Canyons of Difference: Lohan, Schrader and Marilyn

Most Monroe fans heave an exhausted sigh each time comparisons to Lindsay Lohan are made. For us, these parallels arise simply because Lindsay is perhaps the world’s most famous MM fan. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Most recently, I saw her reading her idol’s own words in Love, Marilyn. Checking through my tags, I’m surprised to find that Lindsay has now produced no less than 22 posts. The Canyons will be screened at the Lincoln Center (where Arthur Miller’s Marilyn-influenced play, After the Fall, was the inaugural theatrical production in 1964) on July 29th, reports IndieWire.

But others see them both mainly as troubled starlets, when in fact they are different in many ways. Lindsay’s career, thus far, is that of a former child star who has struggled to make the transition to adult roles. She is undoubtedly gifted, though, and I wish her all the best, both personally and professionally.

Marilyn, on the other hand, maintained her star status, despite private turmoil, for well over a decade, until her untimely death: and, half a century on, her movies remain among the most popular of all time.

Paul Schrader, director of Lindsay’s latest film, The Canyons (watch the trailer here) addresses – and exploits – these comparisons in an op-ed for Film Comment. It’s an interesting piece,  though I can’t agree with him that Lindsay has ‘more natural talent’ than Marilyn did (or that she was protected by the studios; or that she sought prestige merely to be accepted.) No disrespect to Lohan, I just think he’s – fatally – under-estimating Monroe.

“While preparing and directing The Canyons I was reading James Goode’s book The Making of The Misfits, and I was struck by the similarities between Marilyn Monroe and the actress I was working with, Lindsay Lohan. (I wasn’t the only one so struck. Stephen Rodrick, a writer for The New York Times Magazine who was on set with us, titled his article about the film ‘The Misfits’, which appeared on the cover with the line: “This is what happens when you cast Lindsay Lohan in your movie.” Not even the Times is immune to the hurricane force of the LiLo phenomenon.)

Similarities? Tardiness, unpredictability, tantrums, absences, neediness, psychodrama—yes, all that, but something more, that thing that keeps you watching someone on screen, that thing you can’t take your eyes off of, that magic, that mystery. That thing that made John Huston say, I wonder why I put myself through all this, then I go to dailies.

Monroe and Lohan exist in the space between actors and celebrities, people whose professional and personal performances are more or less indistinguishable. Entertainers understand the distinction. To be successful, a performer controls the balance between the professional and personal, that is, he or she makes it seem like the professional is personal. It is the lack of this control that gives performers like Monroe and Lohan (and others) their unique attraction. We sense that the actress is not performing, that we are watching life itself. We call them ‘troubled,’ ‘tormented,’ ‘train wrecks’—but we can’t turn away. We can’t stop watching. They get under our skin in a way that controlled performers can’t.

I think Lohan has more natural acting talent than Monroe did, but, like Monroe, her weakness is her inability to fake it. She feels she must be experiencing an emotion in order to play it. This leads to all sorts of emotional turmoil, not to mention on-set delays and melodrama. It also leads, when the gods smile, to movie magic. Monroe had the same affliction. They live large, both in life and on screen. This is an essential part of what draws viewers to them.

But LL is not MM. The differences are even more interesting than the similarities. Those differences are marked by the almost 50 years that separate Monroe and Lohan. Over that time our notions of acting, stardom, celebrity, and talent have fundamentally changed. Marilyn had two things going for her that Lindsay doesn’t. She was the product of a culture that mandated public responsibility. An acting gift, good looks, and a zesty personality only got you so far. To be taken seriously one had to appear serious: study your craft, be mentored, read literature, respect your creative elders, marry a playwright, get the support of an established theater group or studio. To receive the system’s rewards—fame, money—you play-acted by the system’s rules. And Monroe did.

Second, Monroe was a product of the studio system. The studios used their influence in the media and the courts to protect their stars. Damage was controlled and discipline en-forced. It’s inconceivable that Monroe would have faced the legal troubles that have beset Lohan over the last five years. A star’s difficulties only became public when they were impossible to contain; until then, he or she was protected.”

The Unquotable Megan Fox

Actress Megan Fox has been making headlines this week after a baffling interview with writer Stephen Marche, for Esquire magazine, in which he bizarrely likened her to an ‘Aztec warrior’. The piece has since been widely lampooned across the blogosphere.

Elsewhere in the article, Megan (yet again) explained why she decided to remove her Marilyn Monroe tattoo. At this point, she brought poor Lindsay Lohan (who has already suffered enough bad press to last many lifetimes) into the discussion, and everything went pear-shaped.

