Tag Archives: Joyce Carol Oates

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’.

Book News: ‘Marilyn: Myth and Muse’

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Marilyn Monroe: Mythos und Muse is a new German book edited by Barbara Sichtermann, and featuring various writings on Marilyn – including Truman Capote’s A Beautiful Child, and extracts from Arthur Miller’s autobiography, Timebends, and Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Blonde. It is published by Ebersach & Simon as part of their Blue Notes series, profiling various cultural icons. (I don’t know yet if it is illustrated, but will update when I find out.)

“Barbara Sichtermann draws a multifaceted portrait of Marilyn Monroe and a collection of texts of famous contemporaries, showing the desperate struggle of the most famous blonde in the world to love and recognition, their fragility and fragmentation, but also her exceptional talent. A fascinating look behind the Hollywood scenes and an intimate encounter with the woman behind the mythical MM, a versatile and still underrated actress.”

‘The Misfits’ and the Meaning of Home

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While browsing on the Lapham’s Quarterly website yesterday, I found this thoughtful 2011 essay by J.M. Tyrell, ‘The Meaning of Home‘, in which he suggests that The Misfits depicted ‘a new kind of American family.’ (I’ve collated the parts relevant to MM here, but the essay is well worth reading in its entirety.)

“Yet it’s clear from Miller’s screenplay for John Huston’s movie The Misfits—a film celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year—that Miller didn’t see the American family as a problem that had an answer. Flee the traps of family life on an Eastern stage, and you might find yourself wandering lost and mangled in a film set in the deserts of Nevada, atomized and disconnected, drifting among strangers from divorce court to highway to rodeo to whiskey bottle to bed with fast friends. The myth of the family and the myth of self-reliance—how does the same culture hatch two such irreconcilable dreams? Miller’s characters are always being crushed by conflicting motives and impulses, forced into impossible situations by self-delusions or the repression of past betrayals. In his Eastern plays, blood relations doom one another, acting like planets circling closer and closer to moral black holes. In the movie script that heralded the end of his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, absolute freedom from family ties in the West appears to be another kind of American disaster—one papered over with a Hollywood ending.

Bigsby [Christopher Bigsby, Miller’s biographer] suggests that the playwright may have been drawn to Marilyn Monroe because the star, like Miller’s father, had been an abandoned child, and also notes the curious fact that Monroe and Isidore continued to socialize after her divorce from his son. In one sense, Monroe had been searching for a substitute father all her life—many of her lovers were older men, including Miller. According to Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalized version of her life, Blonde (2000), she had grown up thinking that an image of Clark Gable in her mother’s home was a picture of her long-lost dad, and this stunningly imagined episode from the novel is based in fact. An irony of fate that also foreshadowed doom brought them together in 1960 to play lovers on the set of John Huston’s filmed adaptation of The Misfits. Miller had written the screenplay to honor Monroe, but their marriage collapsed on the set.

‘Hello’ was one of Miller’s keywords in the 1960s. It reappears at key points in The Misfits, as in the famous moment when Roslyn calms down Guido after spurning his advances by saying, ‘Hello, Guido!’ It’s also the final line of dialog in Miller’s 1964 play After the Fall, where it denotes a much more hopeful potential for the characters Quentin and Holga, modeled on Miller and his third wife, Inge Morath, to find each other in the ruins of twentieth-century history and the fracturing of families and marriages. (Miller and Morath first met on the set of The Misfits.) Hello: it’s an all-purpose interjection with an American ring to it. It’s ready-made for a country of ‘interesting strangers,’ as Isabelle calls Reno in The Misfits. It can be a question or a statement that amounts to admitting that we don’t know one another and we aren’t family: ‘Yes, I’m here, I exist, and who might you be?’

