As You Know, I’m Your Father…

“As you know, I’m your father…” What vistas of the strange those six simple words open up.

We were watching MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, a bunch of us (four being a bunch for the purposes of this discussion). The film begins with some scenes of an expository nature. The throng (four being a throng as well as a bunch) being composed entirely of people with at least a toe in the business, we soon bridled.

First thing we see — after three pieces of text — THREE! — to tell us it’s a true story — is Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in a recreation of the Having a Heatwave number from THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS which is totally unlike the original but I suppose not wildly anachronistic or inaccurate in terms of period style. It’s not madly overedited, for one thing.Cut to an audience, Our Young Hero front and centre. Marilyn herself liked to sit front and centre when she went to the movies as a kid, which is why this is the proper place to sit: think of whom you might meet. However, I immediately don’t want to meet this guy, based on his macabre smile.

Main title.

Cut to stately home. Voice over. “Everyone remembers their first job. This is the story of mine.” Well, could be worse. A bit blunt. It’s not only going to tell you a story (as opposed to showing you it), it’s going to tell you it’s telling you a story.Here comes Our Young Hero again, walking briskly across the lawn. “I was the youngest of a family of over-achievers.” Backstory, not interested.

As the VO tells us that OYH liked going to the pictures, we cut back to him at the pictures, even though we’ve just seen this. Well, if you must. OYH mentions film people he liked, and names Olivier, and the film obligingly shows us Kenneth Branagh playing the part in a clip from a movie premiere which we’re going to see in full moments later. This is a bit shit, I remember thinking.Back to OY Hero entering some rough-stone outbuilding. Turns out it’s a posh library, and here’s a man and some other people. “Ah, Colin, come in, have you met James and Anna, my two very brilliant pupils?”

Oh, good, he’s called Colin and this man knows him and has two very brilliant pupils, who are called James and Anna (must remember that, it’s obviously important). Wait, how does Colin not already know them?

“Hello, I’m off to London now, pa.”

Brilliant, right, this chap is Our Young Colin’s father, and what’s more Colin KNOWS he’s his father. It’s not going to be like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, all confusing twists. And OYC is off to London now, and he’s telling his father that. Good. Got you. Wait, how does his dad not already know today is the day his son, Colin, his son, leaves home? For London? His son?

“Ah, your silly job interview. Well, bonne chance, dear boy, I can always get you a research position at the V&A once you’ve grown up a bit and got this film idea out of your system.”

OK, let’s see if I’ve fully grasped the layers of subtext being poured over me like slow-motion nougat. OYC’s father (OYCF for short) disapproves of his son, Colin’s choice of career and hopes he will soon put away childish things and assume a more respectable occupation. Perhaps very soon, as this is only an interview.

The film continues, but our thoughts kept straying back to this scene and its supreme awkwardness.

“I’m off, Mother.” It’s a new scene, do keep up. OYC is telling his mother (OYCM) that he’s off. “My job interview, ‘member?” OYC is a mumbler. He means “remember?” But it hardly matters because we’ve just had this scene with his dad (OYCF).OYC crosses a London street. “Like every young man, I had to make my own way.” And indeed, OYC does manage to make it across the street without being flattened by an omnibus. Well done you. On the other hand, his rich parents and expensive education and school tie might be opening just a few studio doors for the entitled little prick (ELP).

The next scene, in the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions, is confusing, as it seems OYC doesn’t have a job interview at all, nobody’s expecting him and they’re not looking for anyone, which kind of casts doubt on ELP’s street-crossing prowess after all.

At this point in the film, we were getting a bit distracted, still talking about that weirdly expository chat with OYCF (the dad: do keep up). I ad-libbed a satirical example of the kind of dialogue we’d been forced to consume: “As you know, I’m your father…”OYC hangs about Laurence Olivier Prods in the best Rupert Pupkin manner until he somehow picks up some work. Cut to him crossing the road again, successfully staying out from under the wheels of another red bus.

Enter Branagh with a thing in his lip.

Monroe’s agent is called Mr. Jacobs. Here’s Toby Jones! “Hello, Mr. Jacobs.” He’s Mr. Jacobs. “Who built this place?” Mr. Jacobs is a brash agent.What’s actually happening is fine: we see OYC display tact and ingenuity in locating a house for MM to stay in. But we are continually being spoonfed. Meanwhile, by now we’ve practically convinced ourselves that “As you know, I’m your father…” is a genuine line of dialogue from the opening of the picture. I tactfully remind everyone that I made it up. Must be fair. Plus, I want credit.

OYC arrives at Pinewood. They’ve taken the trouble to engage and costume a Norman Wisdom lookalike, which impresses me because they’re showing a heedlessness about whether anybody recognizes NW. Not typical of this film, which is so anxious that we understand everything. Then this guy glides past, and I get the impression I’m meant to recognize him, too, but I haven’t a clue. Well, I suppose that should impress me even more.

We glimpse the Romantic Interest (not Monroe: the other one) and OYC is immediately warned about love affairs in the workplace, so we know she’s going to be a Romantic Interest, especially because we recognize the girl from HARRY POTTER. And come on, Pinewood may not be Hollywood, but the British film industry was a veritable hotbed of, well, hot beds.A bodyguard, an ex-copper, is engaged for Monroe, whose habits are described as “Erratic.” “She drinks?” “Among other things.” “Pills?” GOOD GUESS!

