“Blonde” is about Norma Jeane, not Marilyn Monroe

“Blonde” is about Norma Jeane, not Marilyn Monroe

In late April, the Netflix documentary “The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes” explored several conspiracy theories involving her associations with President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.

The next week, Kim Kardashian made news around the world when she arrived at the Met Gala so fashionably late that she was the very last visitor on the scene, wearing the same outfit that Marilyn Monroe wore when she sang “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy in 1962.

The next week, the renowned Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe sold at Christie’s for a record-breaking $195 million.

With the arrival of “Blonde,” the new Andrew Dominik picture (based on the same-titled novel by Joyce Carol Oates) to Netflix, it is no longer debatable that we are in the Marilyn Year.

With her golden-white hair visible on the home screens of streaming devices and her mysterious, drowsy stare peering out from our entertainment news pages, interest with her is at an all-time high.

 

Monroe “represents many things to many people,” according to Lucy Bolton, who teaches language, literature, and film at Queen Mary University of London and guest-edited the 2015 issue of the journal Film, Fashion, and Consumption titled “#Marilyneveryday: The Persistence of Marilyn Monroe as a Cultural Icon.”

Her image has “came to represent the very essence of glamour and beauty,” according to Bolton, while her life story represents the classic “rags-to-riches” Hollywood success story.

Indeed, the sale of Monroe’s photograph and the controversial use of her outfit at the Met Gala honored the former part of her popularity, which now feels in sync with the ultra-feminine aesthetic that has recently grown popular among some younger Americans.

But none of this year’s moments of Marilyn fixation have engaged with the latter as directly as “Blonde,” which focuses on the woman who became Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jeane Baker.

This year, a number of factors have coincided to create a time of increased infatuation with Marilyn Monroe, or more precisely, with Monroe iconography.

The year 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death at age 36. In August, a memorial service was conducted in her honor in Los Angeles, coinciding with the date of her death; online tributes and remembrances abounded.

Bolton observes that her death in and of itself – its ostensibly accidental nature and untimeliness – is largely responsible for her lingering mystique.

Bolton states, “She has a victim narrative, which, like Judy Garland or Princess Diana, has its own atmosphere of tragedy. And that is attractive to individuals.”

And while many features of her famous look have come and gone, such as her pointy bras and her Middy hairdo, others frequently return to fashion, as they have this year.

Donelle Dadigan, president and founder of the Hollywood Museum in California, remarked, “I’ve noticed that apparel is circling back around to the 1960s” (where interest in the Monroe items spikes yearly in June around her birthday).

While many of today’s most trendy looks are inspired by the 1990s and 2000s, Monroe-era classics such as winged eyeliner, midi skirts, and bright coordinating two-piece outfits continue to be popular. Obviously, a significant portion of Monroe’s distinctive appearance has never gone out of style.

“We can pick up almost any magazine – particularly a fashion magazine like Elle, Vogue, or Harper’s ([Bazaar] – and there is almost always a photo of Marilyn,” says Bolton. “This is especially true of fashion magazines like Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s.”

In addition, Monroe “represents an irresistible, undeniable femininity and beauty” now, according to Bolton; and in 2022, after several years of hibernation due to Americans’ modest, androgynous post-#MeToo fashions and the sweatpants age of the coronavirus pandemic, undeniable femininity is returning.

In Blonde, Ana de Armas portrays the Hollywood icon. Picture: Supplied

In 2022, a TikTok genre called “BimboTok” was the focus of numerous concerned-yet-fascinating trend articles.

On it, a few of content makers arrogantly assert that intentionally being very hot is OK and requires no more justification.

Which is not to imply that this was the case with Marilyn Monroe; as both Bolton and Dadigan point out, Monroe was enthusiastic about her acting career and intentionally selected non-“bombshell” roles.

However, the genre appears to be influenced by Monroe’s vivacious public demeanor and her apparent delight in being a beautiful, hyperfeminine lady.

Chrissy Chlapecka, 22 years old, is one of the most notable BimboTok-affiliated TikTokers, and she cites Marilyn Monroe as one of her longtime inspirations.

Chlapecka watched what happened to women who dared to experience femininity in public as she grew up in the 2000s.

“The manner in which (Marilyn) was discussed in the early 2000s was such that the media would spit on any lady. Similar to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson,” she claims.

Growing up and feeling a connection to a figure like Monroe was therefore perplexing. She claims that her professors and even a few family members were “strange” about it.

“Everyone knew she was legendary. However, that was somewhat taboo, you know?” Chlapecka has a memory. “And I was like, ‘Why?'”

“Blonde” attempts to answer this question, however awkwardly, as it is one of the few Monroe tributes that examines the mortal woman behind the iconic image.

It is also based on a work of fiction: Oates’s 2000 novel, which imagines the life of the woman once known as Norma Jeane, falls squarely within the biographical fiction category.

Still, the film “Blonde” depicts many of the most significant known tragedies and struggles of Monroe’s real life, including her mother’s mental illness as well as her own, her failed marriages, her substance-abuse issues, and her unfulfilled wish to become a father.

In its narrative, it skillfully distinguishes between Norma Jeane and Marilyn, the former being continuously abused and antagonized while the latter is celebrated and cherished to an intolerable degree. ( It also omits a few notable events, such as Monroe’s young marriage to a police officer and the fact that she had half-siblings, one of whom she reconnected with later in life.

Her half-sister Berniece Baker Miracle published “My Sister Marilyn” in 1994, and it remains one of the few definitive behind-the-scenes nonfiction books on the actress’s life.)

You could say that “Blonde” applies the very 2020s technique of re-examining female stardom in retrospect (see “Framing Britney Spears,” “Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson,” “Slow Burn: The Clinton Impeachment,” and “Gaslit”) to one of the most famous women in history, period.

And, of course, the conclusion that there was much more to the story than was initially evident is reached.

Bolton stated in August that he hoped “Blonde” would “give an experience of Monroe’s life that is neither overly melodramatic or sensationalist – because it doesn’t need to be”

Undoubtedly, some people have recoiled or grimaced at the graphic depictions of sexual assault, physical violence, and abortion.

However, Dominik’s picture fits Bolton’s second requirement: “Respect and commitment to the complexity of the individual.”

 

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