Wednesday, January 11

Mmmm Marilyn

I think Marilyn Monroe is the biggest movie star in the world... ever.  Yeah, I know that trumps John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and a small handful of others, but really, who is bigger than MM?  Even the initials clue you in.  She dazzled us for roughly 14 years while she was alive and famous.  The years before her true fame have really become rather textbook to many.  Those years prior to 1948 are etched in our memories thanks to the scores and scores of books written about her.  This year she will be gone 50 years... and we are still talking about her.

What is it about this woman that continues to fascinate us?  Well, some of us... but we are legion.  She really only made a handful of films.  I think she was beautiful and even if one doesn’t agree with that, I suspect few would quibble with the fact that she photographed spectacularly well.  The camera just loved her, catching every mood, every gesture, every emotion.  One always saw that sexiness coupled with an innocence and a playfulness.  The lens often captured her fragility, simplicity, coquettishness.  And Marilyn loved having her picture taken.

She had something about her, that if you liked her, you wanted to help her.  She always seemed like she needed to be looked after... maybe a good friend, a shrink, maybe a pastor... someone, something.  She had been so much in the news before she died because of her troubles with 20th Century Fox and an unfinished film and illness and singing for JFK's birthday but there was also news that things were looking up for her.  Fox was taking her back, the film would go on, her reputation was sunny again.  When she died and the local paper published her address and I realized she lived fewer than three miles from me (I lived in Los Angeles at the time), I felt like I had let her down, like one would a friend.   I did what all diehard fans did who lived near her... I drove over to her home at 12305 Fifth Helena, on a small Brentwood cul-de-sac, and stood outside and watched all the comings and goings.  Some of us were asked to leave but I went back time and again to have a little more time with Marilyn.

Thankfully she has left behind some very interesting films and had done some good work in them.  Well, maybe her coworkers have some other thoughts, but what I saw up there on that screen electrified this movie fan.  I can sit back now and hear her singing and see her iconic movements for Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend in Gentleman Prefer Blondes.  I can see her undulations in Niagara.  If the real Old West ever saw the dungareed Monroe I saw in River of No Return, the west would have a whole other history.   She was sweet and innocent to perfection in 7-Year Itch and arguably as "real" as she ever was onscreen with Bus Stop and The Misfits.  And her comic perfection in Some Like It Hot is partly why that film is as highly regarded as it is. 

And in some U.S. theaters right now is a film about her.  It is called My Week with Marilyn... and as the title suggests, it's about a short time but it was a tense and trying time for the actress and a few others.  It's a week where we are allowed a glimpse of a heavily-documented time when she, with the birth of her very own production company, went to London to film The Prince and the Showgirl (then called The Sleeping Prince) with the highly-esteemed actor of all actors, Sir Laurence Olivier.  It was daunting for Monroe to inhale the same rarefied air as Olivier and as a result of that and other complications in her life, she couldn't remember her lines, was always late, depended too much on drugs and her drama coach/nursemaid/friend who was in attendance. 

Olivier was not only her co-star but her director.  At the same time it was her production company that was producing the film so the reporting relationships and who's-the-boss was often murky at best.  He wanted to yell at her for real and imagined issues but he knew that was no way to get a performance out of a fragile and shy actress.  He was the world's greatest stage actor who wanted to be a movie star.  She was the world's greatest movie star who wanted to be a great actress.  It was not always a good partnership. 

All of this was observed by one Colin Clark, a 23-year old man who was dying to be in the production end of moviemaking and was lucky enough to latch on to Olivier and then the film.  As it turned out, Clark became, more or less, MM's watchdog.  Husband Arthur Miller had left London after arguing with her, causing her to be even more upset and lean more on Clark.

I don't think I would ever have thought of Michelle Williams for this role.  But oh how wrong I would have been.   She is nothing short of brilliant, absolutely luminous.  There better be an Oscar nomination here.  Kenneth Branagh (some would say the heir-apparent to Olivier) is no less mesmerizing and Eddie Redmayne is so on the mark as the fawning neophyte.  It was also great fun seeing Julia Ormond portray Vivien Leigh and the always-wonderful Judi Dench play Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Everything I love about the movies is in this film.  Along with the superb acting, there's also great direction, writing done in a straight-forward manner, tight editing, effective music, appropriate sets, the proper mood... and of course done in that biographical mode I so fancy. And of course I love movies about Hollywood. 

When I have been in discussion with my movie buds about Monroe, inevitably her death becomes a point of interest.  Indeed.  It can safely be said that her death and what we know about it or more to the point don't know will always keep her in the news.  After reading countless books on her (all right behind me in my library) and having a lifelong fascination with her, I take the road less dramatic.  I think she sleepily overdosed on potent pills, enough to kill her considering the alcohol she had already consumed.  But of course we don't know for sure about how she died.  We are pretty certain about how she lived.

NEXT POST:  Film Noir

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