Blonde (Andrew Dominik)

Started by Capote, September 15, 2019, 04:55:14 AM

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I'm more of a longtime Dominik fan than many, it seems, but my feelings re Blonde match Samsong's word for word - this was riveting, harrowing, heartbreaking... Ana de Armas' performance is nothing short of a resurrection - much yet to absorb as I've only just left the theater, but the critical takes on this one seem really wild and reductive to me.

I cried a lot.


Haven't seen the film yet, but doesn't the criticism accuse the movie of being a reductive and incurious depiction of Monroe, painting her as little more than a sacrificial lamb and ignoring her own agency in her career, her talent, her savvy business sense, the great films she made with Hawks etc?

If the movie only shows her as a passive victim for nearly three hours, as the negative reviews suggest, that doesn't sound a) at all accurate b) very interesting.

I'm sure I'll watch it when it comes to Netflix though.


i have a feeling most of those folks also write off lars von trier as torture porn. 

there's nothing reductive about Blonde, and i would argue to dismiss it as such is not to have engaged with the film on its terms.  i'm all for how polarizing this film is, but i've yet to read a negative take that isn't virtue signaling nonsense.


I don't see how it's 'virtue signaling' to contend that a film has a poor grasp on the nuances of its ostensible subject?

That Sight & Sound interview with Dominik conducted by Christina Newland (a very knowledgeable critic) is quite damning – he doesn't come across as having much interest in or respect for Monroe's work. He also seemed baffled and irritated that she didn't share his dismissive attitude towards the bulk of Monroe's career. It made him look a bit foolish and petulant. Also, displaying such a lack of curiosity / sensitivity towards your subject in a major interview doesn't bode well for the movie, in my opinion, but maybe I'll feel differently when I see it.


it's virtue signaling when there's little regard for the film's ambivalence and complicated humanity, or even the possibility of the film having depth, but rather a blinders-on focus on how it doesn't abide by contemporary "feminist" ideals of representation. 

case in point:

reminds me of the time people were complaining about Soul dehumanizing its black characters by allowing a white woman to voice one of them temporarily, or because joe's soul turns blue.

but it sounds like you'll be going into it with an open mind though, right?  dubiousness towards dominik's approach/attitude as deduced from an interview or a critic you like hating the film notwithstanding, of course.  speaking on the former, why is "interest in/respect for" her work a prerequisite to making a compelling film with her as the subject?  is it not enough to have regard for her as a human being, especially when the film is an adaption of a fictional rumination on an icon?


I mean, that piece you've linked to isn't so much a review as an opinion piece addressing one particular aspect of the film. I've seen thoughtful reviews from people like Christina Newland or Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian that appear to have entirely reasonable reservations or criticisms of Blonde's depiction of Monroe.

It's certainly possible to make a compelling film out of an entirely fictionalised version of a real person, of course, but what I've read so far about the film's contents makes it sound rather ethically dubious and dramatically one-note to me.

I will try to approach with an open mind, but that S&S interview has made it hard, admittedly. I mean, it really is a very bad interview. The interviewer raises all these things that Monroe did that show her agency and he basically just shrugs them all off – not a good look when you're making a 'biopic' about someone, in my opinion!


is the interview available to read in full online?  the two seconds i spent googling proved to be fruitless.  i'd be interested to read it.

complaints that Blonde doesn't focus on or parse out much of its run time to depict marilyn's agency or value as an artist are unfounded in that it's simply not the film that got made.  someone else can make the inspiring, edifying, fully factual version (because that's how most biographical films are, right?). calling it a biopic at all is a misnomer, really.  it has more in common with I'm Not There than something like Ray. 

at the end of the day, if Blonde is something a person can't get anything out of because they're unable to engage with it on its terms rather than focusing on what they wish it was, sucks for them.


Here's a choice outtake from the interview:

Charming dude. I think we might've solved the mystery as to why there are so few women in Dominik's pictures lol.


Glad the full interview was uploaded to their site!

This bit in particular does communicate well how the Blonde novel expresses Norma/Marilyn.

QuoteWould you say that in this story you see Monroe as a symbolic vessel for a story about childhood trauma or abuse?

I've read everything there is to read about Marilyn Monroe. I've met people that knew her. I've done an enormous amount of research. But in the end, it's about the book. And adapting the book is really about adapting the feelings that the book gave me. I see the film, in some ways, as Joyce's vision of Marilyn, which is also really Joyce. So I think the film is about the meaning of Marilyn Monroe. Or a meaning. She was symbolic of something. She was the Aphrodite of the 20th century, the American goddess of love. And she killed herself. So what does that mean?