“She holds out her right arm to show me her tattoo of Marilyn Monroe. All that remains of Marilyn is a few drops of black against skin that is the color the moon possesses in the thin air of northern winters. She decided to get it removed, and after a single treatment the sex symbol of another age is barely recognizable. ‘I feel like I willed it be gone,’ Fox says. ‘They told me it was going to take six sessions and it’s nearly gone in one.’

The reason is that Marilyn Monroe lost control. ‘I started reading about her and realized that her life was incredibly difficult. It’s like when you visualize something for your future. I didn’t want to visualize something so negative.’

But she was a great actress, a great icon, a figure of power.

‘She wasn’t powerful at the time. She was sort of like Lindsay. She was an actress who wasn’t reliable, who almost wasn’t insurable…. She had all the potential in the world, and it was squandered,’ she says, curled defensively on the sofa. ‘I’m not interested in following in those footsteps.’

Then who?

‘Ava Gardner. She had power. She was a broad. She got what she wanted and said what she needed.’

Ava Gardner did have control, over herself and others. But even as Fox says the name, a self-aware smile plays over those ultrasymmetrical lips. Self-awareness is her most attractive feature.

It’s not like Ava Gardner ended that well, either.”

Megan responded to the article on her Facebook page:

“I attempted to draw parallels between Lindsay and Marilyn in order to illustrate my point that while Marilyn may be an icon now, sadly she was not respected and taken seriously while she was still living.

Both women were gifted actresses, whose natural talent was lost amongst the chaos and incessant media scrutiny surrounding their lifestyles and their difficulties adhering to studio schedules etc.

I intended for this to be a factual comparison of two women with similar experiences in Hollywood. Unfortunately it turned into me offering up what is really much more of an uneducated opinion.”

However, in contrast to Megan’s comments, MM was Hollywood’s most bankable star for much of her career. Her personal problems were not widely known until after her death.

Nonetheless, the comparison has been seized upon by the media, eager for any dirt on the troubled Lindsay. Another writer, Stephen Rodrick, made the Monroe comparison last week in an article about Lohan, reports the Huffington Post:

“‘There’s talent in there,’ Rodrick, who describes Lohan as ‘fragile’ and a ‘tornado’,explains to the NYT. ‘She has that undefinable It quality. You can see it at certain moments in the film. The frustrating/tragic thing, and Lindsay would be the first to admit it, is getting that talent out of her over the past few years has been nearly impossible. That’s why I called the piece The Misfits, after Marilyn Monroe’s last film, one that [Paul] Schrader and the crew were constantly talking about on set. You can’t argue that Lindsay has the talent or resume of Monroe, but there is that same feeling of talent slipping away, perhaps permanently.'”

Here’s a final word from Monroe fan Ashlee Davis:

“It bothers me to no end that these celebrities have to drag Marilyn’s character down with their loose comparisons and constant ‘channeling’ of her image. Marilyn wasn’t cheap, but her image is often sold that way, and it’s not because of her own doing – it’s because of the cheap mockery. These users take no care to respect Marilyn as a person while poorly mimicking her or even just talking about her in order to seem relevant. Lindsay Lohan, Megan Fox, Lady Gaga, Courtney Stodden – all of these women drag Marilyn’s memory through the mud when they reduce her to a visual icon, re-post fake quotes to millions of fans, and paint her as nothing more than a tragic victim of Hollywood. Any comparisons drawn between Marilyn and any of these people should be left at the fact that they are using her for visual inspiration and failing to recreate any of her natural beauty or class.”

Return of the Happy Girl

The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody considers two overlooked moments in Monroe lore: her return to Hollywood in 1956, and her opening scene in the unfinished Something’s Got to Give (1962.) Brody also contrasts the condescension that Marilyn often received from the press with the overt hostility directed at her young admirer, Lindsay Lohan.

