Cléo, Meet Marilyn (From 5 to 7)

In a tribute to filmmaker Agnès Varda, who died last week aged 90, Genna Rivieccio notes on her Culled Culture blog the parallels between Marilyn’s life and the tragic young heroine faced with a cancer diagnosis played by Corinne Marchand in Cléo From 5 to 7, the movie released just a few months before  Marilyn’s death, and which helped to launch the French New Wave.

“Although Cléo is beautiful and has a relatively successful singing career, the dark shadow potentially case by the reaper above her won’t go away, nor is it remedied by seeing a fortune teller at the outset of the movie, one who confirms all her worst fears about waiting for some potentially fatal test results from her doctor.

Distraught at first over the reading, Cléo insists to herself that ‘as long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive,’ because ‘ugliness is a kind of death’ so how can she be suffering from it if she’s not aesthetically hideous? Even so, she is aware that if she is dying, it’s only the inside that will matter now–not from a personality or ‘good person’ standpoint, but in terms of it affecting whether or not her demise is imminent. To that former notion, however, Cléo suddenly becomes hyperconscious of the vacuity of her life. Buying hats, lounging around, cursing men. What does it all mean? And what can she do to go on preserving that vacuous little life? Thus, she tells her maid, Angèle (Dominique Davray) that she’ll kill herself if it turns out to be cancer. Angèle does little to comfort her, noting that ‘men hate illness’ and that Cléo ought not to wear a new hat on Tuesday as it’s bad luck.

So, too, did Cléo, a singer who bemoans wanting to project more poignant lyrics but then grows filled with melancholy as she sings a new composition filled with too much death imagery to bear. She wants to remain as she always has been in order to survive, to feel somewhat happy: at the surface of things. Unfortunately, like Marilyn Monroe before her, the woman endlessly preoccupied with her image and looks ends up driving any potential for real and meaningful love away. And as we all know, especially Narcissus, a reflection can’t reciprocate anything, nor love or hate you as much as you do it. Cléo’s childlike [im]maturity, is, in fact, directly related to her self-obsession. In being faced with the reality that her death is imminent, however, she is forced to come to grips with certain truths both about herself and existence that she never would have otherwise.”

PS: And if you should doubt Marilyn’s influence on the nouvelle vague, this photo taken by George Barris just weeks before her death is glimpsed briefly  in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a 1964 musical directed by Varda’s husband, Jacques Demy, and starring lifelong MM fan Catherine Deneuve. (According to IMDB, the film is set in 1957 which makes it a goof.) And in Demy’s 1963 film Bay of Angels, Jeanne Moreau donned a Monroesque blonde wig to play an unhappy divorcee (not unlike Roslyn in The Misfits) who becomes addicted to gambling.

Marilyn’s Fans Keep the Flame Alive

In an era where the Marilyn fandom is increasingly centred online, it’s refreshing to find that some clubs have maintained their print-based model. Among these is Some Like It Hot,  a German fan club founded in 1992, which still offers subscribers a regular newsletter in German and English, Marilyn Today. For more information, contact Benjamin Meissner here or via Instagram.

Meanwhile in Spain, the artist, museum curator and Marilyn scholar Frederic Cabanas has published a short booklet, Marilyn in New York: Side by Side, comparing familiar images of her NYC haunts with photos of the locations today. The text is in Catalan, but the visuals are the main attraction. If you’re interested in purchasing this, visit the Cabanas Foundation website or drop a line to museu@fundaciocabanas.org

Thanks to Michelle Morgan

‘Clash by Night’ at MoMA

Clash By Night will be screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art next Wednesday, April 10 (at 7 pm), and Sunday, April 14 (at 2:30 pm); in conjunction with a movie poster exhibition in the theatre galleries, as David Alm reports for Forbes.

“The movie poster has to be one of the 20th Century’s most enduring pieces of cultural ephemera. Created to seduce audiences into paying a cool quarter to see the pictures at the start of the so-called ‘golden age’ of Hollywood, in the 1920s, many of those posters have acquired a second life as artifacts of a bygone era.

