Nearly 60 years after her death, the entertainment industry’s attempts to resurrect Marilyn Monroe continue apace. Earlier this week, Andy Warhol’s 1964 screen-printed portrait of the actor sold at auction for $195 million – the highest sum ever paid for a 20th-century work of art.
The week before, Kim Kardashian appeared at the Met Gala in New York in the $4.8 million crystal-covered nude silk dress that Monroe wore to serenade John F. Kennedy at his 45th birthday party.
It was considered a less than successful tribute. While Warhol’s immortalization of the actor in blue-and-pink pop art helped seal his image for the next half-century, a reality star donning a dead woman’s dress in quasi-emulation went down less well. The details of the extreme diet that Kardashian promised to introduce in the dress did not fit with the Monroe mystique. The revelation that she needed a white stole because she couldn’t handle the zipper anymore undid the effect.
On Thursday, the International Council of Museums weighed in, sternly pointing out that “no one, public or private, should wear historical clothing.” While the dress was owned by a private collector: Ripley’s Believe it or Not! – its heritage, they continued, “must be understood as belonging to humanity” and the artifact “kept preserved for future generations”.
That an outfit worn by an actor to sing Happy Birthday should receive the reverence of the Magna Carta is testimony to the gravitas, as well as the fever, with which Monroe is still held in the cultural imagination.
It’s not just Hollywood that claims her as a person of key historical importance. A decade ago, a black-and-white shot of Monroe was chosen as the poster for the 2012 Cannes film festival, which described her as “a timeless icon whose grace, mystery and seductive power remain resolutely contemporary… the Festival is a temple of glamour, and Marilyn is the perfect embodiment of it.”
This year’s Cannes opens on Tuesday, and many people had anticipated that Monroe would once again be the de facto star. Festival director Thierry Frémaux “loved” Blonde, a new biopic of the star, and wanted it screened on the Croisette. The director of it, Andrew Dominik, accepted delighted.
However, Netflix, the company behind the film, was not so enamored. Long-standing disputes between the festival and the streaming giant have meant that Frémaux’s team now impose strict conditions on films showing in competition: they must be released in French cinemas and not seen online for another 18 months.
Netflix resisted, offering an eight-month commitment to theaters only, which Frémaux reportedly turned down. An out-of-competition ad wasn’t tempting enough for Netflix, whose award ambitions are yet to be satisfied by blockbusters like Rome, marriage story Y the power of the dog.
It now seems likely that Blonde will open instead at the Venice film festival in late August, where comparable titles like Pablo Larrain’s biopic about Princess Diana spencer Y jackiehis version of JFK’s widow, screened for the first time.
However, early news about the film suggests that it may be cut from rather less rarefied cloth. While Larraín’s films were experimental in style and unflinching in their portrayal of women’s internal struggles, they remained essentially reverential. Dominik’s film is reportedly brutal and groundbreaking.
“There’s something about this that offends everyone,” the director said this week in response to the US ratings board’s decision to give him an NC-17 certification, sharply limiting his business prospects.
Dominik, whose previous work includes an Australian crime film Helicopter and a jesse james western starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, remained upbeat in defending his film. “It’s a demanding movie,” he said. “If the public doesn’t like it, it’s the fucking public’s problem. It is not running for public office.
“I want to go see the NC-17 version of the marilyn monroe history.”
Although rumors of a scene with bloody menstrual cunnilingus have yet to be confirmed, rape is included. Joyce Carol Oateson whose 2000 book it is based, praised an early version of the film, calling it “startling, brilliant, highly disturbing, and perhaps most surprisingly, a thoroughly ‘feminist’ performance…I’m not sure any male director has managed something sometime.” [like] East.”
The film, which follows Monroe from her troubled childhood to her death from a barbiturate overdose at age 36, has been a passion project for Dominik since the publication of Oates’s book 22 years ago. Knives Out actress Ana de Armas stars in the title role, taking over from Jessica Chastain, who replaced Naomi Watts.
Dominik has credited the #MeToo movement with allowing him to make a film sufficiently “critical of America’s sacred cows.” Before that, he said, “no one was interested in that kind of shit: what it’s like to be a loveless girl, or what it’s like to go through the Hollywood meat grinder.”
Other early viewers of the film were also impressed. Jamie Lee Curtis, who co-starred with De Armas Knives Out and whose father, Tony Curtis, appears as a character in the film, said: “I fell to the ground. I could not believe it. Ana was completely gone. She was Marilyn.
The version of Monroe that Blonde confronts audiences with is likely to be challenging and familiar. It remains to be seen how big the appetite is for a radically demythologized version of this sex symbol, the most totemic of all.