Joyce is trying to understand how it expresses a certain female experience, or a certain human experience. You have to play fast and loose with the truth in order to have a certain narrative drive. But there are a lot of psychological processes that are dramatised in Blonde, a lot of Lacanian and Freudian ideas. For me it was just the scenes I found compelling. I went with my instinct and wrote it pretty quick. And I didn't change it that much, even though it was sitting around for 14 years. I know the ways in which this is different from what people seem to agree happened. Not that everyone's sure. Nobody really knows what the fuck happened. So it's all fiction anyway, in my opinion.

Do you think the film does much to unpack or reverse the idea of Monroe being crazy or difficult?

I think... it explains why. I mean, everyone's crazy. When we're talking about Marilyn, whether you're reading a book by Gloria Steinem [Marilyn: Norma Jeane, 1988] or by Norman Mailer [Marilyn: A Biography, 1973 – which Steinem's book was written in response to], both are projections and fantasies. Marilyn represents a kind of rescue fantasy. And the film is no different. The film is a rescue fantasy. We feel we have a special intimacy with her character. That's the attraction to Marilyn, that feeling that we're the only ones who understand. That we could have saved her somehow. And maybe the flipside of that is a punishment fantasy, or a sexual fantasy.

And adjacent to the "Outtake" posted on twitter, iz the bit that follows
QuoteCan you elaborate on that?

Well, she was a strange sex symbol because she doesn't have to die at the end [of her films] like a Barbara Stanwyck or a Rita Hayworth. But she had to be a little baby. So, when she sings 'Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend' – it's like, is that sisterly advice, "If you're gonna fuck, make sure you get paid"? Or is it just romanticised whoredom?


I have no idea why you would do a movie about Monroe, painfully recreating shots of her life, and pretend that it isn't about her—just about the Myth of the Suffering Woman. Why somebody would spend ten years of your life on that? No idea. But coming up with a completely fictional character wouldn't have hurt if you can't even bother to watch the most famous movies of the actress at the center of your story.

I love Jesse James and Dominik documentaries are fun. Even his previous movie was, at least, interesting. But I only feel dread one now that Blonde is upon us.

Next post, I'll know what's on his bag.


QuoteWhat you said about the idea of transposing modern values on people from the past, I agree that that's not healthy. Because I think it's very important to understand that women in particular had to exist within the confines of the world that they lived in. But I feel there are cultural repercussions to making certain choices in terms of how we present a figure from the past. What does it say to an audience that we're not seeing that she formed her own production company, or that she was involved in opposing the anti-communist witch-hunts by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s? Or that she fought against segregation on behalf of Ella Fitzgerald, and so on?

That stuff is not really what the film is about.

tee hee.

there is more though:

QuoteIt's about a person who is going to be killing themself. So it's trying to examine the reasons why they did that. It's not looking at her lasting legacy. I mean, she's not even terribly concerned with any of that stuff. If you look at Marilyn Monroe, she's got everything that society tells us is desirable. She's famous. She's beautiful. She's rich. If you look at the Instagram version of her life, she's got it all. And she killed herself. Now, to me, that's the most important thing. It's not the rest. It's not the moments of strength. OK, she wrested control away from the men at the studio, because, you know, women are just as powerful as men. But that's really looking at it through a lens that's not so interesting to me. I'm more interested in how she feels, I'm interested in what her emotional life was like.

between the interview and her need to show that "outtake" out of its context (as obvious as it is where it belongs), this has left me with a similar distaste that rudy seems to be cultivating towards dominik, and i am by no means an andrew dominik acolyte.  (see: Jesse James is just okay)  am i the only one to whom christina newland comes off as a smug moral elitist in this interview?  also amused by her disclosure up front about how he spoke about the approach of the marilyn monroe docuseries she's in being misguided, and subsequently reading that saltiness into her attempts at getting him to all but beg for forgiveness for having made the film.  she's pushing her perspective, not conducting an interview in good faith.  i'd LOVE to read what he said about Reframed: Marilyn Monroe.

the only objectionable thing in that interview, after newland's petulance, is that dominik doesn't like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  as vehemently as i disagree though, at least his expressed opinion is based on a reading of the work, and not taking it to task for what it doesn't do or what he would've liked to see.


My main issue is that she's describing a bunch of stuff about Monroe's actual life that is interesting and he says that all he was concerned with is a banal retread of the old 'fame doesn't buy happiness' truism. Excuse me if I think that sounds boring.

