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.”

Brad Pitt to Produce ‘Blonde’

Collider reports that Brad Pitt’s Plan B company will produce Andrew Dominik’s forthcoming film of Blonde, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates about Marilyn’s life. Filming will probably begin early next year. But it is unclear whether Naomi Watts – who is about to play Princess Diana in another movie – is still attached to the project.

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

 

Often Imitated, Never Equalled

1976 biopic starring Misty Rowe

Maureen Dowd writes in the New York Times about why movies about great stars like Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor etc are so often disappointing:

‘The many actresses who have resurrected Marilyn Monroe can’t hold a candle in the wind to Hollywood’s most luminescent, evanescent siren.

Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino played two sides of her in the 1996 HBO film “Norma Jean and Marilyn,” which amounted to double trouble. Catherine Hicks tried in the 1980 ABC movie “Marilyn: The Untold Story,” which should have remained untold.

Still we must suffer through a new raft of impertinent impersonators. Michelle Williams stars in “My Week With Marilyn,” about her friction with Laurence Olivier during the making of “The Prince and the Showgirl” in 1957. Then comes Naomi Watts in “Blonde,” based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel.’

Maureen Dowd also reviewed Fragments last year.

Naomi Watts: Thomson’s Choice

I’m not a huge fan of film critic David Thomson, and when he published a snarky essay about MM in The Independent back in 2006, my response ended up on the letters page. (So I’m probably not on his Christmas card list either!)

However I do agree with Thomson that Naomi Watts could be a fine choice to play Monroe in a forthcoming biopic. Although she doesn’t resemble Marilyn physically (other than being blonde), Naomi has a fragile, ethereal quality.

“But if the Anglo-Australian Watts had only done David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), she’d be secure in movie history. The way that dreamscape carries her from the archetypal blonde ingénue arriving in Los Angeles, to an accomplished actress in her audition scene, to a wasted wreck, helped make it one of the best films of this century…The key to Mulholland Drive was that Lynch had found his film in Watts’s intriguingly secretive erotic presence…She is set to play Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates. Watts has admitted to being daunted by this, and she is older than Monroe was when she died (Watts will be 43 this year). But Blonde sounds like something that must depend on her, and that’s what she deserves – uncritical love, total trust, a lot of camera time, glamour and huge responsibility.”

The Guardian

My only reservation about Andrew Dominik’s proposed screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde is that the novel, while imaginative, plays fast and loose with the facts of Marilyn’s life.

Blonde was previously filmed for TV with Poppy Montgomery, but it was not well-received. Let’s hope that Andrew Dominik (who directed The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2005) can reverse the long trend of mediocre MM portrayals.

‘Blonde’: The Mini-Series

Blonde, a TV adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, was first aired in 2002, barely two years after the book’s publication. Directed by Joyce Chopra and starring Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) as Marilyn Monroe, it is currently available to watch for free online at Blinkbox.

Although Blonde is based on Monroe’s life, it plays fast and loose with the facts. Characters like ‘I.E. Shinn’, the fictitious agent, are amalgamations of several men who played significant roles in Monroe’s early career. Her first husband, James Dougherty, is renamed ‘Bucky Glazer’, while DiMaggio and Miller are referred to as ‘the Ballplayer’ and ‘the Playwright’.

This technique puts Monroe in the spotlight, and makes her brief, intense life seem much less complex than it really was. Vague, unconfirmed rumours about her relationship with peripheral figures, like Charlie Chaplin’s son, are distorted beyond recognition. While proclaiming that ‘she wasn’t blonde, and she wasn’t dumb’ (seemingly paraphrasing Dolly Parton), Marilyn is portrayed as a victim, passive and helpless.

Poppy Montgomery’s performance is actually quite good, but the other characters are little more than caricatures. Perhaps the most misleading scene of all shows Monroe exchanging sexual favours with Darryl F. Zanuck, head of Twentieth Century Fox, for a stock contract. This incident never occurred and, to me as a fan, it was offensive.

The first half of this two-parter mainly covers Monroe’s pre-Hollywood life as Norma Jeane Mortenson. Her mother is played rather stridently by Patricia Richardson. The costuming in the latter part is somewhat sloppy, playing on stereotyped images and not acknowledging how subtly Monroe transformed herself.

