Marilyn’s ‘Blonde’ Biopic On Hold Again

Photo by Jasnim19 on Instagram

Filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s long-awaited adaptation of Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel, has hit another roadblock, Jordan Raup reports for The Film Stage. In August 2016, Dominik announced that he would produce Blonde for Netflix – but later  admitted it was ‘not a done deal.’ Although high-profile actresses like Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain were previously mooted to play MM, Dominik still hasn’t settled on a leading lady, and he will soon  direct Tom Hardy in War Party, also for Netflix.

While Blonde was a hit among the literati, some fans found Oates’ casual disregard for the facts of Marilyn’s life hard to swallow. And a 2002 TV mini-series also received mixed reviews.

Director Casts Doubt on Netflix ‘Blonde’

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Despite reports this summer that filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s long-mooted adaptation of Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel about Marilyn, would be produced for Netflix in 2017, it is “not a done deal,” as Dominik admits in a new interview for Collider. (Criticised by MM fans for its factual liberties, Blonde will be available  via Kindle for the first time in English next March – so if you haven’t read it yet, judge for yourself.)

“When I spoke to you for Killing Them Softly, you were going to do Blonde next, but that was back in 2012. We’ve recently heard that Netflix was going to step in and finance that, so are you finally going to go into production on that film?

DOMINIK: I don’t know. I hope so, but it’s not, in any way, a done deal.

So, you don’t have a possible production date yet?

DOMINIK: No.

What is it about that film and that story that’s made you stick with it all this time, and still want to get it made?

DOMINIK: I think that Blonde will be one of the ten best movies ever made. That’s why I want to do it.

Why do you think that is?

DOMINIK: It’s a film about the human condition. It tells the story of how a childhood trauma shapes an adult who’s split between a public and a private self. It’s basically the story of every human being, but it’s using a certain sense of association that we have with something very familiar, just through media exposure. It takes all of those things and turns the meanings of them inside out, according to how she feels, which is basically how we live. It’s how we all operate in the world. It just seems to me to be very resonant. I think the project has got a lot of really exciting possibilities, in terms of what can be done, cinematically.

Are you still hoping to have Jessica Chastain play Marilyn Monroe, or will you have to recast the role once you finally get a firm start date?

DOMINIK: Well, it’s a chicken and the egg type of thing. But, I don’t think it’s going to be Jessica Chastain.”

Netflix Goes ‘Blonde’ For Marilyn

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‘Blonde’ (2000)

After several years of planning, acclaimed filmmaker Andrew Dominik will direct his adaptation of Blonde, Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial novel about Marilyn, for Netflix in 2017, as Jordan Raup reports for The Film Stage.

“Dominik confirms rumors that Netflix is backing the film, with New Regency Pictures and Plan B previously on board. While Jessica Chastain was previously set to star, and Naomi Watts before her, Dominik says neither are attached anymore and that he’ll cast a new actress, to be announced this January.

Based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel, he told us, ‘Blonde‘s interesting because it has very little dialogue in it. My previous three movies have relied on a lot of talking and I don’t think there’s a scene in Blonde that’s longer than two pages. I’m really excited about doing a movie that’s an avalanche of images and events. It’s just a different way. It’s a different thing for me to do. And the main character is female. My films are fairly bereft of woman and now I’m imagining what it’s like to be one.’

He adds, ‘My idea with the film is to make something a little more accessible than what I’ve done before. It moves a bit faster.'”

UPDATE: Immortal Marilyn has blogged about Blonde, outlying the potential problems of a fictional ‘biopic’.

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.

Dominik, Watts Hold Out for ‘Blonde’

Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly) confirmed his plans to direct Naomi Watts in a long-rumoured, big-screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Blonde, in a recent interview with The Playlist. (It will be produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B company.)

While I’m impressed by the talent involved, I still wish Oates’ story was more faithful to historical fact. Like many fans I’ve spoken to, I’m concerned that this movie – however well-intended – may only add to the misunderstandings about Marilyn’s life.

“‘I’m going to do this movie called Blonde,’ which is about Marilyn Monroe,’ Dominik said.

As to the scope of Blonde, don’t expect a Lincoln-like sliver of the troubled star’s life. ‘It’s about her whole life,’ Dominik said, definitively. ‘It starts when she’s seven and it ends when she dies.’ Dominik acknowledged that it will be based on the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominated novel by Joyce Carol Oates, then clarified his approach to the material. ‘It’s sort of a Polanski descent-into-madness-type movie,’ Dominik explained. ‘It’s about this orphan girl who gets lost in the woods.’

Those comments echo his earlier description of the movie as an ’emotional nightmare fairy tale,’ and Dominik sounds genuinely excited about the project. ‘I love it,’ he said. ‘It’s my dream project and I’ve been working on it for years and years and years.’

When we asked Dominik if he was going to push, visually, into the realm of what-is-reality-what-is-fantasy, Dominik said yes. ‘It’s very pseudo-Freudian,’ he said. ‘The lines between fantasy and reality become very blurred in the story.’ About when the film will actually shoot, Dominik optimistically says, ‘I’d like to do it next year.’ He says he hasn’t hired a cinematographer yet, but that Naomi Watts — who was attached early on, but over the summer seemed like she might have to bow out — is still on board, although, as he said, ‘Anything can happen.’

