seems like the classic dumb blonde throughout, but she routinely gives the audience glimpses that this is merely an act. At one point, she blatantly states, ‘I can be smart when it’s important, but most men don’t like it,’ so she’s literally giving men what they want as a means to an end.

Many have noted that not one scene in the movie passes the Bechdel-Wallace test, which didn’t even exist until 1985, but it should be noted that passing the Bechdel test does not inherently make art feminist. Towards the end of the film, Lorelei’s boyfriend tells her that she needs to change if she wants to maintain their relationship. Without hesitation, she declares this is the women she is, and he can take her or leave her. I find it feminist to stick to yourself and motives, and not wilt due to the desires of men. Overall, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a surprisingly feminist, funny buddy comedy.”

Marilyn Shakes a Leg in ‘Monkey Business’

Over at the Culled Culture blog,  Genna Rivieccio takes another look at Monkey Business.

“The 1952 vehicle that helped further establish Marilyn Monroe as a comically innocent sex symbol, Monkey Business, is an exploration of this very notion–that were the ‘old’ and ‘aged’ to lose some of their inhibitions as they were able to at the peak of their hormonal teen years, then they might just get a chance to finally do things right with their lives–at least sexually … The staidness of the adult mind, so bristled by sex more than excited by it as it was in adolescence, is manifested most clearly when Lois shows off her ‘stockings’ (filled by the signature Monroe leg) to Barnaby, who invented the no-snag fabric for them. He stares at it with not a lustful thought in his mind, examining it as a work of art for its practical, not biological purposes.”

Dancing On the Edge With Marilyn

Marilyn during dance rehearsals for ‘Let’s Make Love’, 1960

A wide-ranging essay about Marilyn, encompassing Charles Casillo’s recent biography and comparisons to Hedy Lamarr (and much more), has been posted by David Herrle on his Bookolage blog.

“Sure, many might consider the gulf between Hedy’s public image and her intellectual/scientific passions to be wider than Marilyn’s, teaming up with George Antheil in an invention frenzy and belting out detailed ideas such as breakthrough spread-spectrum technology utilized by the Navy, but Marilyn was much more of a reader and a curiouser cultural dabbler/explorer – and she was…get ready to groan…headier about acting. I think Marilyn had more of a genuine artist in her, and I think her frustrations and pain were of the artists’ brand. But still. She excelled as living art, as bathetic (and perhaps offensive) as that term is.

Marilyn’s despondent spells, her hang-ups, and her fears and sublimations have been categorized as darkness, but I consider the woman essentially a creature of light and an evoker of light for others – including us, and I’m fascinated by the profound light metaphors that were and are so often used about her. ‘I could massage her in the dark because her body gave off light,’ said masseur Ralph Roberts. Henry Hathaway, who directed Marilyn in Niagara, said that she was ‘bright, really bright…naturally bright.’ And in reference to her role as Lorelei Lee in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, Charles Casillo writes that ‘she absolutely glows. Her inner light is so radiant that it’s difficult to believe anything dark ever happened to her – you don’t want to believe it, yet you know there’s darkness there.’

A common assessment is that Marilyn gradually disintegrated throughout her life, but perhaps that’s not quite correct. There must first be integration for disintegration, and I think it’s safe to guess that Marilyn was never integrated, never in any equilibrium, never in a steady orbit around a definite self which could be nourished properly, let alone allowed to burgeon and deepen. I like to imagine that living to old age would have benefited her rather than gradually destroyed her, as the common prediction goes. In my relatively limited knowledge, I think that more time might have provided space for her to hone her cultural interests, refine her poetry, ripen her life philosophy. I can picture her exclaiming like Margaret Fuller once did: ‘I feel within myself an immense power, but I cannot bring it out!'”

Criterion Goes the Extra Mile With Marilyn

Another review for the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot (see my photos of the booklet, above) is posted today on Daniel S. Levine’s Movie Mania Madness blog, this time with a special focus on the extras.

Some Like It Hot works for me. It’s not as polished and perfect as The Apartment, as snappy as The Major and The Minor or as hopelessly romantic as Sabrina. But it doesn’t have to be. Rather, it is a successful mix of everything that made Wilder’s best movies work, minus the biting cynicism of The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard or Ace in the Hole.

