Blonde is a radically distilled “life” in the form of fiction, and, for all its length, synecdoche is the principle of appropriation. Biographical facts regarding Marilyn Monroe should be sought not in Blonde, which is not intended as a historical document, but in biographies of the subject.
Joyce Carol Oates
I have been asked a few times, by persons who know of my Marilyn Monroe obsession, if I intended to watch Blonde. Invariably I have answered quickly with a resounding NOPE! A few who posed the question have asked for an explanation. Dutifully, I have responded as follows: “during the ten years that I have researched Marilyn’s life, reading books, watching documentaries, I have read and watched enough fiction and biographical distortion of that remarkable woman to last me a life-time; my brain is full.” One of the publications that I read―or I should more accurately admit, attempted to read―was Blonde, the novel, the basis for Blonde, the movie. Admittedly, after reading and grimacing through approximately sixty-five or seventy percent of that grating and grotesque book, I stopped. I considered putting a match to it, but, despite my revulsion, I just could not bring myself to do so, even though the book is criminally untruthful and disgusting garbage. So I put it in a more than appropriate place: a garbage can.
It’s an NC-17 movie about Marilyn Monroe, it’s kind of what you want, right? I want to go and see the NC-17 version of the Marilyn Monroe story. […] It’s a demanding movie. If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the fucking audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office.
After the movie Blonde premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival during early September, evaluations of it written by professional movie reviewers began to populate Al Gore’s Amazing Internet. After reading fifty or sixty of those assessments, I have not uncovered any reason at all for me to expose myself to Blonde, to force myself to endure what one reviewer called a ”fundamental failure” and what a majority of the movie’s assessments dismissed as a jumble, a shamble of exploitive, misogynist garbage, a movie that “should never have been made.” So, I have not watched Blonde: never will.
Why was such a movie produced? Who is to blame for such a uniformly disliked and criticized movie about a beloved actress who died sixty years ago? Why would sentient human beings involve themselves in such hubris, arrogance and hatefulness? Were they so blinded by what they could fictionalize and film about Marilyn Monroe that they failed to ask themselves if they should? And, too, why would they produce such a rank dishonest movie and then assert, as if gripped by delusion, that what they had produced was actually meant to be a love letter to Marilyn Monroe, meant to be an expression of praise, a panegyric? Who is to blame for creating a movie that one reviewer called “a morbid, leering and tasteless abasement”?
Let me start with this. I do not blame Ana de Armas, the thirty-four-year-old Cuban actress who portrays Marilyn. Ana may have, in fact, as proclaimed by virtually all the reviews and critiques that I have read, rendered a remarkable likeness of the One and Only Marilyn; but frankly, I must express my doubts. I expect that Ana more than likely rendered a fair approximation of the planet’s most famous blonde, her physicality, perhaps, and a fair approximation is all Ana, or any other actress for that matter, would ever be able to render, actual acting skills notwithstanding, not only due to the impossibility of duplicating that which cannot be duplicated, but primarily because Ana was not provided with a character, a person to render who even remotely resembled the planet’s most famous blonde. Evidently, Ana spends most of her screen time nude, weeping, pitching fits and being sexually accosted by various and sundry villainously powerful male prototypes, caricatures actually, being forced to endure all manner of sexual degradation at the hands, and other anatomical parts, of all the caricatures prowling in her sphere. Nope, I don’t blame Ana de Armas. I blame Joyce Carol Oates, who wrote the diabolically ridiculous novel, and Andrew Dominik, who wrote and directed the diabolically ridiculous movie, a man who has now directed a total of four whole movies.
