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My Week with Marilyn

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm

“Her skin does not reject the light.”

That was impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir’s answer when asked why he used one favorite model so many times.  And it describes the luminous beauty of Marilyn Monroe, who almost half a century since her death still stands as the ultimate screen goddess.  “I have an Aunt Minnie back in Vienna who would show up on time and know her lines, but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?”  That was what director Billy Wilder said to Monroe’s frustrated co-stars in “Some Like It Hot,” when he told them that they had to be perfect in every take because he was going to use whichever one happened to capture her getting it right. That was Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Mortenson, the daughter of a mentally unstable woman, raised in foster homes, married for the first time at age 16, later an international superstar, married to the biggest athlete in the country (baseball hero Joe DiMaggio) and then to one of the most distinguished literary figures in the world (playwright Arthur Miller), and dead by an overdose of pills at age 36.

Shortly after she married Miller, Monroe went to England to make a film called “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier, who also directed.  She was not only the movie’s star; in an effort to demonstrate her ability and depth she had formed her own production company and was studying method acting with Lee Strasberg.  Colin Clark, who was third assistant director (a gofer) on the film, wrote not one but two memoirs of his experience, including The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me: Six Months on the Set With Marilyn and Olivier, which inspired this film, with Michelle Williams as Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier.

Even the radiant Williams will never be able to match Monroe as a screen presence.  But her performance is thoughtful, nuanced, complex, and magnetically compelling, like Monroe herself.  While it is the slightest of stories — an inexperienced and insecure young man is dazzled by Monroe who briefly makes him think he can rescue her — it is an improvement over the typical biopic.  Williams captures Monroe’s mercurial, even prismatic nature, her strength and her vulnerability, and especially her understanding of her own appeal.  “Should I be her?” she asks almost mischievously, with a sense of fun in being able to demonstrate how Norma Jean can turn herself into Marilyn and back again.  But her reasons for letting a young gofer “accidentally” see her naked are more complicated.  She is under enormous pressure and desperate for the kind of respect no one is willing to give her.  Her third marriage is falling apart.  She has a pattern of asking men to save her and then testing them beyond their ability.  Like Rita Hayworth, who famously said that men went to bed with Gilda (her sultriest role) and woke up with her, Monroe is the victim of a kind of Catch-22.  She wants to be loved for herself but has spent too many years being “her” and is not willing to risk being less effective.  When she says (while skinny-dipping with Clark) that men in Hollywood are so old, it conveys a great deal about the price she paid for her absent father and need for fame.

Monroe had more than met the eye.  This movie has less, but what it does have is highly watchable for Williams’ performance and a juicy turn by Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike and for, I hope, inspiring watchers to return to the original, Monroe herself.

 

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Based on a book Based on a true story Biography Date movie Drama Romance
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Marilyn Starts a Heat Wave

Posted on November 20, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I hope that Michelle Williams’ exquisite performance in the new film, “My Week With Marilyn” inspires its viewers to go back and watch the inimitable original: Marilyn Monroe.  Williams does a snippet of this song in the film though does not try to replicate the staging of the original.  It’s one of my favorite of Monroe’s musical numbers, steamy but witty and shows what a gifted dancer and singer she was.  One amusing note: in the original film, There’s No Business Like Show Business, one of Irving Berlin’s lyrics was censored for being too racy.  Instead of saying, “She started a heat wave by letting her seat wave,” they changed it to “letting her feet wave”(!).  In the Michelle Williams version, the original lyric is used.  In both, her seat waves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qe-45dj-aGo

That’s Donald O’Connor, Ethel Merman, Mitzi Gaynor, and Dan Dailey watching from the wings.  The movie is just an excuse for a lot of Irving Berlin songs, but that’s enough to make it worth watching.

Here’s Williams:

 

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Watch the Marilyn Monroe Film that Inspired ‘My Week With Marilyn’

Posted on November 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

In 1956 the biggest movie sex symbol of all time went to England to make a movie with Sir Laurence Olivier.  It was called “The Prince and the Showgirl” and it was just what the title said, a bittersweet story of a prince who arrogantly invites a showgirl to a late night dinner.  Both are surprised by what comes next.  Olivier was trying to raise his profile and Monroe wanted to be associated with classier projects.  But she was already fragile and he was frustrated by her unreliability.

While Monroe was filming, she had a brief relationship with assistant on the production 23-year-old Colin Clark, who wrote about it in his book, My Week with Marilyn.

That relationship is the subject of a new movie starring Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence and Michelle Williams in a performance that is already generating Oscar buzz as Monroe.  Branagh told The Guardian that “The Prince and the Showgirl” was made at a pivotal time.

“It was the last of please and thank-yous, collars and ties, and bobbies on the beat,” says Kenneth Branagh, whose new film bears witness to this clash of generations and cultures. “After this, haircuts were longer, there was rock’n’roll and all the sex involved with it. Politeness, manners, formality, dress codes – all those things were being swept away.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-b48Aj8zkg

You can watch the real Monroe and Olivier tonight on Turner Classic Movies (4 pm Eastern)

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