Also, using the word 'whores' repeatedly in an interview is weird imo. Perhaps that's just me being one of the moral elitist wokerati lol.


He might indeed be a piece of sh@t, the interviewers might discuss with him with their knives already out, he might be bitter seeing his passion project getting trashed by the vast majority. In any case, he shouldn't be so invested in the promotion of a film with such an ugly discourse, as the only thing he achieves is making things look even worse. He's not such a industry-connected dude to just get away with it, this might put another major pause (or even an end) to his career - or he will just direct tv episodes and nick cave docs from now on, which is not that bad after all.


QuoteCatastrophically misjudged, tacitly anti-choice gynecological episodes aside, the film's problems are far more foundational. In retrospect, the decision to realize a fiction—because Blonde is not to be taken for biography in any standards-of-truth sense—by frequent reference to the actual photographic record is a bizarre one. Who is this movie for, exactly? Those who don't know their Marilyn iconography inside out are surely going to be irritated by the seemingly unmotivated shifts from color to black and white; from hazy, gauzy filters to high-contrast Technicolor; from boxy aspect ratios to widescreen and back again. Sometimes these flourishes are meant to replicate an existing image, and sometimes they're just stylistic indulgences, but for the Marilyn-agnostic they must look mostly like a mess.

Meanwhile, those of us who do recognize the visual homages spend the whole runtime wondering when the next conflation between the Marilyn of public record and the de Armas of Blonde is going to occur—and also, when it does, where the photographers are meant to be. D.P. Chayse Irvin's camera does such a good job of mimicking the compositions and angles of those original photos that the effect is to erase their framing altogether and put us inside them. So in the aforementioned Monroe/Miller/fence scene, or with the cardigan/beach shot, or during a sequence that recreates a picture of Marilyn and her previous husband Joe DiMaggio (a miscast Bobby Cannavale) sitting by a window, it's unclear if we are supposed to understand that there's a photo shoot going on, with Marilyn performing for the camera, or if these scenes are meant as candid little slices of Monroe's life. This confusion is surely intentional, but the inference—that the private Marilyn looked and behaved a lot like the public, photo-icon Marilyn—deals a death blow to the idea that Blonde is about the woman behind the image, or in the film's vernacular, the Norma Jeane behind the Marilyn Monroe. For the Marilyn aficionado, there is only image here, no insight.


Quote from: pynchonikon on September 28, 2022, 04:34:11 AMHe might indeed be a piece of sh@t, the interviewers might discuss with him with their knives already out, he might be bitter seeing his passion project getting trashed by the vast majority. In any case, he shouldn't be so invested in the promotion of a film with such an ugly discourse, as the only thing he achieves is making things look even worse. He's not such a industry-connected dude to just get away with it, this might put another major pause (or even an end) to his career - or he will just direct tv episodes and nick cave docs from now on, which is not that bad after all.

because he's the only director in history to say something stupid or be bad at PR, right?  i'm only really engaging because everyone's so concerned about dominik being a dick (which he very well may be, so what?) and dismissing his approach without having seen the film because, what, he isn't satisfactorily reverent to marilyn's legacy?  Reframed exists.  watch that. 

if you aren't interested in Blonde, move along.  your disapproval has been noted.  but please, more people who haven't watched the fucking movie, come through.  this is fun. 

here's a positive review from a user (therewillbeblus) at criterionforum:

QuoteThis isn't just the greatest movie of the year, but the greatest biopic I've ever seen. It's an arthouse-biopic with the heaviest leanings on the poetic inspirations of Art Films, a channel sewn together from nonlinear memory, refusing to abide by an internal logic that would pretend to understand Monroe any better than she understands herself. Spencer, this is not (it's actually a lot more like Desplechin's Tromperie than anything else I can think of offhand). Dominik elides any merits in biographical objectivity to dive headfirst into a narrative, aesthetic, and psychological whirlwind of unhinged subjectivity. I cannot stress enough that, above all else, this is the most determined, messy and pure exercise aimed at engaging with a person's subjectivity. Whether or not it's all Truth hardly matters. The perceptions are real because the experience is felt, and all of that matters with supremacy in this isolated vacuum of De Armas' exhibition of Norma Jean's lonely existence.