Andrew Dominik has dismissed Marilyn’s cinematic career, clearly regarding her work with contempt, and by extension, the work of the men and women who produced her movies. According to Dominic, Marilyn is simply “somebody who’s become this huge cultural thing in a whole load of movies that nobody really watches, right? Does anyone watch Marilyn Monroe movies?” A director with four whole movies on his resume has reduced Marilyn’s films to being “cultural artefacts” (sic), meaning that her films and her performances are merely examples of the era during which they were produced and are devoid of any meaning otherwise; they are something to be ridiculed and thereby function as a form of negative education. According to one reviewer, Dominik must believe that Marilyn’s “performances were shaped by her agonies and somehow happened by chance, by fate, or because she’s a mystical, magical sex bomb. That’s grotesque, and it’s wrong.” The artisans involved in producing Marilyn’s movies just happened to be some of the best that worked in Hollywood during its Golden Age. Additionally, many of her films were guided by the artistic visions of directors now considered to be all time greats: John Huston (The Asphalt Jungle and The Misfits), Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot), Howard Hawks (Monkey Business and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Henry Hathaway (Niagara), Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve), Joshua Logan (Bus Stop), Fritz Lang (Clash by Night) and Sir Lawrence Olivier (The Prince and the Showgirl). The first three men combined directed 105 feature films, were nominated for 148 awards, winning more times than Carter’s got little liver pills, including 5 Oscars, 3 Golden Globes and 3 BAFTAs. Billy Wilder is considered by some cinema experts to the greatest screenwriter of all time, with 26 screenplays on a lengthy resume, including Some Like It Hot, a movie that many cinephiles and cinema experts consider to be the greatest comedy ever made. For those men to be reduced to producers and creators of mere artifacts indicates and exemplifies the unfounded arrogance of Andrew Dominik, not to mention his narcissism. One reviewer noted that Dominik “is, without a doubt, a gifted technician”; but then the reviewer added: “He’s also a blowhard.” Another reviewer humorously suggested that Dominik should “jump up and down” and “let us hear ‘em clank together,” Dominik’s brass testicles I have concluded.
Unholywood and its resident practitioners have frequently engaged in both historical and biographical revi-sionism while retreating behind a shroud of artistic or poetic license, a cloaking device they employ like the curtain concealing Oz; but Blonde just might be the most egregious example of playing fast and loose with the facts and therefore fast and loose with the truth appertaining to a person’s life, in this case, the life of Marilyn Monroe. Virtually nothing in the novel and therefore nothing in the movie is factual or truthful.
Blonde is a fictional ghastly grotesque and self-indulgent pornographic excursion into exploitation by both the novelist and the film’s director. Evidently Dominik additionally adapted and transmogrified an already hideous version and vision of Marilyn Monroe into an even more hideous version that more appropriately reflected his own myopic and puny, narrow-eyed vision of who and what Marilyn was and also what her life meant, meant to him, anyway. Both the novelist and the director obviously―proven by the many salvos fired during their pathetic motion picture―loathe Marilyn Monroe and each took deadly aim at her heart. But then, the blonde actress is the most defamed and maligned female celebrity of all time, not only by the arrogant and the ignorant of her milieu, but the arrogant and ignorant of this milieu, who, in the name of progressivism and enlightened evolution have actually devolved into humanoids afflicted with a regressive psychosis.
What is the movie Blonde actually about? What is its purpose? Unquestionably it is simpler to stipulate what the movie is not about: it is not about Marilyn Monroe: it is not about her life: and the movie is not “about Marilyn Monroe’s exploitation” either, according to one reviewer, “but a new low watermark in Hollywood’s treatment of her―a sex object reduced to a sex organ.” Evidently, the movie includes an actual tour of Marilyn’s vagina, which one reviewer called “a deranged Look Who’s Talking prequel” or in my opinion, a sort of vapid humorless variation of the Vagina Monologues. According to Amanda Whiting, writing for The Independent: Blonde “adds as much nuance to the idea of Marilyn Monroe as can be gleaned from a gynecological exam. […] If you want to understand Marilyn Monroe, it suggests, first you have to get inside her uterus”; and Ann Hornaday, in her Washington Post movie review, asserted that “Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel is a morbid, leering and tasteless abasement. […] Reductive, ghoulish and surpassingly boring, Blonde might have invented a new cinematic genre: necro-fiction.” Finally, in an interview with Christina Newland, Dominik briefly discussed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in terms that can only be described as reductive and chauvinistic.
I hasten to here report, as I also note in my review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, New German Cinema auteur, Rainer Fassbinder considered the girlfriend road flick to be one of the top ten movies ever made, not just among musicals but movies ever made. High praise, indeed. On Fassbinder’s top ten movie list, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes resides in the sixth slot; but then Dominik seized upon the opportunity to toss shade on the flick and reduced the characters of Dorothy Shaw and Lorelei Lee to nothing but “well-dressed whores,” to be read as prostitutes. According to Dominik’s interpretation, Dorothy provided Lorelei with some “sisterly advice: ‘If you’re gonna fuck, make sure you get paid.’ Or is it just romanticized whoredom?” So, women who engage the power of their immense sexuality are nothing but whores, nothing but prostitutes? What else does a woman need to know about Andrew Dominik?―and most certainly that small-minded, chauvinistic comment explains every choice Dominik made regarding his depiction of a woman that he obviously does not understand and for whom he feels no affinity, sympathy or empathy.
