Dear Gossips,  

What does a filmmaker owe their subject? When you make a film about a real person, even a fictionalized version of their life, what, if anything, is their due as the subject? Insisting on total fealty to the subject is boring, in a narrative format, such a thing doesn’t allow for invention and interpretation. But when telling a story based on a person who lived, where is the line between artistic license and exploitation? I ask because Andrew Dominik, the writer and director of Blonde, is quoted in an interview with Sight and Sound calling Marilyn Monroe the star of “a whole lot of movies nobody really watches” and saying that Gentleman Prefer Blondes, one of Monroe’s most well-loved films, is about “well-dressed whores”. Why, then make a whole ass movie about Marilyn Monroe?


My full review of Blonde is coming later, but suffice to say, you can FEEL Dominik’s disinterest in Monroe as a person and an artist throughout the film. I don’t think filmmakers have to like their subjects—plenty of filmmakers have made movies about despicable people—but maybe there should at least be an understanding of the subject’s appeal. I don’t think Ryan Murphy likes Jeffrey Dahmer, but I do think he understands the appeal of Dahmer’s story, and serial killer stories in general, and that at least part of the appeal of these stories is to understand how someone like Dahmer gets away with it as long as he did (this is NOT an endorsement of Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story). But with Andrew Dominik and Blonde, I am uncertain he understands the appeal of Marilyn as a subject. As an OBJECT, yes. But as a subject? Unconvinced.


Ever since seeing Blonde, I’ve been asking myself what Marilyn Monroe is owed. Joyce Carol Oates’ book is a work of fiction, “novel” is printed right on the cover. Dominik’s work is no less fictionalized. Yet no matter how fictionalized the work, at the end of the day, the protagonist is based on a real person, and I keep circling back to the question of what that person is owed in adaptation, be it prose or cinematic. I think, at the very least, that person is owed respect. Marilyn Monroe was not a serial killer, she was a woman, an artist, who is more than the sum of her worst days. Andrew Dominik’s cavalier responses about the value of Marilyn’s work shows a lack of respect not only for her artistry, but also for her wholeness. Yes, she had struggles, but she also had triumphs. Perhaps what she is owed by those adapting her story is a simple recognition of her wholeness. Dismissing her art and her artistry continues the decades-long pattern of reducing Marilyn Monroe to nothing more than her image. 

Live long and gossip,