Blonde is reasonably watchable, but fails to rise above other two-dimensional portrayals of Marilyn’s life. It doesn’t match the attempted lyricism of Oates’ novel and fails to distinguish between fact and fantasy.

A new, big-screen version is now planned, to be directed by Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and starring Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive, King Kong, The Painted Veil.)

Naomi Watts: A ‘Fragile’ Blonde


“I’m not especially comfortable playing damsels in distress,” the Australian actress Naomi Watts tells Nancy Mills of The Scotsman. “I like to play women who appear to be that but, at the last minute, show they’re anything but.”

This could be a description of Marilyn Monroe, who Watts is set to play in Andrew Dominik’s big-screen adaptation of Blonde (a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, based on Monroe’s life.)

Blonde has not yet begun production, but is already causing quite a stir in Hollywood. It is due out in 2012, which also marks the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death.

“Everyone thinks, ‘Ooh, Marilyn Monroe,”‘ Watts says, “but it’s not a glossy picture. It’s quite dark, but a great story.”

The two actresses would seem to have little in common, apart from their hair colour, but Watts sees more to it. “I get her fragility, definitely,” she says.

“I feel like I’m a fairly fragile person,” Watts admits. “It’s pretty easy for me to get upset or emotional, but not tough or angry. Having said that, I think I’ve survived certain situations that have made me tougher and made me pull through. Even this whole thing about being an actor – that took a long time. I don’t feel like I had thick skin, but the fact that I stayed there knocking away at it must make me resilient.”

“I am interested in dark things,” she adds. “I’m not afraid of them. We all have a dark side. It’s a matter of whether you want to embrace it or not. I’m willing to explore it, but it’s not going to eat me up.”

‘Blonde’ Movie Delayed

Photo by 'mavenberlin'

Andrew Dominik‘s big-screen adaptation of Blonde, previously said to start shooting in January 2011, may be postponed, after Casey Affleck confirmed he will be working with Dominik on a crime movie at that date, according to the Film School Rejects blog.

Blonde will be based on Joyce Carol Oates‘ 2000 novel of the same name, about the life of Marilyn Monroe. It was generally well-received by critics, with some even calling it Oates’ masterpiece. However, its reception among Monroe fans has been more mixed, because of its fairly loose relation to the facts of Marilyn’s life.

In 2001, Blonde was adapted for television, with Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) as Monroe. While her performance was good, the mini-series was widely considered to be a disappointment.

Poppy Montgomery as Marilyn

Last May, Dominik’s more ambitious plans to remake Blonde were outlined in Screen Daily:

Dominik, who last directed The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, explains his desire to make Blonde: “Why is Marilyn Monroe the great female icon of the 20th Century? For men she is an object of sexual desire that is desperately in need of rescue. For women, she embodies all the injustices visited upon the feminine, a sister, a Cinderella, consigned to live among the ashes.”

He added, “I want to tell the story of Norma Jean as a central figure in a fairytale; an orphan child lost in the woods of Hollywood, being consumed by that great icon of the twentieth century.”

Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval told Screen, “We are delighted to finally be working with Andrew Dominik who is one of the most talented young directors in world cinema today. We trust his vision to deliver us a Marilyn biopic which will not be a classic one but a modernRaging Bull which will explore one of the most iconic figures of this century. Whilst the tabloid press has grown in popularity by taking advantage of such tragedies, we at Wild Bunch are seduced by the humanity, the emotion and the tragic destiny of such a powerful character.”

Dominik’s last film as writer/director, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) was highly praised, showing dramatic flair and a keen understanding of American mythology. And Oates’ Blonde is certainly a novel written on a grand scale.

Naomi Watts is slated to star as Marilyn, and though she is a little on the ‘waiflike’ side, her earlier performances in Mulholland Drive and The Painted Veil suggest that Watts has the acting chops to evoke Monroe’s unique combination of mystique and vulnerability.

Naomi Watts

Like My Week With Marilyn, also due to be filmed shortly, Blonde boasts a gifted actress and director, but the source material is more contentious. Monroe herself is such a fabled figure in the history of cinema that the reality of her life and character is too often over-simplified.

‘It’s scary, playing someone so iconic, whom everyone feels they know,’ Watts has admitted, reports Start Movie News.