Quite frankly, the movie’s purpose is simply this: distastefulness. “I’m not concerned with being tasteful,” Dominik admitted. That is certainly self-evident. And he was not concerned at all about the facts or the truth about Marilyn. Certainly, that is also self-evident. “It’s all fiction anyway, in my opinion,” he announced, meaning that everything about the blonde movie star and the events appertaining to what Dominik called her mysterious life, are actually fictional, made-up, created by Hollywood’s fame machine that also devoured and destroyed Marilyn along with the invariably leering gaze of her male fans. In an interview for Sight and Sound, Dominik admitted that he “was not interested in reality,” that he was only “interested in the images”; but then, echoing what Joyce Carol Oates has asserted, the director also asserted that the movie he made is an accurate and truthful depiction of the abuse the world’s most famous movie star actually endured in Hollywood. What? Sounds contradictory to me. Blonde is an accurate and truthful depiction of fictional events that actually never happened, a fictional life never lived by his real woman subject. Is that an oxymoron or a paradox or an oxymoronic paradox or simply just meaningless Orwellian doublespeak? Not unlike the assertion that Blonde is a indictment of sexual abuse, exploitation of women and patriarchal misogyny while at the same time engaging, even wallowing voyeuristically in those exact violations.
Even as reductively disingenuous as Blonde the print version and Blonde the celluloid version are, each is unquestionably the most disingenuous when one considers the details about Marilyn’s life and career that each omitted. As Ann Hornaday noted: “But even at its most gruesome and bizarre, Blonde might be most unforgivable in what it leaves out […].” Neither the book nor the movie even briefly mentions Marilyn’s struggle to control her career, and in so doing, she walked-out on her Fox contract and left Hollywood at the height of her fame, started her own production company―only the second woman in history to do so―and began to study with acting guru Lee Strasberg; neither the book nor the movie even briefly mentions Marilyn’s successful efforts to help Ella Fitzgerald obtain a booking to perform at the Mocambo Club; and since by his own admission, Dominik was not interested in telling Marilyn’s entire life story, he disregarded the many obvious elements that made Marilyn more than just another beautiful woman operating in Hollywood, elements that the director found not so interesting. During an interview, Dominik admitted: “OK, she wrested control away from the men at the studio, because, you know, women are just as powerful as men. But that’s really looking at it through a lens that’s not so interesting to me.” What Dominik found interesting was a view from Marilyn’s cervix as a speculum entered her vagina and a view from inside the toilet bowl while she vomited. In favor of the preceding disgusting and disrespectful scenes, Dominik egregiously ignored Marilyn’s cinematic career and what one reviewer noted was her “transcendent talent, the brilliant comic timing, the phrasing, gestures and grace.” Blonde intentionally ignores Marilyn’s rare gifts, her dedication to the craft of acting and her constant reach for improvement, not only in her craft but her everyday life as well. But more importantly, perhaps, Blonde ignores Marilyn’s fundamental humanity and her shrewdness in order to create a perpetual victim, which she most certainly was not. Marilyn Monroe was kind and generous and according to everyone who actually knew her, she had a wonderful and devilish sense of humor. According to Robert Mitchum, Marilyn was generous to a fault and a witty, naturally funny girl; but evidently, Blonde does not contain a single shred of humor. That is downright pathetic.
Perhaps there is not a just punishment for writer and director, except maybe being condemned to spend eternity planted upside down in a bucket filled with the fecal equivalent of their cinematic concoction: donkey dung. But then, maybe, just like Dominik’s stupid movie, I’m being ridiculously hyperbolic. Still, I know that Marilyn’s singular quiddity will survive this most recent cinematic debasement, just as it has survived all the senseless debasements heaped upon her during the past six decades. Long after Joyce Carol Oates and Andrew Dominik have shuffled off this mortal coil, long after Blonde and its creators have been forgotten, the woman they have treated with utter disregard will remain the planet’s most famous woman, loved and revered by billions. As Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis proclaimed after Marilyn’s death: she will go on eternally.