It would be cheap to declare this a one-note mission to portray a ruthless nightmare of powerlessness, oppression, abuse, and neglect, because for all of the intentionally overstated bits (i.e. a cheekily obvious and concise sexist conversation detailing Miller's repulsed inability to perceive of a dominant trait of cruelty in a woman that he doesn't want to see, but total willingness to welcome feedback about a woman's inability to read), there are far more elliptical demonstrations of the elusive grasp Monroe has on herself, as much as her surroundings, including the parental and romantic intimacy she craves the most. The range is vast, covering higher concepts all the way down into the crevices of the internal. The film is sociologically clear but psychologically nebulous, reflecting Norma's own clouded hold on her intangible identity, which transcends the typical dimensions we're fed in biopics or character-driven narrative films, making room for the depths of the corporeal and the spiritual without a firm grip on either domain.

Yes, we're made quite aware that Norma Jean is playing a 'role' as Marilyn Monroe in her own life, alienated based on the dissonance between a forcibly-tattooed image of her and her 'true self'*, imprisoned by an identity thrust upon her by the public. But what Dominik has to say about our fragile relationship to our identity as moderated by a frenzied, oppressive -and depressingly palpable, physical, and masculine- higher power is profound in how abstract he allows the text to be while still keeping it as text, as close to our face as he can reach through the celluloid. Stylistically, this is spectacular. The playfulness with the aspect ratio, Godardian manipulations of soundtrack, and so much more obsessive-compulsive tinkering is a filmlover's paradise that will only reap greater rewards on repeat viewings. But Dominik's greatest use of technique is in the eclectic shifts in form, which are jarring and unpredictable and perfectly mimic Monroe's instinct of thwarted belongingness - a disorganized chaos of mental state and obfuscated sense of self.

Fantasies of the mind function like movies within the film, reflexively clashing with violent abolishments of dreams. Reality is evaded and magnetized, at times through the most imaginatively absurdist, fevered ideas put into graphic form. Dreams become nightmares, traumas are temporarily sublimated into dreams, self-constructed delusions are seen as neither wholly tragic nor saving graces -for that would simplify them too much into a hardened binary categorization, which would uncharitably assist us in succinctly diagnosing Norma (and, in turn, fulfill the lame charges unfairly lobbed against this film). Instead, Dominik implements surreal tactics that sever Monroe from herself and us from a grounded sense of comprehension, and in that we share the same need she does, feel the same broad discomfort, and empathize on the only fair terms- on the only common ground we can authentically foster.

The (many, including my theatre-buddy) naysayers who are scorching this project saw a completely different movie than I did. In general, I find the uniform accusations against this film symptomatic of a tired argument that suppresses important stories from being told by deciding that any film that attempts to capture the feeling of being exploited is only furthering that exploitation. It's a catch-22 situation, and especially troubling to know that so many other eyes and ears and hearts and souls absorbed the same film and read anything other than unconditional validation and dignifying of Norma Jean by the work's artists. Dominik demands we witness this perspective with fervent urgency, especially in an elongated denouement that imbues all formalist approaches from fixed-camera, clear-lensed, direct sobriety to heightened artistic allegory in the same scene, and references everything from Fire Walk with Me (complete with a score reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti's Laura Palmer ballads) to Citizen Kane, before rejecting that filtered simplified icon of longing, washing it away into the inebriated panic of Norma Jean's irredeemable condition.
*Norma Jean spends almost three hours grasping at straws with the limited resources she has under brutal influence to figure out just what her 'true self' is, and the absence of substance discovered is the secret key to the whole puzzle. It's not a sled, but a not-sled, and it's the most honest place we could possibly arrive at to meet her where she's at.

None of this would be nearly as effectively if De Armas didn't give one of the best performances I've seen in... ever. Julianne Nicholson is the other standout player as Norma's unstable mother in the film's ruthless first act. It's one of the darkest sides of mental illness I've seen portrayed on screen, stirring us more caustically in mere minutes than most horror movie villains do across a feature length, and I hope she gets recognition for escaping into the role as bravely as she does here. I can understand why Netflix is burying this, why they wouldn't waste their money on a campaign. It's not a very marketable movie. It's incredibly artsy and intense and depressing. But, if anything, it's this neglect of such an important voice being heard that's alarming. Again, whether or not it's actually Monroe's voice hardly matters- but it's the voice of an oppressed woman's psychological state, translated in a hazy fog against the typical film grammar that's digestible to mass audiences looking to get vicarious catharsis out of her story. It's Truth, 24 times a second, for a lot of seconds. Such neglect is also very sad considering that every person working on this film deserves an Oscar, and no one more than De Armas. It's a fearless performance, a courageous part to take, and if there's any justice she'll take home the gold.

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