Enough is Enough: A Campaign to End Marilyn Monroe Biopics

In case it isn’t obvious from my iconographic nod to Niagara, I am a Marilyn Monroe devotee. I’ll be the first to admit that we MM worshippers are a particular brand of crazy, with at least 90% of us believing we are reincarnations of the legend herself. Marilyn fans aren’t just fans; we believe Marilyn lives in each and every one of us, much like Jesus.

The truth is, though, Marilyn is perhaps the most ephemeral personality in our cultural history, certainly in our brief film history. And I’m not just referring to the murky circumstances of her death. Even when I pop Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or The Seven Year Itch in my DVD player and watch her big blue eyes and radiant smile envelop my TV screen, I’m still left wanting—needing—more. Her emotional presence onscreen is so vulnerable, so honest, so real, but also fleeting; it’s gone even before we can let it unhinge us.

Brief interview with Marilyn before production began on Bus Stop, 1956

Even in the above interview, she is accessible and then dodgy, so completely there and then instantly not. At the risk of sounding cheesy, she was taken from us in much the same way: too soon. And fans, writers, actors, and filmmakers alike have gone to great lengths to resurrect her, usually with trashy, exploitative results (and intentions). Thousands of books have been written about Monroe’s life and death, in some vain attempt to create an outlet for the crippling empathy we all have for her. (In fact, none of the words I’m saying haven’t been said before.) And yet, the “deeper” we dig, the more dissatisfied we become.

But for some reason, we keep right on trying. I actually wrote my master’s thesis on Marilyn, devoting my final chapter to this very compulsion. In my research, I had the offensive and often hilarious task of watching all of the Monroe biopics I could: features, made-for-TV movies, softcore porn, what have you. And let me assure you: though we’ve certainly made strides since the 70s (Goodbye, Norma Jean), Jesus fucking Christ we need to stop. No filmmaker or actor has managed to get it right. And let’s be real: they never will.

That’s why when this heinous bit of news appeared the other day, I let out a shriek that would have rivaled Marilyn’s in that final scene in The Misfits.

Okay. Let’s look at the projects themselves before we start talking shit about actor choices.

My Week with Marilyn: The fact that this is getting made at all leaves a horrible taste in my mouth (and in the mouths of every other Marilyn fan, I’m sure). Olivier’s disdain and disrespect for Monroe was notorious, thus totally nullifying the validity of his bullshit book. Having said that, who wants to see a movie about Marilyn where Marilyn isn’t the lead character? Seriously?

Blonde: Okay, Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite author, and this is my favorite book by her (of course). So I’ve been craving an adaptation of Blonde that would redeem the Poppy Montgomery made-for-TV monstrosity. (Alright, it really wasn’t that bad, but the book is just so dark and fucked up that you simply can’t translate that shit to the small screen. I’m sorry.) The project has a great filmmaker on its side, and if the script sticks to the voice of the novel, it may have some serious potential.

But unfortunately, now it’s time to bash the actors.

I like Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams. I think they’re both very talented actors, and I almost always love the work they do. But really, neither of them can play Marilyn. And that’s not an insult to their acting ability; it just goes back to my opinion that Marilyn can’t be captured by anyone but Marilyn. And even Marilyn herself had serious fucking issues doing just that.

An image from Bert Stern’s The Last Sitting, exed out by Monroe in disapproval

I’d be ecstatic if either of them proved me wrong. But I doubt that’s going to happen. Even when an interpretation of Monroe goes beyond drag or impersonation, it falls short. I’ll hold out hope that either Watts or Williams can stymie this trend, but I won’t hold my breath.

**If you’re interested in seeing any of the older, more laughable Marilyn biopics, I recommend Marilyn: The Untold Story, which stars none other than Catherine Hicks, a.k.a. Crazy Annie Camden from “7th Heaven.” OMG.

And much as I hate the movie, Norma Jean & Marilyn is worth seeing for Mira Sorvino’s dead-on impression of Marilyn’s voice.


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