By adapting Joyce Carol Oates’ bestseller, “Blonde”, for Netflix, Andrew Dominik gets into the icon’s head and imagines his ordeal. Maintenance.
When Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Blonde hair, released in 2000, the success was immediate. A partly fantasized biography of Marilyn Monroe, the book fascinates with its subjective approach to the short life of the actress and its straightforward evocation of her Hollywood ordeal. It took more than ten years for the Australian Andrew Dominik to make the film adaptation, with the disturbing Ana de Armas in the main role, which was almost held by Naomi Watts then Jessica Chastain. A radical and feminist gesture for some, pretentious and problematic for others, Blonde hair Split. We met the director during the presentation of the film at the Deauville festival, at the beginning of September.
What struck you the most while reading the novel?
I had the impression of living a hallucinogenic trip, locked up in Marilyn’s head. The way the book portrays the experience of being a woman in this delusional celebrity cult also echoed what my female circle was going through. It’s a book of such density that I never imagined being able to make a film out of it. It was by diving back into it two years later that I found the key to her adaptation: the trauma of Marilyn’s childhood, symbolized by the figure of the absent father and the madness of a mother who made her the cause of his misfortune. The rest of his life is seen through the prism of this trauma. I then wrote the script quickly, letting the events flow and cascading them from scene to scene.
Why did it take more than ten years to realize this project?
The studios were quite hesitant because there are many American personalities who do not emerge from this story, in particular President Kennedy. But let’s be honest, the main reason is that my films don’t make enough money. I wanted to do Blonde hair just after The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), but the film did not work. We can’t blame the studios for not wanting to throw their money away!
Can we say that Blonde is an anti-biopic?
I especially see Blonde hair like a dreamlike horror film, a bit like the Tenant, by Roman Polanski (1976). It’s also a sort of biopic, but it uses popular iconography and filters it through the character’s psychological problems. The events we all know, like Marilyn’s dress lifting off the air from the subway grate on the set of Seven years of reflection (1955), are represented through his feeling, which upsets our initial perception of the image and makes it darker.
Some viewers may be shocked by this dark vision of a revered icon.
Maybe… Deep down, anyone who is a fan of Marilyn also loves the dramas of her life. She was a tragic figure, a misunderstood woman who needed help but was not saved. All this is also part of the attraction that we have for him.
Precisely, this attraction, did you feel it for her before reading the book?
Marilyn didn’t interest me at all! Apart Some like it hot, by Billy Wilder (1959), I didn’t watch his films. When I started to study them, after reading the novel, I discovered what a great actress she was. Even if she was not given the opportunity to show the full extent of her talent, she nevertheless reveals a large part of it, for example in The Prince and the Dancer, by Laurence Olivier (1957). A light comedy, less bombastic than Men prefer blondes, by Howard Hawks (1953), in which she develops a more naturalistic style. Today I have a lot of respect for her.
Marilyn was an icon of the Hollywood dream factory. Blonde shows us the nightmarish behind the scenes. Why are you interested in this?
Because I like extraordinary people, like Marilyn or Jesse James, and because I like true stories, or almost true in this case (laughs). Marilyn represents the fundamental duality that concerns us all: the difference between what we deeply are and what we want to show of ourselves. When we fall in love, we show a false version of ourselves while accepting the equally false one presented to us by the loved one. We never see the world as it is, we apprehend it through stories that we want to believe. Marilyn was a good example to explore this.
Everyone projects something onto Marilyn, which ends up blurring her perception of herself.
This is the heart of the film: the story of a person who has an image with which he deeply disagrees. This is what guided my aesthetic bias, namely to recreate and animate real photographs of his life, at several times. This is why we alternate between color and black and white, as well as the different image formats. The film is like a book of photos which dumps all its content unconsciously, by association of ideas. I developed this visual strategy inspired by sampling in hip-hop. Blonde hair is also a musical experience.
The film’s music, elegiac and threatening, is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. How did you collaborate with them?
I gave them a palette of sounds from an old synthesizer with very cold notes. Then I asked them to be inspired by Sugar in a Hurricane, a title that reminded me a lot of Marilyn, signed Anita Lane, former member of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. Then they looked at almost all the daily photos from the set and produced six hours of music. During editing, I associated several pieces of music with a photo or an excerpt from each scene until I found the best symbiosis.
During the last scene, you put the camera on the ground as if it had done its job and there was nothing more to film, Marilyn being dead. Is this intrusive camera a character in its own right?
You could say it’s the ” nasty “ of the movie. I’m from Australia, and there’s this Aboriginal belief that the camera steals your soul. But in this case, the spectator is also the ” nasty “.
Because Marilyn no longer existed except in the public eye?
Looking back, the lyrics to one of his greatest hits, I Wanna Be Loved by You, are very disturbing. This shows how much she had become the receptacle of all fantasies. Including male paranoia, as evidenced by her role as a castrating woman in the film niagara, by Henry Hathaway (1953). All these different desires projected onto you end up oppressing you and questioning your real identity. The cinema is a machine of desires and the actors are its objects. And some desires can be very strange.
Is this the limit of cinema as catharsis?
Marilyn suffered for our impulses and gave way to the desire she aroused and the way she was staged. Many of her films made fun of the character she portrayed. This also raises the question of the benevolence of the gaze: a song like Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend can thus be perceived as a sororal council or as a dangerously romanticized vision of prostitution.
How did you shape this Marilyn with Ana de Armas?
We discussed character progression: up to Some like it hot and the loss of her baby is a woman who is not allowed to express her anger; and then there is this explosion of rage which marks the beginning of his downfall. This is the last part of the film, which I call the section “dead doll”, because Marilyn becomes a zombie to whom we administer a lot of drugs to hold on. Before shooting, we rehearsed the scenes in pairs. Ana could thus share her wishes or concerns with me. Then on the set, she was on her own, trying new things, stimulating her imagination, as if she was fighting to survive each scene. This notion of urgency was essential.
r | oh Blonde hair, available on Netflix
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Andrew Dominik, director of “Blonde”: “Any fan of Marilyn Monroe also loves the dramas of his life”