Rediscovering Marilyn’s Movies

Filming ‘Monkey Business’, 1952

Thanks to the continuing Marilyn! season in Brooklyn, some of Marilyn’s lesser-known movies are being reassessed. AltScreen devotes an entire post to critical analysis of Monkey Business, while over at Slant, Joseph Jan Lanthier compares Marilyn’s portrait of a disturbed young woman in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) to the character played by Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski’s classic 1965 chiller, Repulsion.

“I remain touched most indelibly by a single theatrical gesticulation of Marilyn’s—at the end of Don’t Bother to Knock, when she timidly hands over her concealed blade to an avuncular Richard Widmark. She appears truly frightened by what harm she could manage with such an innocuous, household object in a manner that predicts the predatory nature of her iconolatry. She seems, in that moment, to be reaching out of the screen, across that divide between her and her audience, in order to surrender a token of her desire to melodramatically entertain. It was the last time she would give up anything in the movies.”

‘Forgotten Hollywood’ reviews What a Way to Go, the 1964 movie starring Shirley MacLaine that would probably have been Marilyn’s next film if she had completed Something’s Got to Give.

And finally, Jose Solis Mayen writes for PopMatters about Insignificance, an unusual, Marilyn-inspired movie from 1985, now available as a Criterion DVD:

“As the characters meet, the film subtly plays with their well known back stories. We see how the Actress longs to be a mother (an ominous Picasso painting seen throughout the film reflects both this yearning and also the film’s own cubist structure) but has had enough of her brute husband: the Ballplayer.

The film’s melancholy and fear is best summed up in an exchange between the Professor and the Actress. As she points out her image in a huge billboard outside the hotel, the wise man says ‘I prefer to look up,’ as he points to the stars. ‘They make me feel sad and lonely,’ replies the Actress. ‘All who look up feel small and lonely,’ he says. A movie star talking about feeling lonely with other stars? It’s absolutely no coincidence.”

Marilyn on Blu-Ray

Nicolas Roeg’s Insignificance, featuring an MM-inspired heroine, will be released by Criterion on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 14.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION:

  • Newly restored digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Nicolas Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
  • New video interviews with Roeg, Thomas, and editor Tony Lawson
  • Making “Insignificance,” a short documentary shot on the set of the film
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Chuck Stephens and a reprinted exchange between Roeg and screenwriter Terry Johnson

Also, Some Like it Hot will be released on Blu-Ray by Fox on May 10. According to Hi-TechDigest, ‘There’s no word on tech specs or extras as of yet…apparently will be a digibook treatment…suggested list price $34.99.’

‘Insignificance’ at BFI Southbank

Insignificance, a 1985 fantasy film imagining a meeting between four characters very similar to Albert Einstein, Joe McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe meeting in a hotel room one night in New York, screens at the BFI Southbank, London, on March 14 and 25, as part of Sex and Death, a tribute season for British director Nicolas Roeg.

“Roeg’s interest in sex is perhaps as much a physical manifestation of his passion for examining bigger questions about life and the fragile nature of existence. One of the greatest scenes in his oeuvre (contained in one of his most underrated films) occurs in the opening half of 1985’s ‘Insignificance’, a cosmic meditation on our place within the universe which has versions of Marilyn Monroe, Senator Joe McCarthy, Joe DiMaggio and Albert Einstein meeting in a hotel room and discussing identity, procreation and astrophysics. The scene sees Marilyn (played by Roeg’s then-wife Theresa Russell) explaining the theory of relativity to Albert Einstein with the aid of some toy trains and a balloon. The way this audacious episode is choreographed is at once majestic, thought provoking and richly cinematic. It’s an example of the director celebrating the stylistic possibilities of cinema, and offering an eccentric and intimate view of two humans considering their place within the galaxy. And really, you can’t get more Roegian than that.”

David Jenkins, Time Out

Insignificance is a quirky little film and it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. It is now available on DVD, and you can also preview the celebrated scene where ‘MM’ demonstrates Einstein’s theory of relativity on Youtube.