‘Don’t you have a home?’ Roslyn asks Gay when they’re driving around. ‘Sure,’ he says, ‘Never was a better one, either.’ ‘Where is it?’ ‘Right here,’ Gay says, and nods at the road and out at the desert. The camera shows us a stretch of land blurred by the speed of the drive: scrub brush, sand, and mountains. Sometimes the land looks grand, sublime, and inviting; on other viewings, it seems sadly desolate and empty, a kind of lie. Anyone who has ever been to Nevada knows the feeling of being divorced from everything, stuck between two sets of mountains, the time zones piling up between you and your family, everyone you once loved, and everything that once loved you. Roslyn’s response to Gay’s childlike faith in the open country—a place where you can ‘just live,’ as he puts it in an earlier scene—seems to open into a void. Monroe’s face conjures a movie star’s well of loneliness, a wounded look that seems to stare out from the foster homes of Norma Jean’s own childhood.

‘I don’t feel that way about you, Gay,’ Roslyn says, and the next thing you know he is kissing her awake for breakfast. Eroticism becomes the great American balm for lonely hearts, the fake cure-all from the movies, from Marilyn. The characters in The Misfits try to fabricate an artificial tribe out of the magic dust of sexual alchemy and instant friendship in a broken-down void that isn’t even a frontier anymore. In the East, Miller’s characters cannot escape their fates because of their closely knit families, or because of events that loom out of the past to entrap parents and children. In the West, Miller’s characters are completely free but also completely unstuck, there’s too much room and nobody knows what to do. Maybe the East contains too much love and the West not enough—absolute freedom can be as terrifyingly lonely as family life can be cloying. At any rate, there’s no solution anywhere; the signs leading to the freeway or back home are pointing in different directions. ‘Well, you’re free,’ Isabelle toasts Roslyn near the beginning of the film. ‘Maybe the trouble is you’re not used to it yet.’ Or maybe the real trouble is that the heart cannot stand this kind of freedom.

The Misfits is regarded as an artistic and personal death-trap: in Hollywood lore, it is the picture that destroyed Miller’s marriage with Monroe through various infidelities, behind-the-scenes dramas, and on-set disasters. In fact, Monroe already had entered the abyss for good and would not complete another picture. After insisting on performing many of his own strenuous stunts in the desert heat, Gable died of heart failure soon after filming ended. Yet unlike the real-life background of the production, and very much unlike Miller’s best plays, the movie itself is desperate to conjure magic and restore belief in the possibility of a happy ending. ‘Gay,’ Roslyn says, ‘if there could be one person in the world—a child who could be brave from the beginning…’ Monroe had miscarried twice with Miller. According to Miller’s ‘cinema novel’ version of The Misfits, ‘The love between them is viable, holding them a little above the earth.’

We want to believe it can all work out, and so does Miller, at least he does here. This is sorrow-tinged, impossible wish-fulfillment, not just another manipulation cooked up by the studios. The Misfits is one of those movies that jumps right out of its frame, telling us almost everything we need to know about the movies, about the insecure relationship between writers and Hollywood, about what happened to the West, and maybe even about how the American Dream had gone wrong. Happy ending aside—Joyce Carol Oates in Blonde calls it a ‘fairy tale’—the movie contradicts itself. Actually, it doesn’t contain a lot of good news.

The Misfits’ portrayal of double-edged freedom from family ties in the West couldn’t be further removed from the tragic irony of the Lomans’ ‘free and clear’ home ownership that draws the curtain in Death of a Salesman. When asked about his home, Gay gestures outside his truck at the desert. It’s the place that he’s taking Roslyn in the Hollywood happy ending of The Misfits. She’s told him that she’s ready to start a family. But, really, is there any reason to suspect that it will last longer than Gay’s previous marriage, the children of which run into their falling-down-drunk father at a rinky-dink rodeo? (Or any longer than Miller’s own marriage to Monroe, for that matter?) An Eastern family might be a self-poisoning well or a fouled nest, but The Misfits raises questions about what happens to American souls when they achieve the national dream of breaking loose from all moorings and drifting into a vast continent where nobody’s home. Which is a worse fate, to have a bad family or to have no family at all? The ending of The Misfits gives us a false or movie-dream solution to an enduring problem. It’s an answer we want to believe in but which we know is a temporary shelter at best, at worst a mirage—a mirage that surely will lead to the production of one more unhappy family.”

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.”