The exhibit pairs with a film series, running April 8th through the 20th, that includes 13 films dating from 1929 through 1974 that, like the posters on display, explored sexual identity in ways ranging from deeply coded, to subtly suggestive, to brazenly forthright. Where a film, and its poster, falls on that spectrum depends largely on when the film was made.

It’s arguable that the golden age of Hollywood was golden precisely for these careful subversions, these subtly embedded messages to those who wanted something from their cinema besides a fortification of socially acceptable ideas of what it meant to be a man or a woman, or of what human sexuality should look like.”

Badman’s Marilyn Bio Set for TV Dramatisation

British author Keith Badman’s 2010 book, The Final Years Of Marilyn Monroe, is being adapted for television, Variety reports. While the book contained some valuable research, there were also some parts I felt were flawed (you can read my review here.)

“The final months of Marilyn Monroe’s life are set to be dramatized in a new series from BBC Studios that will explore her relationship with Hollywood studios and with public figures such as JFK and Bobby Kennedy.

BBC Studios, the BBC’s production and commercial arm, has teamed up with Dan Sefton and Simon Lupton’s U.K. indie producer Seven Seas Films to develop the new show. It has the working tile The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe and will be based on parts of Keith Badman’s book The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe: The Shocking True Story.

Monroe, who died in 1962 at age 36, remains the subject of enduring fascination. The producers said the series would cover a period in which her behavior became increasingly erratic as her dependence on alcohol and medication caused her glittering film career to plunge.

Sefton – whose credits include Jodie Whittaker series Trust Me, ITV drama The Good Karma Hospital, and Sky comedy Delicious – will pen the series. ‘Marilyn’s desire to be taken seriously as an actress and her battle with the powerful men who control the studio system is sadly as relevant today as it ever was,’ Sefton said.

Badman’s book tells Monroe’s story from various perspectives. The series will adopt a similar approach … No broadcaster or platform is attached to the project, but the writing and producing team, and proven source material about an enduring icon, make for a strong package, with U.S. and international appeal.”

Marilyn’s Calendar Girls Pose for Endometriosis Charity

Marilyn leaves hospital with husband Arthur Miller after an ectopic pregnancy (1957)

Marilyn suffered from endometriosis throughout her life, experiencing severe menstrual pains and at least two miscarriages. She underwent numerous operations to alleviate her condition, without success, which undoubtedly contributed to her depression and drug dependency. Although treatments have improved since then, many women today still endure physical agony and high-risk pregnancies. Inspired by Marilyn, members of the Endometriosis UK charity have posed for a vintage-style calendar, which has so far raised £4,000, as Lucy Laing reports for the Daily Mail.

‘As Young As You Feel’ On UK TV

One of Marilyn’s earliest films, As Young As You Feel (1951) will be screened on the UK’s Talking Pictures channel tomorrow (Tuesday, April 2) at 6 pm. Monty Woolley stars as John R. Hodges, who defies mandatory retirement by posing as the company president. Marilyn has a minor role as Harriet, secretary to Hodges’ boss (Albert Dekker.) Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter and David Wayne – all of whom Marilyn would work with again – are among the supporting cast. Veteran actress Constance Bennett, who also appeared in this light comedy, later reflected on Monroe’s famous curves: “There’s a broad with her future behind her.

Thanks to Paul at Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn’s Girl Power in ‘Some Like It Hot’

Another 60th anniversary tribute to Some Like It Hot, this time from Simi Horowitz at the Hollywood Reporter.

“Yet at its core, the film is about sexual relations and attraction, and to judge by some of the film’s 1959 reviews it was pushing the good-taste envelope. Repeatedly, our two very heterosexual leads are suppressing their arousal as they’re flanked on all sides by nubile female musicians. In one legendary snippet, these nightie-clad instrumentalists are frolicking about in a train berth with Jerry/Daphne, for whom the experience is by turns delightful and tormenting.

And how’s this for a bit of convention-defying vulgarity? The women are heavy-duty drinkers and sexually schooled, and not feeling unhappy about it at all. On the contrary, they’re boisterous, living out loud and having a hell of a time reveling in their agency.

