Kirkland’s Marilyn Inspires ‘Skinwork’ Project

Photographer Bettina Bogar was inspired by fellow Canadian Douglas Kirkland’s iconic 1961 shots of Marilyn between the sheets to launch Skinwork, a women’s empowerment project in aid of skin cancer awareness, on display at Toronto’s Artscape Youngplace until March 16, as Wing Tze Tang reports for the Toronto Star.

“When Toronto photographer Bettina Bogar visited a local art gallery a few years ago, she was struck by a picture of Marilyn Monroe, facing Douglas Kirkland’s camera wearing nothing but white bedsheets. ‘I thought, she feels so comfortable in her skin. I’ve never seen a woman feeling that good about herself,’ says Bogar, who decided to create her own shoot inspired by that iconic image … The photos celebrate the female figure and skin in intimate and varied detail, including close-ups of skin tags, scars and markings, all cast in a bright and beautiful light. None of the images were retouched.”

Meanwhile, a Douglas Kirkland retrospective opens today at the Palos Verdes Art Center in California – more details here.

Marilyn: Portraits of a Sad Girl, Reading

Audrey Wollen (the artist and feminist scholar best-known for her Sad Girl Theory) takes an in-depth look at the numerous images of Marilyn reading – taken by various photographers at different stages of her career, and ranging from silly to serious – and how they have shaped public perceptions, in an article for Affidavit.

“In 1999, Christie’s auctioned off nearly 400 books from Marilyn’s personal library, a roster of classics ranging from Proust to Hemingway, which publicly solidified her intellectual identity and provided hard evidence against all those who claimed the plentitude of reading photographs were staged. But staged, of course, they were. They are hardly a homogenous document of fact; taken across decades, their only consistent element is the subject (Monroe), the act (reading), and the light, the aura that emits from the promise, the flattened proof, that beauty is real. Some call this being photogenic. Feminist accounts of Marilyn Monroe often take great trouble to declare the photographs’ candid status as a way to defend her ability to think, as if to pose with a book is to admit one cannot read it. But it is the slipperiness of their authenticity that make these photographs so mesmerizing.”

Marilyn Inspires ‘Bold Beauty Project’ in Austin, TX

A new photography exhibit in The People’s Gallery at City Hall in Austin, Texas celebrates women with disabilities, including a portrait shot by Greg Mitchum – which recalls Marilyn’s 1954 ‘ballerina sitting’ with Milton Greene – as Laura Jones reports for the Austin Chronicle.

“‘Sometimes I hear mothers with young children telling their kids not to stare at me,’ says the pretty blond model, as we talk over the phone. I’d watched videos of her online, dancing with the help of her crutches. Seen her Marilyn Monroe-style photographs – white dress, flirty smile – at the People’s Gallery exhibit at City Hall. ‘I always tell people, “It’s okay. Go ahead and stare.” We are human beings, so we are going to notice difference, but we don’t have to make it all of what a person is about.’

This model’s name is Tanya Winters. She’s a 42-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who is, among other things, an accomplished dancer, choreographer, and president of the board of VSA Texas. When she dances, she does so on her crutches, an image many people may not be used to, but a captivating one nonetheless. Photographs of Winters, along with 19 other disabled women, are currently on display at City Hall as part of a People’s Gallery capsule exhibit created by the Bold Beauty Project of Texas. The goal of the project is to show disabled women in a new light.

For Winters’ portrait, she worked with photographer Greg Mitchum to create a blend of four images modeled on one of Marilyn Monroe’s iconic looks. Each image, she says, represents a different side of her personality: a shy side, a strong side, a side that is fun and spontaneous. Two of the photographs feature her crutches, one her wheelchair, because, she says, ‘I use both and both are a part of me.’ Monroe, to her, is an icon. ‘To add my disability to that was very important to me and to disability culture,’ Winters says.”

‘All About Eve’: From Screen to Stage

The new stage adaptation of All About Eve, starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James, has now opened at London’s Noel Coward Theatre, to mixed reviews. In today’s Guardian, Jenny Stevens goes back to the source, describing Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1950 classic  as “a perfect feminist film.”

“‘All the wittiest lines in the film belong to the women,’ says film critic Molly Haskell. ‘These women are never just pathetic. Mankiewicz is so fascinated by women and sympathetic towards them: he gives them importance, he gives them idiosyncrasy, he gives them their personalities.’

