The fascination of Marilyn Monroe comes to Netflix with ‘Blonde’

Marilyn Monroe has been dead for 60 years, but there is still a kind of madness around her. Just look at the frenzied discourse surrounding “Blonde,” an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ fictional portrait of the Hollywood star that has yet to be seen by mainstream audiences.

There was intrigue surrounding its NC-17 rating and the reasons for its long delay in release (it was filmed before the pandemic). There was curiosity about her star, Ana de Armas, and her native Cuban accent seeped into the trailer. Meanwhile, its director Andrew Dominik, who has been trying to make this movie for over a decade, called it a masterpiece.

“Blonde” was met with an enthusiastic reception at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, but reactions from film critics have been divided. Some love the Dominik treatment. Others have wondered if he is exploitative. The New Yorker even called it: “A grave disservice to the woman it purports to honor.” It’s not unlike the responses to Oates’s 2000 novel. Or even the discussion surrounding the much tamer “My Week with Marilyn,” which earned Michelle Williams an Oscar nomination for her performance. But all invite questions about our own relationship. with Monroe, what we owe him and what we still demand of him.

Dominik, for his part, has read many of the reviews. Somehow, he said, both positive and negative reactions are indicative of his success. Like it or not, “Blonde,” which hits Netflix on September 28, doesn’t want you to feel good about what happened to Monroe.

“The movie is a horror movie,” Dominik said earlier this week. “It’s supposed to be an absolute onslaught. It’s a howl of pain. It is an expression of rage.”

“Blonde” takes viewers on a surreal journey through the short life of Norma Jeane Baker, from her childhood with a single mother living with schizophrenia (Julianne Nicholson), to her shallow Hollywood successes as Marilyn Monroe. Examines her marriages to baseball star Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), her addiction, her abuse and assault, her abortions, her miscarriage, and her death at age 36 from a barbiturate overdose.

There are stunning recreations of iconic movie moments, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seventh Year Itch, and classic photos brought to life, but they’re all done with a twist. A glamorous red carpet turns into an eerie phantasmagoria of gaping jaws and gaping jaws. The subway grate moment is the prelude to domestic abuse. Even a seemingly sweet photo of her and DiMaggio takes on new meaning.

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For Dominik, his film is the opposite of exploitation.

Exploitation is happily performing a song like “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” with a “wink and a nod,” he said. But, she shrugged, “people like to be offended.”

“The main relationship in the film is between the viewer and her,” said Dominik. “I have never made a film that tells me more about the viewer than this one.”

What it is not, he said, is a commentary on Roe v. Wade, or about something as reductive as “daddy” problems, although Norma Jeane calls her two of her husbands that. She is about an unwanted child and a woman going through the process of making an industrial film. And the real test for Dominik will come when Netflix’s global audience gets to see it.

It’s a moment many people have been waiting for, but perhaps no one more than de Armas, who wrapped work on “Blonde” in 2019. Her raw, vulnerable performance has been widely praised, even from the most negative reviews.

It was a demanding nine-week shoot after a year of preparation, during which he was also working on other films. Her first day on set was in the actual apartment where Norma Jeane lived with her mother: a nightmarish sequence in which she rescues a baby from the dresser drawer where she was kept as a child, while the place burned down. around it. Her second day on set was her visit to her mother in the psychiatric hospital, where she was able to speak as Marilyn for the first time on camera. It was a great way to break the ice, she said.

Although not an actress who stays in character at the end of the day, living with the emotions, the character and filming in the places where Marilyn lived, ate, worked and even died, it was “impossible not to feel heavy and sad”. she said. Still, she counts “Blonde” as one of the best moments she’s ever had on a set.

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“I am confident in what we did,” de Armas said. “I love this movie.”

Everyone around him was also stunned by the performance. Brody said that he left the set the first day feeling as if he had actually worked with Monroe.

“She’s so iconic and it’s a very difficult task for someone to play her,” Brody said. “What did she give to be so vulnerable and so brave? It is not something to be taken lightly.”

Monroe’s paradox is that no one seems able to honor her in exactly the right way, at least according to everyone else. To worship her beauty and her glamor is to deny her person. To enjoy her comedic abilities is to ignore her depths and her desire to be a serious actor. Ignoring her trauma is naive, but leaning on him is unpleasant. Although most people seem to agree that it was creepy that Hugh Hefner bragged about buying her crypt next to hers.

But the madness has survived. This spring even saw two big Marilyn moments, first with Kim Kardashian wearing her crystal-embellished nude gown at the Met Gala, and then a week later when someone paid $195 million for Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn,” making it the most expensive. work by an American artist never sold at auction.

“She’s kind of a rescue fantasy for a lot of people,” Dominik said. “You see that in some of the negative reactions to the movie. It’s as if they love Ana and hate the movie for putting Ana, putting the poor character in what she goes through. But I think that’s an expression of the film’s success, in a way.”

He continued, “There is something very challenging about her as a figure because she is a person who had everything that the media constantly tells us is desirable. She was famous, beautiful. She had an amazing job. She dated the so-called guys of her generation. And she killed herself. So where does everyone run to? Why is everyone running towards it? It challenges our ideas of what constitutes a good life, of the American dream.”

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Follow AP film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.

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