The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe by the Idiot Andrew Dominik

You’ll gather we didn’t care for BLONDE. Actually, to be studiously fair, I thought it was magnificently photographed (by Chayse Irvine) — except for the last scene, which inexplicably falls apart, looking like the worst kind of cheap student film. For all the awful choices — cervical POV shots, talking foetuses — I can give director Andrew Dominik some credit because for every three stupid decisions he’ll make at least one good, bold one. The period recreation, from a visual standpoint, is terrific, and AD has a better sense of how to do that kind of thing than David Fincher evinced in MANK. And composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, by eschewing any kind of 50s-60s sound, maybe dilute the air of authenticity but they don’t fall into the clumsy and inappropriate pastiche effects that crippled Trent Reznor’s score for that other Netflix biopic. (This duo have also scored Dahmer, and did a spectacular job.)

(By the way, I take the view that the correct pronunciation of that compound word is bi-o-pic, not bi-op-ic, rhyming with myopic, as one increasingly hears it said.)

The music, like everything else, falls apart at the ending — your temp track is showing! — it just turns into an Angelo Badalamenti knock-off, while the film itself turns into a Lynch knock-off, FIRE WALK WITH ME plus the last scene of THE ELEPHANT MAN. And, instead of being devastatingly emotional, as the original was, it’s just a transplanted hunk of dead tissue.

(I’ve heard people say the film is a horror movie, but I didn’t feel that dread Lynch always manages to foster. I felt, “Oh, that would be disturbing.” In fairness, I’ve also heard people say “You need to see it on the big screen.” But we’re paying for Netflix so we watched it on Netflix.)

Fiona remarked that the thing she was unprepared for was how little she’d feel. She claims she felt NOTHING. I had some emotional response to the early stuff with little Norma Jeane, powerfully played by little Lily Fisher. The opening firestorm is magnificent. If the nocturnal cityscapes sometimes feel two-dimensional, assemblages of flats, the effect is pleasing and maybe somehow appropriate.

It’s cinematic, one would have to say, but that need not mean GOOD. This desire to attain FILMIC ARTISTRY may be why Dominik limits his use of internal monologue, but the one scene where he lets Ana de Armas, who deserves a better film and director, occupy the soundtrack with her thoughts, is the point where we finally have access to the character, past the adeptly-mimicked vocal mannerisms and facial expressions. It’s an APPALLING scene, a fictionalized JFK blow-job with EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS anachronistically playing on TV, all erectile missiles and detumescing Washington Monument. Oh, so we’ve suddenly decided to have a sense of humour? And a Ken Russell sense of humour at that? Appalling, but oddly welcome as we get a chance to experience our main character from the inside, without the aid of a speculum (Dominik likes his prosthetic labia so much he cranks them open TWICE).

I mean, at times it feels like Dominik hates both Monroe and De Armas. Any sense of this being a feminist take on the story is trashed when a filmmaker leers “Would you look at the ass on that little girl?” (originally said by John Huston, according to later accounts, but here handed to a non-Huston type) and, instead of showing us a leering male, Dominik shows us the ass in question, inviting us to agree or disagree, not to critique the decency of the statement.

It is, I admit, hard not to hold Dominik’s Sight and Sound interview against him. He comes across as cloddish, no cinephile, and while his presumptuousness — he somehow knows Monroe intentionally killed herself — is weird and foolish, it wouldn’t necessarily stop him making a good film: you’ve got to take a view of your subject, after all, and even if your supposed “insight” is spurious, playing it to the hilt should result in drama. I’m fascinated by Dominik’s line “She was the Aphrodite of the 20th century, the American goddess of love. And she killed herself. So what does that mean?” See BLONDE, the film that fails to answer, or pose, that question.

I do kind of like the fact that the film is convincingly taking place in an insensitive, pre-feminist era. Even Arthur Miller is kind of a clod, although as played by Adrien Brody he has appealing traits too. When I watched the first episode of Mad Men I thought they missed a trick by having Jon Hamm (I think it was) intervene when a male colleague is being creepy. What makes the period different to us is precisely the fact that such a confrontation would be unlikely to occur. A friend’s mother told me, “Men weren’t very nice.”

The disjointed narrative (though surprisingly chronological — childhood, then adulthood, then death) uses lots of weirdly fantastical devices — Monroe seeing her mother in places where she couldn’t be, for instance. Tricky stuff to pull off if you’re not arguing that she was psychotic. And, oh yes, I’m calling her Marilyn Monroe. Joyce Carol Oates, in her novel, has a level of plausible deniability — it’s a fictional account of someone with most of Monroe’s attributes and biographical details. In a movie, you’re reminded in about every shot that this is someone based very precisely on the historic Marilyn, and the movie goes to all kinds of impressive effort to restage famous photographs and movie scenes (though casting Chris Lemmon as Jack Lemmon is bizarre, given that Lemmon pere was 35 in SOME LIKE IT HOT and Lemmon fils is 68 — it’s an adept impersonation, the little we see of it, but what stands out are the differences). So it’s a film about Marilyn Monroe. Does that mean we require it to be accurate? I admire a good many “true stories” that take dramatic liberties, but it has to be at the service of something. The invented stuff with Eddy Robinson Jr. and, especially, Charles Chaplin Jr. is… hard to justify. It’s dramatic, but what point does it make? I mean, I’d be happy to hear a theory.

De Armas says she went to Monroe’s grave to ask her permission to make the movie, and left a card signed by the crew. But Monroe is dead, so she couldn’t tell them all to get stuffed. We’re also told of weird poltergeistic activities on set when “Marilyn wasn’t happy with something.” We’re not told what prompted the acts of telekinetic criticism, nor if script changes were made to placate the restless visitor.

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11 Responses to “The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe by the Idiot Andrew Dominik”

  1. Grant Skene Says:

    No nothing about the movie and probably never will, but I totally agree with your pronunciation of biopic. The myopic/biopic rhyme is awful. Sounds like you are saying two eyes, bi-opic. Yeesh. Get John MacIntyre as the sheriff in Psycho to sound it out.

  2. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Etymologically speaking the word biography comes from bios (Life) and graphy (writing). So biopic is bio (life) and pic(picture). So bio ought to be one root so by-oh-pic does make sense. It’s not ‘o’ as in pan-o-rama.

  3. Yes, it’s a bio-pic, not a bi-opic.

  4. Paddy got Marilyn right at thestart. He’s one of the few straight neb who did. The others just wanted tonail her. Jack Cole was Marilyn’s most important director. He was gay and therefore understood her and the world which wanted to overwhelm here — even after death

  5. Good to have you back, DE!

    I must reread that Cole interview Kobal did. He’s obnoxious about Rita Hayworth but I’d be interested in his take on Marilyn.

  6. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Cinephilia is often a class of passive necrophelia, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’m just not sure why the decorous and oh-so-tasteful cinephiles think they’re exempt. The motion picture industry and movie fandom joined forces to essentially murder Monroe; and contemporary fans masturbate to the filmic evidence. No judgements implied, except where the classism’s concerned: “No, I’m a different KIND of cinephile!” That is funny.

  7. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Ehrenstein: When the fuck’s Tom gonna produce that podcast? I instigated that whole thing. YOU GUYS ARE SLOW!

  8. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Also, I can’t spell.

  9. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Necrophilia

  10. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    great bi-opic!

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