Recorded a Radio 2 programme on Marilyn (no need for a surname). Christ to Coke has had an affect – I now get asked about other iconic images, e.g. Munch’s Scream, which generally means some rapid homework. I wrote a blog for the Oxford University website about Marilyn’s “Happy Birthday Mr President”. It begins:
It’s John F. Kennedy’s 45th birthday at Madison Square Garden on 19 May 1962. Only it’s not. His real birthday is ten days in the future. The compelling mass schmaltz that Americans do with an underlying, knowing absurdity saturates the event. After she has characteristically missed her cue on at least two occasions, the host Peter Lawford finally (and with inadvertent irony) introduces the “late Marilyn Monroe”.
In a glittering faux-nude dress tighter than her own skin and enveloped in a soft fur wrap, that most desirable of female bodies shuffles with exaggerated mini-steps towards the podium, like a penguin on speed. Her floss hair has long given up any pretence to organic life. She is unwrapped by Lawford and ups the sexual ante with mute lip squirming directed at the microphone, which she holds tenderly like a living member. Everything is comically kitsch yet irresistibly powerful.
The rest can be seen on the Univ Press website:
For the radio homework Judd lent me disks of The Prince and the Showgirl. Also My Week with Marilyn by Simon Curtis.
The Olivier/Monroe conjunction is fascinating. He was a great actor and mastered film. Monroe was film. There’s a passage in the coronation in Westminster Abbey where the whole narrative of the majestic event is carried by her printed programme and her face. Micro-millimetres of fleeting facial nuances. Whether this is “the method” or natural talent and intelligence is difficult to know. I suspect the latter.
My Week… has a special resonance – the young man, Colin Clark, who accidentally becomes Marilyn’s human outlet during the circus of performing animals, is the son of Kenneth Clark, Lord Clark of Civilisation. Clarks’s catalogue of the Windsor drawings by Leonardo remains one of the greatest ever works of art-historical scholarship, and his monograph (for which I provided an intro for the Penguin revised ed.) is as good as any monograph of any artist in its perception and beauty. As so often with such biopics, the first time I saw Branagh as Olivier in the film I thought “you’re not Olivier”. The first time I saw Michelle Williams I thought “you’re not Monroe” A short way into the film, I lost the sense that Branagh was not Olivier. He became a character who was analogous with Olivier. I never lost the sense that Williams was not Monroe. This is not a matter of acting as such, since Williams is superb. It comes from 2 things: 1) Williams is always imitating Monroe, which Branagh does not do with Olivier unless it is when Olivier plays the prince; 2) more importantly, Monroe’s magnetic presence on camera is such that it never fades (for me at least), however hard William tries.
I visited the Marilyn exhibition in the Salvatore Ferragamo (shoe) Museum in Florence. Very well done, if too many SF shoes included for thin reasons. Wonderful costumes borrowed from major collectors good film clips. Her notebooks of which there are facsimiles are a revelation. Questing, sad, enigmatic and poetic. One, after she had attended some university classes in Los Angeles in 1950, lists family trees of Florentine artists, Donatello, Masaccio, Lippi et al. I missed my vocation. I could have tutored MM on Renaissance art.