Tag Archives: Blonde

‘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.

‘Blonde’ and the Lonesome Reader

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Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde is not one of my own favourite novels (nor one of my favourite books about Marilyn), although to be fair I haven’t revisited it since it was first published in 2000. After that first reading, I felt that Oates – a writer I had admired – distorted aspects of MM’s life, and portrayed her as a rather one-dimensional victim.

Since then, I’ve spoken to many fans who feel the same. Obviously, I’m not impartial here, having written my own fictional take on Marilyn. Six years after completing The Mmm Girl, I’d like to read Blonde again, mainly out of curiosity – and especially if it was reissued on Kindle, as it’s rather a weighty tome!

However, I was pleased to discover the positive experience that Blonde has been for some others, leading them to impart their knowledge and challenge misconceptions – as posted recently on the Lonesome Reader blog.

“I wanted to highlight this novel specifically because I had a strange conversation with a colleague once. Somehow we started talking about Marilyn Monroe and he instantly said ‘Oh, that slut.’ I flinched in shock that he’d be so disdainful and answered him angrily. He tried to justify himself by saying that she basically slept with everyone and that’s the only reason she had a career. I have no doubt his opinion is shared by many people. It’s this sort of casual dismissal and thinking about women in only simplistic misogynistic terms which is the reason why feminism and the promotion of women’s writing is especially important.”

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.”

‘White Rose’ and Other Stories

Black Dahlia & White Rose, a new short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates, will be published next month. The title story imagines an encounter between Elizabeth Short – the young woman murdered in Los Angeles in 1947, and known as The Black Dahlia – and a young Marilyn. It first appeared in a 2011 e-anthology, LA Noire, and you can read the story here. (My review is here.)

Oates, author of the Marilyn-inspired novel, Blonde, spoke to the New York Times about her latest publication.

“The title story in your new collection, Black Dahlia & White Rose, was first published in conjunction with a bloody video game, L.A. Noire, which was noted for its narrative sophistication. Did you get a chance to play it?

No, but it sounds very imaginative and interesting, like you’re in a waking dream. I just don’t have the apparatus to see it. But we were all — the creators of the video game and I — inspired by the idea of Los Angeles in a certain period of time.

The ‘Black Dahlia’ here refers to Elizabeth Short, an aspiring actress who was gruesomely murdered in Los Angeles in 1947.

Yes, and if you’re interested in hard-boiled mystery, the Black Dahlia is like the Virgin Mary.

She was mutilated, her body cut in half. In your story, you assume her voice from beyond the grave.

Well, I’m very interested in voices. I also had my novel Blonde about Norma Jeane Baker, who becomes Marilyn Monroe, narrated by the posthumous Norma Jeane Baker.

Marilyn is also in this story; you imagine her as the Black Dahlia’s roommate. There have already been eight new books about Monroe just this year. Why do you think she endures?

After having had a high-profile but not necessarily successful career and then a disastrous ending, she became what we might call ‘iconic’, a sort of awkward word that means that people relate to the icon without any historical sense or intellectual comprehension of what it means.”

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

 

Beyond the ‘Blonde’

When literary critics cite Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde as an example of modern bio-fiction, I often wonder how much they know about Marilyn’s life. Novelist Manuel Munoz writes about Oates’s novel for NPR:

“Blonde mimics the large scope of a biography: We get her life and death, as well as the rise and fall of her stardom, and our curiosity is sated by the language of tabloid, and the privacy of diaries. Flamboyant and energetic, the novel assembles everything from gossip to pinups to present the life of a woman who, in the end, was overshadowed by her onscreen persona.”