Admittedly, Sugar Kane has been exploited by love’em-and-leave’em saxophone players. But make no mistake: She milks her victimization for all it’s worth. Like Monroe herself, Sugar is an embodiment of the male fantasy (breathless, helpless and in need of saving), and employs it to her advantage. When Joe, in the guise of Junior, who is trying hard to evoke Cary Grant, says he likes classical music, Sugar lies outright, proclaiming she studied at the Sheboygan Conservatory. The film is a heady celebration of play-acting.

Manipulation and deception are the name of the game, and everyone indulges with impunity. Even at the end, when Jerry admits to Sugar that he’s a lying louse, just another one of her abusive saxophone players, he hasn’t really changed and neither has she. But true to movie tradition, heterosexual love conquers all — or does it?

Wilder’s universe is far too nuanced for anything as obvious as that. Here, homoerotic twists are everywhere — not least the full mouth-on-mouth kiss between Sugar and Josephine. It’s the turning point when Sugar realizes that Josephine and Junior are one and the same. The line straddling best female bud and male lover is fluid; Sugar adores both sides of that mask, conceivably loving Josephine even more, while Joe has virtually disappeared in the melee of disguises.”

Mimmo Rotella’s Marilyn Manifesto

The ‘décollage’ artist who drew upon torn posters of Marilyn is the subject of a new book, Mimmo Rotella: Manifesto, as Christian House reports for the Telegraph. (FYI, the book’s text is in Italian.)

“In 1954, the Calabrian artist Mimmo Rotella moved to Rome, and discovered his muse in the city’s post-war, pockmarked streets. ‘One evening, as I was leaving my studio, I was attracted to the colours and the boldness of the torn posters that were hanging from the walls,’ he recalled. ‘They were living things that stirred strong emotions in me.’

Rotella began to roam the capital, tearing down sheets of paper heralding the talents of Marilyn Monroe, ministers and circus acts. Passers by were aghast …. At his atelier near Piazza del Popolo, the fragments of posters were glued, layer upon layer, on to canvas, before being ripped, torn and scraped to create ‘new, unpredictable forms.’

Rotella’s arrival in Rome coincided with the golden age of Italian posters. This was the era of Cinecittà (the studio nicknamed ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’), an influx of American tourists and Italy’s ‘economic miracle’. Rotella would come to see his compositions as metaphors for the fluctuating fortunes of his country.

Rotella called his own art of erosion ‘décollage’ – the opposite of collage. When he tired of layering ephemera, he turned the posters around to show their plaster-flaked, mouldy versos. ‘I liked material subjected to bad weather, I liked being able to take it as it was and showing it. It was a theft of reality,’ he said.

Since his death in 2006, this rootless interrogator of consumer culture has become a high-end brand himself … There is a nostalgic pleasure for film buffs and europhiles – the Cinema Paradiso effect – to be had from all the torn glimpses of starlets and matinee idols.”

‘Blonde’ and the Hollywood Novel

Following reports that Cuban actress Ana de Armas will star in a big-screen adaptation of Blonde, Karina Longworth – author of a new Howard Hughes biography, and podcaster at You Must Remember This – lists Joyce Carol Oates’ epic novel among the best Hollywood-inspired fictions in an article for the Wall Street Journal. While Karina believes Oates’ liberal attitude towards the facts is forgivable, I think there are many better novels based on Marilyn’s life (including Doris Grumbach’s The Missing Person, Adam Braver’s Misfit, and Sean O’Hagan’s Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog.)

“The magic of Joyce Carol Oates’s epic imagining of the life of Norma Jeane Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe) lies not in its realism or accuracy but the quality of its fabrication. All of the characters around the orphan-turned-bombshell feel not like ‘real people’—even though most of them are, or were—but like characters in a novel, each with an inner life as richly drawn as the protagonist’s. The star herself remains an enigma, which feels more true to life than any biography that has tried to psychoanalyze or explain this woman who seemed at best a fragmented puzzle to herself. Ms. Oates heartbreakingly juxtaposes the construction of the Marilyn image with its meaning, evident in a snapshot from the set of The Seven Year Itch: “She’s been squealing and laughing, her mouth aches. . . . Her scalp and her pubis burn from that morning’s peroxide applications. . . . That emptiness. Guaranteed. She’s been scooped out, drained clean, no scar tissue to interfere with your pleasure, and no odor. Especially no odor. The Girl with No Name, the girl with no memory.'”