Marilyn: The Imprisoned Muse

A lecture given this week by the British-based academic Griselda Pollock at the CaixiForum in Madrid, Spain has generated a buzz on social media. Beginning a series taking a closer look at the artist-muse relationship, Pollock focused on Marilyn’s relationship with Arthur Miller, as Paula Lindom reports for Classical & Modern. (Any errors in translation are mine…)

“‘What united this couple? Or, what destroyed them?’ Pollock asked the audience. ‘And what were the influences that each one had in the career of the other – did Monroe become Miller’s sinister muse? Or was Miller the monster that killed Monroe? Had Monroe killed Miller’s talent in some way? What influence did Miller have on Monroe’s creative life and life? To what extent did Monroe use Miller for her own creative work?'”

Pollock is also quoted in an article for the Turkey Telegraph. (The wording was a little hard to follow, so I have edited it slightly.)

“Griselda Pollock highlights many biographies of the iconic actress in which, however, ‘there is very little analysis of her work. How did a white woman, uneducated and abused, become a star like one she was? Why was Andy Warhol crying at her death? Why did Elton John identify with her? Why did Madonna forge her image in Monroe’s likeness?’

Of Marilyn’s marriage to Arthur Miller, Pollock remarks, ‘What a patriarchal mythology: genius and muse. The classical opposition between activity and passivity, desire and object of desire, creativity and inspiration. A different language is needed.’

‘She was given vapid comedy scripts remembered only because of her genius before the camera,’ Pollock adds. ‘She was intelligent, inquisitive and politically engaged; passionate and desperately ambitious to understand the art of acting. Miller did not inspire her; he was obsessed with her. I think they were both flawed geniuses.'”

Marilyn Symposium in Melbourne, Australia

Marilyn at UCLA, 1952 (photo by Mel Traxel)
Marilyn at UCLA, 1952 (photo by Mel Traxel)

Following the ‘Exhibiting Culture: Marilyn‘ program at LaTrobe University which accompanied the Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon exhibit at MAMA Albury in Australia earlier this year, a Marilyn Monroe Symposium will be held at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne  on November 12, with biographer Lois Banner as keynote speaker.

This Symposium creates a further outcome for the research undertaken by ten La Trobe University academics in preparation for Exhibiting Culture: Marilyn. Our interdisciplinary approach to the topic of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic status is unique. The intention of this Symposium is to go beyond nostalgia and offer a genuinely contemporary perspective on performance, celebrity and artistic response, as well as to make Marilyn provocative for us in our times.

Program:

Session 1: Keynote Address
9.30-11.00am The Cube, ACMI
Speaker: Professor Lois Banner

Morning tea: 11.00 – 11.30 am

Session 2: Matters of Performance
11.30am-1.00pm The Cube, ACMI
Felicity Collins; Margaret Hickey; Nicole Jenkins; Sofia Ahlberg

Lunch: 1.00 – 2.00 pm

Session 3: Image, Identity, Icon
2.00-3.30pm, The Cube, ACMI
Speakers: Sue Gillett, Kristian Haggblom, Terrie Waddell, Kevin Brianton

Afternoon tea: 3.30 – 4.00 pm

Session 4: Property, Power, Profession
4.00-5.30pm The Cube, ACMI
Tansy Curtin; Francine Rochford; Edgar Burns

Thanks to Marisa

Through the Looking Glass With Marilyn

Pullen Natural Woman

Some recent academic titles, focusing on Marilyn among other stars of old Hollywood, caught my eye recently. Ed Clark’s photo of Marilyn and Jane Russell on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes graces the cover of Kirsten Pullen’s Like a Natural Woman: Spectacular Female Performance in Classical Hollywood (2014.) The same image was recently used in an ad campaign for Coke. In her introduction, Pullen discusses a characterisation of Marilyn’s that is generally overlooked: that of the ambitious showgirl, Vicky Parker, in There’s No Business Like Show Business.

Ana Salzberg’s Beyond the Looking Glass: Narcissism and Female Stardom in Studio-Era Hollywood (2014) includes a chapter entitled ‘Marilyn Monroe: The Last Glimmering of the Sacred‘, in which she argues that Marilyn ‘both inherited and surpassed a cinematic legacy of the ideal feminine.’

Larger Than Life

Larger Than Life: Movie Stars of the 1950s (2010) is edited by R. Barton Palmer. Part of a Rutgers University Press series, ‘Star Decades: American Culture/American Cinema’, it includes an essay by Matthew Solomon, ‘Reflexivity and Metaperformance: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Kim Novak.’ The cover features an unusual wardrobe test shot of Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, alongside other stars of the era.

More About Marilyn at MAMA

Artwork by Belinda Fraser
Artwork by Belinda Fraser

John McDonald, art critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, has reviewed Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, the touring exhibit now at MAMA Albury, Australia.

“The paintings in this show, put together by an American exhibitions agency, are a strange mixture of minor works by well-known artists, and major pieces by lesser-known practitioners from Europe and America. There is, for instance, a suite of sketches by Richard Lindner, along with prints by Eduardo Paolozzi, Arnulf Rainer, Robert Indiana and Mimmo Rotella. These are the artists I’d call ‘well-known’, but none of them has one iota of Warhol’s public profile. MAMA has also added a couple of paintings by Australia’s most prolific Pop artist, Richard Larter.

The best part of the show – in terms of both quality and quantity – are the photographs, taken by figures such as Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ernst Haas, Eve Arnold, Alfred Eisenstadt and Bert Stern (although not, alas, Richard Avedon, who produced one of the greatest portraits). It’s a study in contrasts, with Beaton’s work being as ornate as a Baroque sculpture, while Cartier-Bresson captures Monroe in an introspective mood on the set of The Misfits.”

The show also includes a program of supplementary events, including a series of public lectures, a screening of Some Like it Hot, and day trips to Bendigo Art Gallery, where another Marilyn exhibit opens in March.

Most intriguing of all, a fully accredited elective subject — Exhibiting Culture: Marilyn — will be available to La Trobe University undergraduate students and to members of the general public, ABC Central Victoria reports.

“Taught by Dr Sue Gillett, the subject will explore the wider context of the era in which Marilyn Monroe was created.

Dr Gillett said she was interested in women’s roles in cinema and especially exploring the historical context Monroe fits in.

Despite the strong role models in cinema during the forties, with the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall, Dr Gillett said Monroe came into her stardom in the post-war fifties when there was a push to get women back into the homes after their active role in the war years.

Musical comedy became the genre Monroe was typecast in, and excelled at, even though her aspirations were to become a serious actress.

It was this ‘bind’ that Monroe was in that Dr Gillett said she was interested in exploring.

‘It’s almost like she performed her way into a trap,’ she said.

Her life story was then refashioned by the studio publicists into the American Dream, according to Dr Gillett, which became effective in establishing her as an icon.

Contracted to Fox Studios at a time when actors were controlled by their studios, Monroe struggled to gain some independence and have control over her choice of movies.

Although she had some input into crafting her own image she was working within a system that was very much a men’s club, according to Dr Gillett.

‘She was both a victim but she wasn’t without power.'”