  • Criterion replaced the MGM/UA commentary that included interviews with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis with the 1989 commentary the label recorded for its laserdisc release. This one features Howard Suber breaking down the film and explaining why it works. It includes brief remarks from Lemmon. For the most part, it’s a good track, although Suber seems a little too obsessed with Monroe.

The 2-disc DVD also included galleries and an interactive pressbook, which are also not included here. However, considering how in-depth everything we do get is, those do not feel like big omissions. There’s a lot crammed onto this disc, ensuring that fans of the film will still want it even if they have previous editions.”

Marilyn’s ‘Phenomenal’ Criterion Classic

Reviewing the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot for Screen Anarchy, J. Hurtado says it’s still one of the funniest films ever made (although needless to say,  I strongly disagree with his opinion that Marilyn was “more phenomenon than actress.”)

“At a little over two hours, Some Like It Hot seems like it’d be a bit long for a comedy, especially in 1959, but Wilder & Diamond’s script leaves no room for dead air as the witty dialogue and continuous hijinks keep the party rolling at a breakneck pace. While Curtis and Lemmon were consummate performers even back then, with well-practiced delivery that really complimented the dialogue, Monroe was more of a phenomenon than an actress. However, with the expert direction, and apparently infinite patience, of Wilder, she is able to deliver one of her best on screen performances here, not to mention the fact that she was styled to the nines in some of the most amazing wardrobe ever seen on the big screen.”

Criterion’s ‘Some Like It Hot’ Reviewed

Dennis Seuling has reviewed the new Criterion Collection edition of Some Like It Hot for The Digital Bits.

“Ms. Monroe is the heart of the film as Sugar, sweet-natured despite having had her share of hard knocks. She trusts Josephine and Daphne, gets a little tipsy, and confides her insecurities to ‘the girls.’ Ms. Monroe plays the role with a natural combination of sex appeal and innocence. Her comic timing is perfect, always aware of where the joke is and hitting the right emphasis effortlessly.

This Blu-ray release, with high definition 1080p resolution, is a new 4K restoration with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. An original 35mm camera negative was the primary source for the restoration with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Visual quality is pristine, in keeping with the Criterion Collection’s high standard for black and white releases. Detail is excellent, particularly in the nighttime car chase early in the film. Clothing patterns, strands of hair, and skin textures in close-ups stand out.

Audio is clean and clear, with dialogue coming through perfectly. In a scene that has Lemmon shaking maracas, Wilder wisely had him shake them between his lines so that the jokes could be heard. Machine gun fire is as impressive as in a modern gangster flick. Ms. Monroe’s songs, ‘Runnin’ Wild’ and ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’, are balanced well and the singer’s sultry voice dominates.

Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary, three behind-the-scenes documentaries, a featurette about Orry-Kelly’s costumes, an appearance by Billy Wilder on The Dick Cavett Show, a conversation between Tony Curtis and critic Leonard Maltin, a French TV interview with Jack Lemmon, a radio interview with Marilyn Monroe, a trailer, and a booklet containing a critical essay.

Marilyn Monroe on the radio – In this 1955 interview with Dave Garroway on Monitor, Ms. Monroe discusses her role as sex symbol and the stereotyped role of the ‘dumb blonde,’ which she believes is a limited view. She discusses her plan to move to New York and her particular fondness for Brooklyn and its atmosphere. Her favorite singers are Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra (noting his new, jazzier style). Her goal is to be a good actress.”

A ‘Likely’ Pair: Marilyn and Carl Sandburg

Photo by Arnold Newman, 1962

In an article for Vintage News, Barbara Stepko takes a closer look at Marilyn’s touching friendship with the Chicago poet and Lincoln’s biographer, Carl Sandburg. (She also notes that Sandburg was not the only intellectual charmed by Marilyn: after meeting her at a party in 1960, Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov described her as “gloriously pretty, all bosom and rose.”)

Photos by Len Steckler, 1961

“When she and Sandburg first met is a matter of some debate. Some believe it was in 1958, during the filming of Some Like It Hot. Others say it was two years later, when an 82-year-old Sandburg, working in Hollywood at the time, was temporarily given the actress’s dressing room to use as an office.

Monroe introduced herself and the two immediately hit it off. The two would meet up again at the New York apartment of photographer Len Steckler in December 1961, then a month later at the home of Hollywood producer Henry Weinstein, with photographer Arnold Newman and others in attendance. A Look Magazine tribute to Monroe which Sandburg had written after her death was accompanied by photos from both photographers.