We wondered though, if he has another project ready to go, should Blonde face another delay). Dominik says no. ‘It’s pretty much all about Marilyn at the moment,’ he said.”

Brad Pitt to Produce ‘Blonde’

Collider reports that Brad Pitt’s Plan B company will produce Andrew Dominik’s forthcoming film of Blonde, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates about Marilyn’s life. Filming will probably begin early next year. But it is unclear whether Naomi Watts – who is about to play Princess Diana in another movie – is still attached to the project.

Is ‘Blonde’ Back on Track?

This Bert Stern-inspired photo of Naomi Watts, published in the latest issue of Russian Vogue, suggests that the Australian-born actress hasn’t given up on her long-held dream of playing Marilyn.

Director Andrew Dominik spoke of his hope to bring Joyce Carol Oates’s novel, Blonde, to the big screen at Cannes this week:

‘”I really want to do [‘Blonde’],” he said. “It’s not something I can talk about, ’cause we’re trying to work some stuff out, but hopefully that’s going to be the next picture.” And when we asked about possible Cormac McCarthy adaptation “Cities of the Plain,” Dominik replied that the Monroe biopic has the advantage: “I like that one, but my heart belongs to Marilyn. I’d like to start shooting it next year, that’s what I’d like to do. It’s a really sprawling, emotional nightmare fairy-tale type movie, and I really want to do it real bad… It’s a story about an abandoned orphan who gets lost in the woods.”‘ – IndieWire

 

Naomi Watts: Thomson’s Choice

I’m not a huge fan of film critic David Thomson, and when he published a snarky essay about MM in The Independent back in 2006, my response ended up on the letters page. (So I’m probably not on his Christmas card list either!)

However I do agree with Thomson that Naomi Watts could be a fine choice to play Monroe in a forthcoming biopic. Although she doesn’t resemble Marilyn physically (other than being blonde), Naomi has a fragile, ethereal quality.

“But if the Anglo-Australian Watts had only done David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), she’d be secure in movie history. The way that dreamscape carries her from the archetypal blonde ingénue arriving in Los Angeles, to an accomplished actress in her audition scene, to a wasted wreck, helped make it one of the best films of this century…The key to Mulholland Drive was that Lynch had found his film in Watts’s intriguingly secretive erotic presence…She is set to play Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates. Watts has admitted to being daunted by this, and she is older than Monroe was when she died (Watts will be 43 this year). But Blonde sounds like something that must depend on her, and that’s what she deserves – uncritical love, total trust, a lot of camera time, glamour and huge responsibility.”

The Guardian

My only reservation about Andrew Dominik’s proposed screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde is that the novel, while imaginative, plays fast and loose with the facts of Marilyn’s life.

Blonde was previously filmed for TV with Poppy Montgomery, but it was not well-received. Let’s hope that Andrew Dominik (who directed The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2005) can reverse the long trend of mediocre MM portrayals.

‘Blonde’: The Mini-Series

Blonde, a TV adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, was first aired in 2002, barely two years after the book’s publication. Directed by Joyce Chopra and starring Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) as Marilyn Monroe, it is currently available to watch for free online at Blinkbox.

Although Blonde is based on Monroe’s life, it plays fast and loose with the facts. Characters like ‘I.E. Shinn’, the fictitious agent, are amalgamations of several men who played significant roles in Monroe’s early career. Her first husband, James Dougherty, is renamed ‘Bucky Glazer’, while DiMaggio and Miller are referred to as ‘the Ballplayer’ and ‘the Playwright’.

This technique puts Monroe in the spotlight, and makes her brief, intense life seem much less complex than it really was. Vague, unconfirmed rumours about her relationship with peripheral figures, like Charlie Chaplin’s son, are distorted beyond recognition. While proclaiming that ‘she wasn’t blonde, and she wasn’t dumb’ (seemingly paraphrasing Dolly Parton), Marilyn is portrayed as a victim, passive and helpless.

Poppy Montgomery’s performance is actually quite good, but the other characters are little more than caricatures. Perhaps the most misleading scene of all shows Monroe exchanging sexual favours with Darryl F. Zanuck, head of Twentieth Century Fox, for a stock contract. This incident never occurred and, to me as a fan, it was offensive.

The first half of this two-parter mainly covers Monroe’s pre-Hollywood life as Norma Jeane Mortenson. Her mother is played rather stridently by Patricia Richardson. The costuming in the latter part is somewhat sloppy, playing on stereotyped images and not acknowledging how subtly Monroe transformed herself.

Blonde is reasonably watchable, but fails to rise above other two-dimensional portrayals of Marilyn’s life. It doesn’t match the attempted lyricism of Oates’ novel and fails to distinguish between fact and fantasy.

A new, big-screen version is now planned, to be directed by Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and starring Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive, King Kong, The Painted Veil.)