“Here’s Marilyn Monroe, interviewed on February 25, 1956, upon her return to Hollywood for the filming of Bus Stop. Part of this clip, along with the story behind it, is featured in Liz Garbus’s fascinating new documentary, Love, Marilyn

Look at Marilyn Monroe, about twenty seconds into the clip, when a journalist ‘asks,’ without a question mark at the end of the sentence, ‘You’re a happy girl now.’ The infinitesimal silence that goes with her dubious glance—a tightly controlled eye-roll—away from the interviewer, followed by her ironic verbal shrug (a melodic ‘uh-h’ with a subtly derisive smile), suggests the equivalent of, ‘You have no idea.’ It’s in that sudden abyss of true and horrific emotion in the midst of the most conventionally candied context that encapsulates Monroe’s art—and art it is…

One of Monroe’s most moving performances is the one that seems to come from beyond the grave—it’s from the 1962 film Something’s Got to Give, from which she was fired soon before her death and which was never completed. The remaining footage, however, has been put together. It’s a remake of the 1940 comedy My Favorite Wife, with Monroe playing a woman who, having spent years shipwrecked aboard a desert island and being declared dead, returns home to find her husband remarried. Monroe comes through the gate six minutes in; she has the magical, floating, unreal aspect of a ghost. She hadn’t worked for more than a year, and she seemed to be returning from far away to a place where she belonged but may not have been welcome.

It’s too soon to know whether Lohan is in Monroe’s league (is anyone?)—she hasn’t had enough adult roles or enough good directors yet—but she did some extraordinary work before turning twenty, the age at which Norma Jeane Baker signed her first movie contract…Lohan isn’t the first great actress to confront addiction and other personal crises, but she has the misfortune to be living in an age of total exposure, when no studio publicist or code of silence can restrain reports of her sufferings as well as of her escapades…”

Variety Reviews ‘Love, Marilyn’

Marilyn on Person to Person, 1955

Variety has reviewed Love, Marilyn, giving us a fuller picture of the cast and materials. (David Strathairn as Arthur Miller is surely inspired casting!)

“With: F. Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Banks, Adrien Brody, Ellen Burstyn, Glenn Close, Hope Davis, Viola Davis, Jennifer Ehle, Ben Foster, Paul Giamatti, Jack Huston, Stephen Lang, Lindsay Lohan, Janet McTeer, Jeremy Piven, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Marisa Tomei, Lili Taylor, Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Lois Banner, George Barris, Patricia Bosworth, Sarah Churchwell, Amy Greene, Molly Haskell, Jay Kanter, Richard Meryman, Thomas Schatz, Donald Spoto.

Two unearthed boxes of diary entries, letters and whatnot (some of which were published in 2010 as Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe) provide the novelty and appeal to what would otherwise be a standard life-overview. The erstwhile Norma Jean Baker’s awful childhood, her stormy marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, the paralyzing effects of her insecurities on film shoots, her problematic alliance with the Actors Studio, her pill consumption, et al., all constitute familiar terrain that makes Love, Marilyn seem redundant at times.

The first-person testimonies are more interesting, from archival clips of Susan Strasberg, John Huston, Joshua Logan, Jane Russell, Laurence Olivier and others to excerpts from memoirs and other writings by one of her many shrinks (read by F. Murray Abraham), Miller (David Strathairn), and analysts Gloria Steinem (Hope Davis) and Norman Mailer (Ben Foster), among others. Particularly flavorful are Oliver Platt and Paul Giamatti as Billy Wilder and George Cukor, respectively, both recalling their exasperation working with the hypersensitive box office sensation. There are also present-tense interviews with biographers, critics, Actors Studio contemporary Ellen Burstyn, and close non-celebrity friend Amy Greene (who shares some salty thoughts on Marilyn’s husbands).

While there’s no question Garbus has recruited first-rate talent to pay homage here, some of the most impressive names prove heavy-handed or simply miscast in attempting to channel the love goddess’s fragile spirit; moreover, having them act against green-screened archival materials has a tacky, pop-up televisual feel. Probably most effective in their straightforward readings are Jennifer Ehle, who gets a fair amount of screentime, and (perhaps surprisingly) Lindsay Lohan, who does not.

Limiting clips from predictable movie highlights, and skipping over several well-known titles entirely, the pic tries to emphasize lesser-known materials, including numerous candid photos, behind-the-scenes footage, and one uncomfortable live appearance on TV’s Person to Person.”

Christina’s Marilyn Moment

Christina Aguilera has revealed the artwork for her new single, ‘Your Body’, and – not for the first time in her career – it may be inspired by Marilyn, specifically her iconic photo session with Bert Stern in 1962.

Incidentally, the pose was also imitated by Madonna back in 1990, in her ‘Homage to Norma Jean’ shoot with photographer Steven Meisel for Vanity Fair. At the time, Stern described the effect as ‘body-snatching Monroe’, but he has since replicated the shots with Lindsay Lohan.