What Monroe found in Sandburg was someone who could see beyond her glamorous image and like her for herself. Sandburg, for his part, was impressed with the actress’s down-to-earth personality, citing ‘a vitality, a readiness for humor.’ He also appreciated that Monroe, like himself, had come up the hard way.

Monroe was eager to pick Sandburg’s brain, the two of them discussing a wide range of topics. Although the actress was a bit out of her depth when it came to science and economics, she was well-versed when it came to current events and, naturally, Hollywood. (At one point, both of them would sing the praises of Charlie Chaplin.)”

Remembering Nicolas Roeg, and ‘Insignificance’

Britain’s greatest arthouse filmmaker, Nicolas Roeg, has died aged 90. Born in London in 1928, he began his career in 1947 as a humble tea-boy at Marylebone Studios. By the 1960s, he was cinematographer for Lawrence of Arabia, Fahrenheit 451 and Far From the Madding Crowd.

In 1970, Roeg made his directorial debut with Performance, which starred Mick Jagger and has become a cult classic. Roeg followed it with Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth (starring David Bowie), Bad Timing, Eureka, Castaway, Track 29, The Witches, and Cold Heaven. His final film was released in 2007.

Roeg is also known to Monroe fans for Insignificance, the surreal comic fantasy based on Terry Johnson’s play, and starring Roeg’s then-wife, Theresa Russell, as ‘The Actress’, a character based on Marilyn.  It is one of the more successful films to feature Marilyn as a character. The story is set on the fateful night in September 1954 when Marilyn filmed her famous ‘skirt-blowing scene’ on a New York subway grate. Other characters included ‘The Professor’ (Albert Einstein), ‘The Ballplayer’ (Marilyn’s soon-to-be ex-husband Joe DiMaggio, played by Gary Busey.) In an ironic twist, ‘The Senator’, based on Joseph McCarthy, was played by Tony Curtis, Marilyn’s co-star in Some Like It Hot.

Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum reviewed Insignificance for the Chicago Reader:

“Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 film adaptation of Terry Johnson’s fanciful, satirical play has many detractors, but approached with the proper spirit, you may find it delightful and thought-provoking. The lead actors are all wonderful, but the key to the conceit involves not what the characters were actually like but their cliched media images, which the film essentially honors and builds upon … But the film is less interested in literal history than in the various fantasies that these figures stimulate in our minds, and Roeg’s scattershot technique mixes the various elements into a very volatile cocktail—sexy, outrageous, and compulsively watchable. It’s a very English view of pop Americana, but an endearing one.”

When Insignificance got the Criterion Collection treatment in 2011, Rosenbaum revisited the movie in an essay, which he has now posted to his blog:

“Insignificance pointedly doesn’t sort out the differences between fact and fancy; it’s more interested in playfully turning all four of its celebrities into metaphysicians of one kind or another … All this sport, to be sure, has specifically English inflections. These crazed American icons are being viewed from an amused and bemused distance, and much of the talk qualifies as fancy mimicry.

‘I didn’t write Insignificance because I was interested in Marilyn Monroe,’ [Terry] Johnson avowed in a 1985 interview with Richard Combs for the Monthly Film Bulletin (August 1985). This film occasioned an extensive rewrite and expansion of the original by Johnson, but even then he couldn’t be sure whether or not he’d ever seen The Seven Year Itch … One perk of his lack of interest in Monroe is complicating and confounding the popular notion of her as a dumb blonde — a stereotype that she’d helped to create herself — in order to shape and justify his outlandish plot.

The play stays glued over its two acts to Einstein’s hotel room. The film adds crosscutting and incidental characters … The new locations include not only the Trans-Lux Theater, but also a bar where McCarthy and DiMaggio nurse their separate grudges, and the shop where Monroe buys her demonstration toys. Perhaps the most significant additions are the brief, telegraphic, and sometimes cryptic flashbacks pertaining to the respective youths of Monroe, Einstein, and DiMaggio, and last but not least, the Elephant in the Room, the H-Bomb itself — which one might say puts in a crucial, last-minute appearance as the celebrity to end all celebrities, dwarfing and making irrelevant all of the others.”

