For the last few weeks, ever since the Met Gala, any conversation about Marilyn Monroe is accompanied by Kim Kardashian. And you know how social media works in these times – for a lot of people now, in their minds, Marilyn now will always be connected to Kim. At least until September, when Andrew Dominik’s Marilyn film, Blonde, based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates, will be released.
The book is fiction, historical fiction, Sarah’s read it, I’ve not, but my understanding of it is that it imagines Marilyn’s inner thoughts and, per The New Yorker, “demands that the star be given recognition, compassion, and respect”. In the film adaptation, Marilyn is played by Ana de Armas.
So much talk about the film lately has been about its NC-17 rating which in and of itself could be a reflection of some of the themes of what the book and the film are trying to explore – how Marilyn was in many ways inadvertently sensationalised, sexualised, and exploited. In the crudest terms, the conversation and speculation now is how naked and raunchy and depraved the film will be, instead of reckoning with how the culture treated this complicated, brittle bombshell who became an icon, the ultimate movie star who never knew the legacy she would leave.... not unlike Diana, Princess of Wales.
Blonde will premiere around the same time of year that Pablo Larraín’s Spencer hit the festival circuit last year, with Kristen Stewart playing Princess Diana. Spencer is a character study, a deeply interior portrait of a profoundly lonely woman who was, and still is, the most recognised woman in the world. So for me, at least, I’m connecting these two films at least on the basis of perception and industry response. Kristen was nominated for her first Oscar for her performance as Diana – she may not have been an exact physical facsimile of her but she captured her essence. Similarly, if Ana de Armas can pull off the same, tapping into the spirit of Marilyn, and all the versions of Marilyn that existed inside of her and the versions of her that she presented to the world, could we also be looking at a contender?
The idea that there were multiple Marilyns is what they’re focusing on in the first teaser for Blonde that was released yesterday. We open on a disconsolate Marilyn waiting for someone to arrive. We end by finding out the person – or the creation – she was waiting on is who she has to become to survive. As Marilyn, Ana has a much stronger resemblance to her subject than Kristen but, again, it’s more about the energy, the contradiction in this woman, her magic and her pain, and from this short preview, it really does look like Ana is nailing it.
But of course, in order to build anticipation, you need the visuals too. And they’re there – the pink dress, of course, from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the matching white one that she wore with a fur stole to the premiere of There’s No Business Like Show Business. And definitely the one above the subway grate from The Seven Year Itch, a scene that will live on forever and ever and ever, no matter what the state of movies and entertainment will be in the future, even when people move to another planet, that scene will survive. And the dress might actually be even more famous than the “Happy Birthday, Mr President” dress that has been the subject of so much controversy.
The subway dress was owned for a long time by Debbie Reynolds and she said that the white had become “ecru” because it was so old. It was auctioned off for something like $5 million a few years ago to an anonymous buyer – if you’re wondering whether or not Kim will be able to get her hands on that one too…it seems unlikely?
But back to Ana as Marilyn and her portrayal of her in Blonde, in three months or so, she’ll be the celebrity most closely associated with Monroe. Because, OMG, if we’re still talking about Kim and Marilyn by then…