Archive for Marilyn Monroe

Film With Sleep

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2022 by dcairns

Roy (Ward) Baker’s NIGHT WITHOUT SLEEP opens with Gary Merrill waking from a nightmare, so I immediately felt cheated. Firstly, the character has been asleep, secondly, he’s Gary Merrill. I decided to watch the movie for Linda Darnell, and instead we have GM, seemingly quite good guy, but adequate to hold one’s attention onscreen only in ALL ABOUT EVE, where he’s supported by more interesting players on all sides. He serves, I guess, as a kind of anchor. He has what Ken Campbell called “the legendary minus factor,” — you can inject him into a scene if it’s in danger of getting too exciting. He’s like Hugh Beamont’s less exuberant brother.

NWS casts GM as a neurotic alcoholic songwriter whose problems with his stage mother have left him incapable of forging relationships. He’s married a rich woman, has an exotic mistress, and grasps at a last-chance “redemptive” fling with starlet Darnell, a looong way into this film. We seem to be supposed to be on his side, but it’s pretty hard to sympathise, and the potential “solution” to his worries, another mistress, doesn’t convince — isn’t he just making the same mistakes over again?

My copy of the film is grungy, which doesn’t help. Impossible to really judge the emotional effect of the film when everything looks like it’s been shot through translucent black soup.

Had NWS starred Richard Widmark, it might have stood a chance — an actor whose dynamism and nerviness could often compensate for really unsympathetic character traits. Merrill can only play for pathos by being a sad-sack. The grimy transfer makes him seem older, a disconsolate empty scrotum with a hairstyle that looks like it landed on him from above like a pancake.

The women around him are a mixed bunch — June Vincent avoids making her mothering wife an appalling character, a noble choice, but maybe that would have been more interesting to watch? Hildegarde Knef’s vocal delivery is quite Schwartzeneggerian, which is distracting. Darnell makes everything brighter and better, before she’s called upon to perform a peculiar roleplay, which goes on for a long time and is embarrassing to watch, the more so as she’s built up some warm feeling.

There’s a final plot twist which isn’t. An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour with Tony Randall did the alcoholic blackout thing far better (and Randall is astonishing in it). The script seems to have been intended to float a series of possible twists, each of which is then disproven, but it SO doesn’t pull this off.

The most interesting aspect, for me, was that the movie, a product of Baker’s brief stint in Hollywood at Fox, has several of the same qualities as his better-known DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK, recently recalled to memory by its featuring in BLONDE (although we never meet an English director in that movie’s “reconstructions”). Both films feature cod psychology (dollar-book Freud, as Welles called it) and make their leading ladies seem awkward with almost unplayable scenes, where Baker seems unable to help them, or not enough anyhow.

(I don’t remember INFERNO well enough to say if it follows these trends.)

But this movie makes DBTK look like The Mahabharata.

What’s surprising and disappointing is that RWB, who was capable of striking effects in terrific films, doesn’t seize upon the resources of Hollywood to do anything interesting or expressive or different, despite the psychological bent of the films he was assigned. This one has a flashback within a flashback, flashbacks which then turn out to be possibly false, but then again turn out to be true after all, but none of it encourages him to any formal experimentation at all. It’s like he was intimidated by the studio apparatus rather than inspired by it. Which would seem strange, as he was known in the UK as quite a formidable tough guy who wouldn’t hesitate to tear a strip out of a crewmember who displeased him.

I have other questions about Baker. More soon.

The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe by the Idiot Andrew Dominik

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2022 by dcairns

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.

Itchykoo

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2022 by dcairns

WELL — finished (I think — I hope) two of the three video essays I’ve been slaving over. The last one is the most complicated, but the end is in sight. Then I hope to be doing one for new company Radiance Films…

Currently too tired to plunge into BLONDE, which I’m very curious about, so instead we’re watching THE REAL DEAL, Marilyn in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. Not my fovourite Wilder or even my favourite Wilder & Monroe (obviously) but I wouldn’t be able to do SOME LIKE IT HOT justice in my depleted condition.

Can’t get around the problem of Tom Ewell looking like Skelton Knaggs’ withered twin, and I’m morally certain Walter Matthau, who Wilder really wanted, and who merely looks like Ben Gazzara’s deflated uncle, would have been funnier… but Ewell, it must be admitted, gets some good laughs, particularly when he staggers off out of the FROM HERE TO ETERNITY pastiche on zombie legs.

The film where you see more of Ewell’s skin than Monroe’s.

The in-jokery — Wilder collaborated with ETERNITY director Fred Zinnemann back in Berlin — is rampant, with an audacious name-check for former George Axelrod collaborator Charlie Lederer early on. Possibly a sign that both Wilder and Axelrod felt the film needed every extra gag it could get, since the censor was taking much of the sex out of it. But what the movie loses in schmutz it gains in schmaltz, or sweetness, as it’s known outside of that cynical old town Hollywood.