Marilyn Monroe: The body of an icon
“I realized Marilyn Monroe didn’t exist, she was a part Norma Jean played, over and over again.” Michelle Williams states in a most recent interview when asked about her role in My Week With Marilyn.
When they gave me the idea of writing a piece on Marilyn Monroe I was thrilled, I have been talking nonstop about Blonde for the last couple of weeks and having the opportunity of laying out all my feelings on the film felt amazing at the time, but now that I’m actually sitting down to tackle this, it feels strange and more difficult that I’d thought.
The story of a body can be told. For sure. In fact, it has been written and if only I start by painting the picture of a body whose skin many eyes have been laid upon, driven by desire, passion and even obsession, it would be as if I was leaving something important behind, as if I was telling a story somebody else already has told.
I’d like to start with a body, but with a bare and stripped figure, on the verge of entering Hollywoodland (La La Land Machine as it was known back then), on the verge of becoming the object of many fantasies among men all around the world, on the verge of making her distinctive, fascinating, intriguing melancholia, eternal.
Marilyn was born near LA on June 1st, 1926. Her father died early in an accident under circumstances that were never clarified and her mother was an alcoholic who abused her. The last portrait of Marilyn’s life on screen Blonde takes quite an amount of time to truthfully report her first years as a child and as a familiar reject, victim of vice and irresponsibility.
This piece of biography is actually not to be underestimated; her childhood was a dim dream close to a nightmare to soon be forgotten. Her adulthood, on the contrary, was a promise to be fulfilled. And so it was in fact. It hadn’t been long since that fragile girl left her troubled nest that she was faced with the world of fame and excess that soon embraced her and elevated her to the new grown-up version of Norma Jean, which would then be called Marilyn Monroe.
This is where Marilyn, the Marilyn makes her grand entrance, taking over Norma Jean’s body, the dream of all curves that made America fall deeply in love. As for Norma Jean, while her vessel made appearances in custom gowns, she wandered around just looking for some peace and quiet where to be herself.
After the tragic passing, her figure didn’t dissipate, quite the opposite, her life story has been resumed on film and on several forms of media a multitude of times. Her persona, her story has been obsessing people over for decades so much so that we have been gifted with memorable performances made by incredible actresses that portray her inner struggles, or what we know of her struggles.
Catherine Hicks took on the role in the 1980 television film Marilyn: The Untold Story, while Ana de Armas shared her take on Monroe in Andrew Dominik’s 2022 film Blonde, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ biographical novel of the same name. Others have taken the role of Monroe, Michelle Williams in the critically acclaimed film My Week With Marilyn, Susan Griffiths in Marilyn and Me and Ashely Judd in Norma Jean and Marilyn.
But I do want to keep my premise made at the beginning: the body of Marilyn. So many artistic reincarnations made of the icon make me raise a question.
When does a body that is loved by all become public domain, known and then torn? Is it permissible to sell it, is it permissible to soil it, to discuss over it, to recount the events that led to its commodification?
When does a body become a product, when is it okay to have its flesh traded for a piece of film?
In my opinion, this did not happen in any of the films mentioned before or in any other possible exploitations but it is indeed interesting to think in today's capitalist economic system and individualistic age what is the selling point, when people become bodies and products instead of just human beings.
A packaged product, created, not real, aimed at sales. Sex, fantasy. And like any marketer, the people that surrounded her understood perfectly what worked and what people wanted from her, if you think about it she only transformed herself into what, simply, was desired.
A deal with the devil or a perfect marketing scheme. I believe both can vouch for the other.
In the end I only pose one question: is this really how Marilyn Monroe felt?
By Miriam Gagino
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