Blonde on Blonde

The controversial new movie Blonde will be streaming on Netflix later this month. Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel and featuring Ana de Armis as a sort of fictionalized Marilyn Monroe, the movie is sure to stir up animosity among Marilyn’s most ardent fans, like yours truly. I’ve owned the novel for years but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. The one thing I know going into the movie is that the book and film are dramatized takes on the life and legend of the twentieth century’s biggest celebrity icon. Just from the trailer, it seems artistic license is definitely being taken, which is fine. I’m just more interested in Marilyn, the woman herself, and the important, lasting work she created and left behind after her death sixty years ago.

I’ve read plenty about Marilyn’s life and gleaned enough to realize she was a classic introvert, craving human connection to survive while also needing downtime to recharge. Of course, she was the biggest star on the planet during her career, so demands on her time made it awfully hard to recharge. And it wasn’t just her time the public demanded; it was all of her. Media coverage was relentless, and every aspect of her life—including her physical beauty—was picked apart by the human vultures of the world.

So, the fascination with Marilyn never ends, not for me, not for most of the world. A sensationalized movie like Blonde—which is just my assumption, not having seen it yet—is bound to make some missteps and upset those of us who love Marilyn for more than her celebrity persona. Or, who knows, maybe it will just simply be dull. It might also be quite good. We’ll see about that. In the meantime, after watching Blonde why not pick up a book or two on her? Not the countless number of trashy ones, but an even-handed and sympathetic bio like Lois Banner’s Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox, or Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters which is a collection of Marilyn’s own writing. Elizabeth Winder’s Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy is especially beautiful and bittersweet, focusing on Marilyn’s New York period in the mid-1950s. You also can’t go wrong with Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis, a massive coffee table book that acts as a photographic journey through Marilyn’s life. The photos are of the highest quality, from some of the best photographers to ever photograph her, and reveal so much of Marilyn’s inner spirit.

Beyond reading more compassionate books about Marilyn, we should also just watch her movies, repeatedly and often. There, onscreen, is the Marilyn the world knew, the bright shining star who was both stunningly beautiful and extremely talented as an actor. Even when she was deep into a role, though, the essence of Marilyn was still there–the breathlessly sultry and playful beauty in The Seven Year Itch; the sweet, generous, talented, and aptly named Sugar in Some Like It Hot; or in a number of films as the intelligent and intuitive woman who knows how to manipulate a man to get what she wants. In many of her roles she is almost reflexively commenting on her bombshell persona, allowing Marilyn to gain some form of ownership over her mind and body, even as everyone was trying to control her. That’s why I think her acting reveals more about her as a person than any writer or director ever could. She was a genuine original, a charismatic, sexy, and instinctive performer with an empathetic heart, trying to live truthfully in a corrupt world that destroys people like her. Here’s hoping Blonde does her justice.

5 thoughts on “Blonde on Blonde

  1. I never knew Joyce Carol Oates wrote a book about Marilyn Monroe, that’s interesting. There’s a mystic about Marilyn I like to keep intact, hence why I too prefer her movies over books about her, but I do love this one book my Uncle gave me about her that’s mainly photographs of her, and an overview of her career.

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  2. I hadn’t heard about the movie Blonde, having read this I do share you misgivings. Let’s hope it gives Marilyn the respect your writing always does. Thanks for the book recommendations. I like the sound of Marilyn in Manhattan: Her Year of Joy, so I might start with that one.
    I’ve still got a few Monroe movies to catch up on, and that’s one thing that bugs me about her iconic nature, so many people don’t bother to watch her films so they get this really shallow version of her. She was not how she was perceived. Which is why the hints of sadness in her performances in movies like Bus Stop and The Misfits feel so deep and real.

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    1. You really can’t go wrong with either her movies or gorgeous photo books of her! I think she reveals so much about her inner self in those movies and photos.

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  3. Fascinating post Michael, and still I wonder who Marilyn Monroe really was. She seems like a contradiction in many ways; living two very different lives as one person…and trying to survive in a medium that stripped part of her identity away. In the eyes of the public, actors become their roles and unfortunately Marilyn was so very beautiful on the outside that her roles had a miopic focus on the superficial beauty. And when Hollywood deems this beauty to be fading… it’s a cruel place for women to find themselves. We will always be searching for the real Marilyn, and my guess is that she may not have known the real Marilyn herself. It’s a bittersweet tale of the human experience but also a rarified life. Beautifully written Michael. Let me know if you decide to watch that and what you think!

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