Here’s the thing. Screenplays and movies are meant to be clear, except when they’re being mysterious on purpose. Look at the care with which Chaplin shows us that the Blind Flower Girl is blind. Also, a flower girl. But belabouring points is ugly.

Billy Wilder said it much better and quicker: as storyteller, your job is to put across your points clearly. The more elegantly you manage it, the better you are.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a Harvey Weinstein Production. Weinstein was (I hope we can safely use the paste tense now) a true auteur. You can spot the clumsy, overanxious storytelling in ever film he touched. Usually in the form of overdubs on people’s backs, stuffing dialogue into their mouths to make sure we understand. “Master Shakespeare!” expostulates the back of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head when the front of her head sees Master Shakespeare in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. “The King!” murmurs the back of Mina Sorvino’s head when the front of her head sees the king insect in MIMIC (the company was apparently so patriarchal the insects weren’t allowed a queen).

But I think it’s even worse when the lines come out of the front of people’s heads, having been planted in their mouths by a long development process. (I don’t blame the screenwriter.)

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is also a BBC production, and seems to use all the same locations as STAN & OLLIE. I could be wrong, but it certainly has the same feel. A certain limited degree of plushness. Solidity. Craft. Zero excitement.

I would sort of like the BBC to be prosecuted for sexual offences (this more or less happened a few years ago) so that this kind of filmmaking could end. But the BBC didn’t have a hand in JUDY so I suppose it’d carry on, zombie-fashion.

It’s not even BAD, compared to lots of things, but it’s the reverse of imaginative or daring.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN stars Charity Barnum; Balem Abrasax; Sabrina Fairchild; Gilderoy Lockhart; Lily Potter; Christopher Foyle; Lavrenti Beria; Dr. Arnim Zola; Jennifer the Viking – another rapist; Sir Thomas Fairfax; Uday Hussein; Queen Victoria; Madame Hooch; Hermione Granger; I, Claudius;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Responses to “As You Know, I’m Your Father…”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    “As You know I am your father” is a stone’s throw away from “Luke, I am your father!” — the most dramatically imposing line of dialogue in the history of the cinema.

    I like Michelle Williams a lot but she’s better at Gwen Verdon than she is at MM. In many ways Marilyn is impossible to do because she kept doing HERSELF in different manifestations. The Marilyn of “The Seven Year Itch” is markedly different from the Marilyn of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” and “Some Like It Hot” and “The Misfits” She was Hollywood’s Rorsach Blot of our psyche.

    “The Prince and the Showgirl” is really REALLY good, despite Sir Larry Polaroid (as Raymond Durgnat called him) who wisely ceds the direction to Marilyn and her aide de camp (and I do mean CAMP) Jack Cole

  2. I like how sisters in films are always proclaiming things like, “We’re sisters!” In 65 years I can’t remember ever having said anything like that to my sister, though we do sometimes begin emails or even telephone calls with “Hello, sister!”

  3. “But hang it all, man, this is the nineteenth century!” he exposited.

    I must watch The Prince and… I like Larry’s other films, and always appreciated that Polanski is a fan of Hamlet as a movie. Not enough people appreciate Olivier the filmmaker.

    Yes, I’ve seen good Monroe lookalikes and impersonators, but never in a major role in a film. If you’re lucky, the actor is good enough to make you at least believe you’re watching a person. Here, Williams scores over Theresa Russell.

    I can only hope Ana Arnas is going to eschew impersonation altogether, because I suspect she’s too different from the real person (different shaped body AND face!) to make it convincing. But she’s a good actor.

  4. bensondonald Says:

    Eons ago the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had a salute to movie cliches. At irregular intervals Tom (the dopey one) would declare, “Why are you telling me all this, a perfect stranger?”

    Haven’t seen this movie, but they missed a great opportunity. Show OYH caught up in the magic of the movies, then cut to him with a non-revealing background, telling his offscreen parents how he desperately wants to be part of that magic, and is leaving this suffocating dump. THEN reveal the wealthy, cultured parents in a posh library instead of the drab working-class types in a flat we’ve been prepped to expect. Once he’s out of the room, mother turns to father and says, “I blame Cambridge.” Show OYH walking away from the castle and out the gate to the village bus stop. He stands and waits, fidgeting through postures expressing resolution to keep the momentum of his exit alive.

    Yes, echoes of Monty Python. But to lightly deflate OYH a bit at the outset — perhaps putting a little reflective self-mockery in the voiceover — might lead the viewer to forgive him a bit. We’d assume we were going to see him become less of a prat.

  5. Yes! A few surprises rather than a doling out of INFORMATION.

    David Mamet’s best bit of writing: https://www.slashfilm.com/a-letter-from-david-mamet-to-the-writers-of-the-unit/

  6. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Don’t get me started on Mamet — a loathsome neo-fascist, misogynist slug.

  7. Yes, you can tell he’s an arrogant bastard just from his letter to the writers. But it’s a useful letter for writers to read.

    He appeared at Edinburgh Film Fest and referred to his ex-wife as “a woman I was apparently married to,” which gives you some idea, though it’s not in the Johnny Depp league (see recent news).

  8. It’s sort of like a remake of “My Favorite Year” if nobody involved knew they were doing a comedy.

  9. Yeah, that sounds about right. And if there were no sense of urgency. And you didn’t believe anything. (Not a question of how close to the original facts it is: a matter of presentation, as with all the exposition.)

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