Dir.: Andrew Dominik; Cast: Ana de Amas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Lilly Fisher; USA 2022, 166 min.
Australian director Andrew Dominik adapts Joyce Carol Oates Monroe’s novel – all 738 pages – by the look of it, for this Golden Lion hopeful. Worth mentioning this because the feature is, like the book, a work of fiction; an imagined drama. Dominik is dealing with a myth, and the way he does it certainly raises questions of exploitation and voyeurism.
In the opening scenes a seven-year-old Norma Jean Mortenson (Fisher) is told by her single mother Gladys (Nicholson) that her father is a movie-star. A black-and-white photo is all the ‘proof’ she is given – and from that moment onwards Norma Jean, who will become the legendary Marilyn Monroe, will look for her Daddy in most men she meets. The real Marilyn believed Clark Gable was her father – ironically both starred in Monroe’s last feature Misfits (1961). During shooting Marilyn’s husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Brody), fell in love with set photographer Inge Morath, and married her soon afterwards. Nothing of this found its way into Blonde, nor is there any mention that Monroe supported Miller in his legal battle with the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) – a move that could have ruined both their careers. Instead we get a choppily edited, slapstick parody of a three-some with Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. This symbolises the director’s salacious choices: the more scandalous, the better.
Suffice to show Monroe being raped by studio boss Daryl Zanuck at the start of her movie career, but Dominik decides to spice up his narrative with a full frontal display of her tumultuous time at the hands of JFK. Her comments: “that she felt like meat being delivered” only adds grist to this shameless ‘expose’.
Billy Wilder gets off far too lightly, into the bargain. Dominik still thinks the infamous scene in Seven Year Itch, when Monroe’s skirt is blown up around her ears by the passing subway, is ‘funny’, and not a provocation for Monroe’s newly wed husband Joe Di Maggio (Cannavale). The marriage, unsurprisingly, did not last long. Wilder also wrote a horrible monologue for Monroe in Some like it Hot, showing her off as the typical scatter-brained blonde and to underline the point Ana de Armas (as Marilyn) runs around semi-naked for no apparent reason other than titillation.
DoP Chayse Irvin uses all tricks in the book to get the bandwagon rolling: hopping from old-fashioned colour to pristine black-and-white, and using slow-motion sequences to accentuate what appears to be history. It is not.
Netflx, as the producers, as well as Dominik, can be sure that the kaleidoscopic mayhem will find a willing audience. It will no doubt sell like hot cakes in cinemas, where, after a brief run, it moves on to the beleaguered streaming platform.
But the real culprit is Alberto Barbera, director of the Mostra. Nobody held a gun to his head to make him chose Blonde. He just went for the glory, never mind a possible scandal. The result is at best a feature filmed for the voyeuristic male gaze, at worst pornography masquerading as an art form. @Andre Simonoveisz.
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2022 | IN COMPETITION.