Clash By Night: Marilyn’s Female-Led Noir

Over at Vulture, film critic Angelica Jade Bastien names  Fritz Lang’s Clash By Night (1952) in a list of ’10 Female-Led Noirs’. Some might argue that Clash isn’t a classic noir, as it’s not set in a major city and no serious crimes are committed – but for me, its gritty treatment of post-war discontent, and repressed sexuality and simmering violence place it firmly in the canon. (I would argue that Don’t Bother to Knock and Niagara also partially qualify, thanks to Marilyn’s gripping scenes with Anne Bancroft and Jean Peters, respectively.)

“What happens when the woman people view you as isn’t who you really are, nor who you want to be? Clash by Night poses this question by beginning where most noir ends. Mae Doyle (Stanwyck) has grown accustomed to a decadent life, but is forced to return to her hometown of Monterey, California, after that life falls apart. Soon, Mae settles into a life in which she’s uncomfortable, navigating marrying a gruff fisherman (Paul Douglas) and having a daughter quickly after. She finds herself drawn to the far more exciting, equally restless Earl (noir stalwart Robert Ryan). Clash by Night is a domestic noir bolstered by its rich insight into the ways women feel confined by society, as well as by its amazing direction by the legendary Fritz Lang and its performances, including a magnetic supporting turn by Marilyn Monroe. But it’s Stanwyck’s performance as a woman of temerity who is far too bold and yearning for the prosaic existence she finds herself trapped within that earns it a spot on this list.”

Secrets of the Marilyn ‘Lollapalooza’

Marilyn on The Jack Benny Show, 1953

In an article for ValueWalk, Mark Tobak applies superinvestor Charlie Munger’s ‘Lollapalooza’ concept to explain Marilyn’s enduring popularity.

“How has this remarkable woman and icon of the 1950s cast a worldwide spell that is still undiminished more than fifty years after her tragic death? Her image and persona earned a reported $27 million in 2011 (according to Forbes), just behind Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. While Elvis and Michael primarily market lucrative recordings, Marilyn earns millions with nothing but an image, a voice and a singular human presence in a small ouevre of movies, newsreels and television appearances.

Could she be a Lollapalooza? Yes! Witness six of Charlie’s cognitive distorting powers that combine to help Marilyn cast her delightful spell:

  1. 1)The Power of Incentive: Marilyn offers the untroubled love of a spectacular beauty to all who behold her, young or old, never rejects and never hurts.
  2. 2)The Power of Social Proof: Who would not be swept up in the adoring crowds, both male and female, who flocked to Marilyn’s film and public appearances?
  3. 3)The Power of Availability: In the 1950s Marilyn was everywhere: film, ads, photos, books, magazines, public, radio and TV appearances, and her famous USO tour.
  4. 4)The Power of Liking/Loving and Reciprocation Tendency: Most professional beauties seem elite and untouchable. But Marilyn seemed more like a deity who loves us all. Who would not love her back?
  5. 5)The Power of Pavlovian Association: Marilyn is pictured with all things good: beaches and pools, Coca-Cola, public events and celebrations, jewelry, gowns, new cars, vacations, and other celebrities basking in her glow.
  6. 6)The Power of Excessive Self-Regard: Marilyn appeals to the narcissism of every man who thinks he could win her, and inflates his ego with an illusory near-miss. Still he does not envy the high status males who did win her; they are his proxies. Women have often admired her without envy, devoted fans who may even see a bit of themselves in her, and her in them. Indeed a new book by Michelle Morgan, The Girl, notes that Marilyn was a businesswoman, and ‘an unlikely feminist.’
  7. Each of these six of Charlie’s powers, together with Marilyn’s extraordinary beauty, talent, intelligence, courage, fierce ambition and hard work, combined to make her a singular superstar, and to remain one to this day. And despite Hollywood’s formidable ability to concoct stars using plastic surgery, artifice, dress and makeup, lighting, writing, directing and cutting, there have never been any that reach the iconic status of Marilyn Monroe. Even those the studios promoted as ‘the next Marilyn Monroe.’
  8. As Charlie Munger has noted, unmasking these cognitive distorting powers does not diminish their efficacy. No one can halt a Lollapalooza. Take a look for yourself at Marilyn in her glory: romancing the hopelessly unlovable pennypincher, Jack Benny (see powers 1, 4 & 6 above) in a dream sequence on his 1953 TV program at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWdtCYWkwKM. Or entertaining spellbound and delighted US troops in Korea in 1954 (see powers 1,2,4 and 6 above) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDA0084gZWc. Certainly Charlie’s right: in this case, the whole has proven far greater than the parts — and longer-lasting as well.”