The Lithuanian-born filmmaker, poet and artist, Jonas Mekas, has died aged 97. During World War II, he was imprisoned for eight months in a German labour camp while trying to flee his home country. In late 1949 he emigrated to the US with his brother, settling in Williamsburg, New York.
Mekas interviewed fellow Brooklynite Arthur Miller in 1954, and in 1958, he began writing a ‘Movie Journal’ column for the Village Voice. He would review The Misfits in 1961, praising Marilyn’s performance highly. He later wrote a rapturous tribute to Marilyn after her death.
In 1964, Mekas launched a campaign against movie censorship. His innovative art films inspired Andy Warhol to make movies. Throughout 2007, Jonas released a film each day on his website. He would continue his ‘online diary’ until his death.
One of Marilyn’s edgier roles – as Rose Loomis in Niagara – will be screened at Film Forum, NYC, on July 22, as part of a Femmes Noir series. Writing for the Village Voice, Stephanie Zacharek takes another look at one of Marilyn’s most unsettling performances.
“This isn’t a Marilyn you want to embrace and protect. As Rose, she’s alert and defiant, a woman who has defined exactly what she wants and has forged a plan to help her get it. This performance, among the star’s finest, gives the lie to the idea that she couldn’t really act. What it suggests, instead, is that Marilyn was a natural: Her desire to be taken seriously as an actor, and her subsequent serious study of the craft, may have made her more self-conscious, constraining her gifts rather than opening a conduit for them. In Niagara, Marilyn’s Rose is self-determined, boldly sexual, almost impossibly cruel. And still, you feel for her: Mincing along in high-heeled sandals and a suit the color of a brazen afternoon sky, on the way to meet her lover — a wily operator who’s as slick as Cotten’s George is rumpled — Rose is everything that good girls have been taught not to be. But there’s also a gorgeous futility radiating from her soul: Sometimes there’s just no cure for the nagging malady of wanting something more.”
The Misfits, Marilyn’s last completed movie, was released fifty years ago today. At the time of its release, The Misfits was overshadowed by the death of its star, Clark Gable, and Marilyn’s divorce from Arthur Miller, who had written the part of Roslyn for her. Critical reception was mixed, though The Misfits, an elegaic western, is now considered to be something of a flawed masterpiece. Marilyn herself was deeply disappointed by it, though most agree that ‘Roslyn Tabor’ was one of her finest dramatic performances:
“Marilyn Monroe, the Saint of the Nevada desert. . . She haunts you, you’ll not forget her . . . It is MM that tells the truth in the movie, who accuses, judges, reveals. And it is MM who runs into the middle of the desert and in her helplessness shouts: “You are all dead, you are all dead!”—in the most powerful image of the film—and one doesn’t know if she is saying those words to Gable and [Eli] Wallach or to the whole loveless world. . . There is so much truth in her little details, in her reactions to cruelty, to false manliness, nature, life, death, that she is overpowering, one of the most tragic and contemporary characters of modern cinema.”
Jonas Mekas, ‘The Village Voice’
A tribute to The Misfits, from the Library of America, is posted today at the Reader’s Almanac blog