So many films from that era don’t hold up, but All About Eve still feels radical. It takes the theme of women being silenced, forced to listen to men and learn from them regardless of their own talents, and turns men into the butt of the joke. When Margo throws a birthday party for her partner, the director Bill Sampson, the poison-penned theatre critic Addison DeWitt turns up with a young blonde on his arm, a Miss Caswell (played by the then little-known Marilyn Monroe). Channing suggests Eve and DeWitt should talk about their shared love of the theatre. ‘I’m afraid Mr DeWitt might find me boring after too long,’ says Eve, saccharinely coy. ‘Oh you won’t bore him, honey,’ says Miss Caswell. ‘You won’t even get the chance to talk.’

It is an extraordinary scene, says Haskell, ‘especially when you consider that Monroe’s character is not meant to have lines. She’s meant to be just a bimbo. Yet out of this bimbo come these words of wisdom. Everyone has dignity and authority in their own way in the movie.'”

In the new play, Miss Caswell is played by Jessie Mei Li. As you can see below, she looks lovely in the role, but wisely avoids doing a Monroe impersonation. Tickets are selling out fast, but in association with the National Theatre and Fox Stage Productions, a live performance will be broadcast at selected cinemas across the UK and USA from April 11 onwards – pick your nearest venue here.

Thanks to Fraser Penney

Marilyn Book News: Women Writers Take Charge

Some Kind of Mirror: Creating Marilyn Monroe is a new academic study of Marilyn’s movie performances by Amanda Konkle. Although set for publication on February 28, it’s already in stock at The Book Depository.  Having just read it, I can whole-heartedly recommend this book: it’s thoughtful without being stuffy, and puts the focus back on Marilyn’s work. Some Kind of Mirror is illustrated with screen-captures from Marilyn’s films, as well as the beautiful cover photo by Eve Arnold (showing Marilyn during filming of The Misfits, toasting her loyal friends and co-workers.)

Sarah Churchwell’s excellent 2005 ‘meta-biography’, The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, will be reissued in March, as well as being published digitally for the first time. (The only downside for me is no Marilyn on the cover!)

And looking further ahead, The Little Book of Marilyn: Inspiration From the Goddess of Glam – the latest from ace biographer Michelle Morgan – is coming in July.

“A lifestyle guide and tribute to the style, glamour, and showmanship of Hollywood’s most iconic star, with Marilyn-inspired lessons and inspiration for today’s woman.

While the 1950s was in many ways an era of repression for women, Marilyn Monroe broke barriers and rebelled against convention — and charmed the world with her beauty, talent, and irresistible personality. Filled with gorgeous photos, The Little Book of Marilyn will show you how to bring a touch of that glamour into your own life through:

  • * Tutorials on recreating the star’s makeup looks
  • * Style advice and tips on where to find Marilyn-like fashions
  • * Décor ideas from Marilyn’s own homes
  • * Everyday inspiration from her life that will let your inner Marilyn shine, and much more!”

Why Marilyn and the BBC’s Iconic Women Lost Out

The BBC documentary series, Icons: The Story of the 20th Century, has concluded with viewers voting the code-breaking British scientist Alan Turing the overall winner. Marilyn came second to David Bowie in the entertainment category, but as several commentators have noted, none of the female candidates – including Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Virginia Woolf, among other luminaries – made it to the final round.

“The gender-challenged outcome came despite efforts from a range of experts to push women in their field. This, incidentally, is a tactic favoured by the authors of a Harvard Business School (HBS) report about the pitfalls of consumer voting: namely, using a ‘curated list’ to ensure choices aren’t biased in the first instance.

Viewers, however, were not to be swayed … although actress Kathleen Turner suggested either Marilyn Monroe or Billie Holiday could triumph over Charlie Chaplin or David Bowie, it was the man from Brixton who won the entertainers’ subset.

Does this mean TV executives should halt the public vote in an attempt to save face? Roger Mosey, who has held many top jobs at the BBC, including editorial director and director of sport, thinks not. ‘Programmers like interactivity and think it’s great to get people involved.’ But he warns that it’s ‘very, very hard to control a vote’, especially in the age of social media because the temptation to ‘have a laugh and subvert votes even more’ can be too great to resist.

