The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe.

Books  The Claire Foy interview I wrote about the other day is an example of how the notion of "celebrity" has the illusion of being far more inclusive than ever.  There's plenty about Foy's life which isn't mentioned, but this window into her mental health makes her more approachable, more authentic.  Plus its an image she has some control over, which as Sarah Chuchwell's book demonstrates has not always been the case with young actors.  Even before her death, Marilyn Monroe had become a myth or legend and even though she gave numerous interviews in her life, the sense of who she was gained a mythology which only increased in volume after her untimely death.  Churchwell's book is a comparative study of the various biographies, fictionalised or researched, a vast river of text running down an opaque mountain from writers who all arrogantly assume that they know who the real Monroe was and the extent to which Norma Jean regenerated into the blonde bombshell.

The key take away is that no one really knows who she was, because no one external of a person really can.  But her predominantly male biographers salivating over the details of her career and private life rarely agree on the simplest items, from her birth name to whether she had an affair with one or both of the Kennedy brothers and ultimately if her death was accidental overdose, suicide or murder.  Employing a rorschach test containing rumour, eyewitness accounts and written materials, these writers, some over many years and numerous editions, presume to apply their own expectations and biases on the actress's life, even to the point of attempting to guess her psychological state of mind at important moments, how she "must" have been.  They pretty much all seem to agree that Monroe was a facade, a protective shield for a broken personality within.

Churchwell has none of it, offering a three dimension portrait of the star through critiquing the work of others.  All of the writers are taken to task for their sometimes quite sinister approaches the actor's life, point out how assertions and what's publicly known simply doesn't fit the conjecture they're presenting as fact.  Much of what they apparently say about Monroe fundamentally removes her humanity, that she was incapable of existing outside the orbit of men or pills, that her so-called "good" film performances were the product of her co-stars or director.  Except as the writer demonstrates much of the time Monroe was simply fighting to retain her own agency as a performer, her greatest successes happening when she's at her most relaxed, creative and autonomous rather than when, just like her biographers, she was being remodeled through another's expectations.


No comments:

Post a comment