Revisiting ‘The Misfits’ at Stanford

Marilyn with Montgomery Clift on the Misfits set, 1960

Following a recent screening of The Misfits for students at Stanford University,   Carlos Valladares has reviewed Marilyn’s swansong for Stanford Daily.

The Misfits comes out at the tail-end of the classic Hollywood era (1961), and it shows. The photographers who drifted on and off the set (Eve Arnold, Bruce Davidson, Henri Cartier-Bresson) showed off Monroe, Clift, Gable in all their un-Glamour, in a starkly honest look that would have been unthinkable in the studios’ heyday … The editing is odd and erratic, but these glitches actually contribute to its depth. At one point, Monroe’s lips go out of sync with her voice. At another, Monroe’s close-up is interrupted by a blurry soft focus. She has none of the leering, near-pornographic dazzle of her 1950s promotional photos. Here, the camera looks as if it were just crying, doing a terrible job at wiping away its tears, overwhelmed by the state of Marilyn.

The Marilyn performance is so brave precisely because, despite the odds, she survives … It is when the men, after all their hard work and physical exertion, decide to shoot the wild horses they just captured, selling their meat for a few lousy hundred bucks. Suddenly, Monroe darts off into the distance and screams … the exact catharsis needed to make us care again about the sanctity of human beings. The camera hangs far back in an extreme long shot, making me feel Rosalyn’s insignificance, and, contrariwise, Monroe’s strength. It’s a rare instance where Rosalyn/Monroe has privacy to herself. Huston wisely does not go in for a typically Hollywood close-up that would show her breakdown and emotional turmoil with dramatic, lurid tastelessness. The camera cannot go in for a close-up. To do so would completely negate the scene’s point: the breaking out of a woman from her banality. She screams: ‘ENOUGH.’

The dialogue in this remarkable scene (perhaps the climax of Monroe’s acting career) also predicts Monroe’s eventual suspected fate … She could just as well be talking back to Arthur Miller (and the viewing public — us) as she is to Gable, Wallach and Clift. It’s an amazing example of an actor taking back her agency in a narrative that, at first glance, seems to float above the actors.”

‘The Misfits’ at Stanford

Photo by Inge Morath

Students at Stanford University, California have a chance to see The Misfits today in Room 115 of the McMurtry Building at 5:30 pm. It’s being screened as part of the syllabus of Professor Usha Iyer’s course ‘The Body in Film and Other Media.’ Carlos Valladares has reviewed The Misfits for Stanford Daily

“The cult over only the indexical sign of Marilyn Monroe (the blonde hair, the sexpot husk, the eyes) gets nowhere near her weirdnesses and complexities as a person. Of course, can we ever know? Her performances in her best work — Don’t Bother To Knock (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Some Like it Hot (1959), Let’s Make Love (1960), and especially The Misfits — give us an actual glimpse into one of America’s most obsessed-over stars.

The Misfits, which was scripted by Monroe’s soon-to-be-ex-husband Arthur Miller (yes, that Arthur Miller), punctures the popular perception of Monroe as an unreal sex goddess to be whistled at. As the critic Angelica Jade Bastien writes, “For me, Monroe is evocative more of a mood and a time than just the dumb blonde sexpot she’s become known for. Through this lens, her startling, heartfelt, gorgeous work in The Misfits feels strangely like an elegy for the dumb blonde she never truly was, and the Hollywood she existed within … she explores and brings to life the cloying weight of loneliness the way few actors can.’ Monroe delivers a frighteningly frank performance, as does everyone else in this tired film about tired failures.”

Focus on Spyros Skouras

Spyros Skouras, the Greek-born president of Twentieth Century-Fox, was an important ally of Marilyn during her early career. In September, the Greek America Foundation will research his life, including extensive study of the Skouras Papers at Stanford University, with the aim of producing a documentary. You can read more about the project here.

Ms. Magazine Cover Essay Contest

Ms. Magazine, co-founded by the American feminist author, Gloria Steinem, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Marilyn graced their cover in August 1972, ten years after her death. Steinem’s essay, ‘The Woman Who Died Too Soon’, would later form the basis of a full-length book, Marilyn: Norma Jeane. (Her introduction was entitled ‘The Woman Who Will Not Die’.)

In conjunction with Ms., Stanford University invite you to write a 150-word essay on how one of their covers inspired you. More details here