In the case of BBC Icons, it isn’t clear whether more men voted than women; a spokesperson declined to reveal a gender split – or, indeed, any further details about the poll. Which isn’t to suggest that women would automatically vote for a female candidate … Mosey suggests that, perhaps, the show was simply flawed.

‘The problem with Icons is that it’s a not very good remake of Great Britons, made when Jane Root was the controller of BBC Two. The problem with Icons is you’re comparing lots of people who aren’t very alike really. They should have spotted that the whole series was a little bit on thin ice.'” – Susie Mesure, The Independent

“‘I wasn’t surprised,’ Clare [Balding]  said when asked by host, Strictly Come Dancing‘s Claudia Winkleman, about the lack of women. ‘I’m a bit disappointed, but not surprised because I think you can’t be an icon unless you are allowed to have the limelight. I think the 20th century largely was the history of men, told by men and women have started to find their voice and started to find their feet so that if we did this programme all of us back again in 50 years’ time, we’d be looking at people like Oprah Winfrey or J.K. Rowling. We’d be looking at Madonna or Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. We’d be looking at Serena Williams or Malala, Michelle Obama. I think there are so many women who have an influence in their sphere and outside it and they’re beginning to have an impact now, but almost the 20th century was too short. We need to be knocking into the 21st.'” – Digital Spy

“All of these women were disregarded in one way or another during their career, so it’s unbelievably disappointing to see a repeat pattern all these years later … The accolades of most of the women included in the BBC longlist are known to the majority of modern day people. Voters made a choice to ignore these women once again.

But blaming the average person isn’t the solution. Society is still clearly receiving the message that women’s achievements are nothing in comparison to men’s. Although a select group of people recognise this isn’t true, it’s the unconverted that need to be preached to. The people who still say female sports players aren’t as good as men. The young people who still grow up unable to name five prominent historical women off the top of their heads. The people who display everyday sexism without even realising.

The BBC’s programme may have started out with the best intentions, but the outcome was a sad reflection of society’s views. Changing those views isn’t going to be a quick process. It’s going to take months, maybe years, of government-funded campaigns, of media organisations bringing women to the forefront, and of average people pushing back against inequality.” – Lauren Sharkey, Bustle

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.”

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.”

Marilyn Steps Off the Casting Couch

Photo by Milton Greene, 1953

In the wake of last year’s scandal regarding sexual exploitation in Hollywood, several ill-informed commentators have claimed Marilyn as a historic symbol of the casting couch. In an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News, author Michelle Morgan explains how her new book – The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist – sets the record straight. (You can read my review of The Girl here.)

“‘She had said that she never fell for it,’ Morgan told Fox News. ‘She had walked out of various interviews and situations that she deemed inappropriate … She was doing a series of interviews in 1954. At that time, she really wanted to write her autobiography but … In the end, she decided not to go through with it because it had been leaked out to the British press.’

In the mid-1950s, Monroe spoke out about being harassed by an executive whom she did not name. ‘She was very intelligent about that, to keep his name out of the article. But she certainly did speak about it.’

‘She was never going to let herself be victimized. She spoke about it and as a result, inspired other people to speak out … She was one of the only actresses in Hollywood at that time who was speaking out about that.’

Morgan added: ‘I think based on the things she said herself and the outspoken way she approached Hollywood, I personally don’t believe she was ever a victim of the casting couch. I think she was able to walk away.'”

Finnish Pop Star Brings ‘M’ to Venice

M, a Finnish horror film inspired by Marilyn and starring pop star Anna Eriksson, is heading to the Venice Film Festival this year, where it has been described as the most experimental film in the line-up, as Nancy Tartaglione reports for Deadline. Finnish news sources indicate that Eriksson became interested in Marilyn after reading Sarah Churchwell’s feminist ‘meta-biography’,The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe – a good place to start – and her film explores the objectification of women. (M was also the title of Fritz Lang’s classic 1931 film, starring Peter Lorre as a child-killer.)

Eriksson discussed her inspiration in a recent Facebook post:

“Even though Marilyn Monroe was my inspiration for the film, in the end M turned out to be a deeply personal work. Somewhere along the way I realized that the link between sexuality and death, that to me so profoundly defines Monroe’s fate, is a link that we all share with her. That the ancient bond between these two forces is in fact an integral part of humanity. And that the myth that is Marilyn, holds in itself a reflection of our own dreams, our desires and our losses.”

Thanks to Merja Pohjola