Lohan’s MM Sketch Cut From SNL

Those among you who were surprised that Lindsay Lohan’s recent stint presenting Saturday Night Live didn’t feature yet another MM impersonation may be interested to hear about this sketch that was cut at the last minute. (I’m somewhat relieved to hear this, as SNL has a long history of tasteless Monroe parodies.)

‘According to our sources, the sketch was to feature Lindsay as Marilyn and Jon Hamm (‘Mad Men’) as JFK appearing to conservative hopeful Rick Santorum…

During the sketch, Marilyn and JFK explain Marilyn was on birth control provided to her by Medicare, which causes Santorum to vomit uncontrollably. Santorum (the real one) recently said that JFK’s speech from 1960 about keeping religion out of politics “makes [him] want to throw up.

In the end, we’re told the sketch made it all the way to rehearsals, and was even performed in front of a live audience, but was ultimately cut because of time constraints.’ TMZ

Terry O’Neill Praises Stern Photo Shoot

Photographer Terry O’Neill – known for his portraits of Brigitte Bardot and Amy Winehouse, among others – chooses his ten favourite photos, with Bert Stern’s Monroe shoot just behind Mohammed Ali at No. 2.

“Stern had three sessions with Marilyn Monroe for Vogue in June 1962, six weeks before her death, and it became known as The Last Sitting. Everyone was fixated on her bosom but he made a thing of her back. It’s coy and it’s very clever. He recreated the pictures in 2008…with Lindsay Lohan. She’s no Marilyn but what I found odd was a guy paying tribute to himself. So many people want to copy or recreate famous pictures these days.”

Marilyn, Lindsay and the Male Gaze

Over at Huffington Post, Emily Brooks offers a feminist critique of My Week With Marilyn:

“It is a shame that Williams’ Monroe appears primarily as a backdrop for this coming of age story. She is more intriguing than Clark’s character, and could have been attributed more depth. Williams’ character articulates her role in the film best when, in response to Clark’s encouragement that she ‘see the sights,’ she responds, ‘I am the sights.’ Marilyn Monroe will never be a feminist icon, yet she was a full person, and an actor in her own story, rather than just scenery in the stories of those around her. A movie that acknowledged this and attempted to explore it, would perhaps be a new Marilyn Monroe movie worth seeing.”

Lindsay Lohan poses as Marilyn for ‘Playboy’

Meanwhile, Queertly editor Oscar Raymundo argues that Lindsay Lohan needs to get over her Marilyn fixation:

“Lindsay, of course, looks full-bodied and beautiful, but overall the pictorial comes off uninspired — a sense that we have all seen it before even for a tribute…If Lindsay wants to be remembered as a sex symbol, she must embrace her own sex appeal and stop trying to recapture Marilyn’s.”



Hefner on Lohan’s Playboy Spread

Behind the scenes of Lindsay Lohan’s Playboy shoot

Hugh Hefner has told E! Online that the idea to recreate Marilyn’s 1949 calendar shoot with Tom Kelley – which he later acquired for the first issue of Playboy – was his idea, and not Lindsay Lohan’s. (She had already done a less explicit photo shoot, but Hefner was unsatisfied with the results.)

“‘The pictorial and the concept for the pictorial came from me,’ he explained. ‘She had done semi-nudes before. I wanted to do something that would be memorable. So what is more natural, since she is a huge fan of Marilyn Monroe, than do something that is a tribute to the red-velvet, Tom Kelley photo shot of Marilyn Monroe that was our very first Playmate?'”

Personally, I’ve always felt that Hefner took too much credit for Marilyn’s success – she was already a major star when Playboy began publication in 1953. However, she had no rights to the Kelley pictures and while Hefner has profited greatly from her name, she never earned more than the fifty dollars that Kelley originally paid her.

While Lindsay Lohan has been criticised by some Monroe fans for ‘copying’ her, in this instance it was Hefner’s decision. On November 8, the New York Post reported:

‘Hugh Hefner wasn’t pleased with the initial photos of Lindsay Lohan from her shoot for Playboy. Lohan had been on-set between court dates last week with photographer Yu Tsai, hairstylist Serena Radaelli and makeup artist Francesca Tolot, but the shoot was extended into the weekend after Hef didn’t like the results. “He felt the initial shots looked too much like a Kate Moss-inspired fashion story — Lindsay’s choice — where he wanted more of a classic Hollywood Marilyn Monroe feel,” a source said. This weekend, Lohan was accompanied by lawyers, agents and publicists who, sources said, “gave their two cents about what was considered ‘nude’ and what was not.”’