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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: My Week with Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn (Three Stars)
U.K.: Simon Curtis, 2011
Marilyn Monroe: She was a dream of sex and the ultimate blonde fantasy. She was a smart girl who got rich and famous playing dumb. She was an innocent who played with fire and whose angel-wings burst into flame. And she was a movie actress who drove her directors crazy by continuously arriving late and blowing her lines, over and over and over — and over — again. But some of them (like Billy Wilder) grin and bore it, and probably they didn’t ultimately care because, in between the chaos and wrap time, she brought something magical to the screen and to her parts that nobody else could. She couldn’t be copied, though God knows, many movie blondes tried, and still do.
In any case, since 1962, when Marilyn died under still-mysterious circumstances (like her lover John Kennedy), we watch her obsessively, think about her obsessively, write about her obsessively (some of us), and put her picture on our walls, imaginary or otherwise. And now comes a movie, based on the two memoirs by a man who might have been her lover, and at least knew her well for a while: Colin Clark, the son of Civilisation‘s Kenneth Clark.
Colin was an assistant on the 1956 production of the movie The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), co-starring Marilyn, written by Terrence Rattigan (of “The Browning Version” and “The Winslow Boy”) and costarring and directed by Sir Laurence Olivier, Hamlet himself: an acting god who, in 1957, was at his thespian peak and was regarded as international theatrical royalty — and yet who probably knew that, even though he had all the tricks of the trade easily at hand, he could never take the stage (or the screen) from Marilyn.
It’s a nice little movie, done in that precise, intelligent, well-mannered yet humane style we associate with good British literary or stage adaptations (including The Prince and the Showgirl). It was written by Adrian Hodges, based on Clark‘s two memoirs, “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me” (no, that doesn’t imply any kind of menage a trois) and it was directed by the prolific Simon Curtis (who directed the BBC “David Copperfield”). Its well-shot and lit and staged, and mostly a pleasure to watch.


And it’s filled with famous or somewhat famous show people, playing other people sometimes even more famous than they. Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier (Marilyn‘s costar and director), Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh (who played Marilyn’s role on stage with Larry), Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike (Marilyn’s supporting actress), Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller (Marilyn‘s playwright husband), Karl Moffat as Jack Cardiff (Marilyn’s cinematographer), Zoe Wanamaker as Paula Strasberg .(Marilyn’s maddening acting coach), Toby Jones as Arthur Jacobs (Marilyn‘s publicist), and finally Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark (Marilyn‘s pal for a week and perhaps her spill-the-beans consort). They’re all good; the weakest link is Redmayne.

Then there’s Michelle Williams as Marilyn herself. I said above that nobody could catch Marilyn’s magic. No one can. But Michelle Williams comes close. She does a wonderful job, manages to get some of her body and a bit of her soul. and some of her blonde haired beauty, the kind gentlemen prefer. (Gentlemen, hah!)

 More than Elizabeth Taylor, MM’s raven-haired, violet-eyed movie goddess rival of their primes, Marilyn was the woman who conquered exceptional men, the knockout whom all the boys wanted on their arms, including the gay boys. Liz may have won a second rate movie actor (Michael Wilding), a powerful producer (Mike Todd), a first rate but heavy-drinking actor (Richard Burton) and a second-rate Senator (John Warner). But Marilyn married or seduced (or was said to have seduced) legends: a great ballplayer (Joe DiMaggio) a great playwright (Arthur Miller), a great filmmaker (Elia Kazan),  a great French movie star and singer of chansons (Yves Montand), and, perhaps to all their ultimate regret, a legendary President and maybe his legendary politician-brother, John and Bobby Kennedy. Perhaps there were others; certainly there were others. Ah Marilyn, we hardly knew ye!

Michelle (somehow I can’t bring myself to call her “Williams” or even “Ms. Williams“) understands some salient points about playing the goddess of all movie blondes (especially the dyed ones): that there’s something great about MM, but also something primally willful and confused, that in certain very basic respects, she never grew up, partly because we didn’t want her to. How could we? That’s what we loved about her, or thought we did.

Michelle also understands that to play Marilyn, the little girl/woman who won and lost the world, you have to somehow be unself-consciously self-conscious (or maybe vice versa). You have to completely take over the stage or the scene, without seeming to be trying. Effortlessness and confusion, sweetness and (secret) smarts and dizziness and hunger: Those are what you have to get, and something lost-little-girl that keeps shining out of all that blonde wonder. That’s Marilyn. That’s entertainment.

So this is a story about a lucky bloke who had a week with Marilyn. He, Colin, doesn’t seem like much, and there‘s not much else he’ll be remembered for. (Some documentaries maybe, or his dad). The fact that his role in this movie is so forgettable maybe suits that very unmemorability. I liked the picture, but then I had Marilyn fantasies too. Women may probably enjoy it as much as men, or more, though some will object to the movie’s cleverly veiled objectification. It’s not a show of much consequence really, but it’s well-done, it passes the time and it offers at least a little delight. The Prince and the Showgirl was an okay movie too and it offered a little more delight and a story-window on some legends. My Week with Marilyn gives us a second-hand, recreated portrait, a bit too respectful (too British?) to be great or near-great.

Meanwhile, if we want Marilyn, or if we want to know her at her best, we can simply turn on Some Like It Hot or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or The Misfits or one of the others. That’s where she lives, where she‘ll live always. Runnin’ Wild, Lost control…Runnin‘ wild, Mighty bold! Feelin‘ gay, reckless too… The rest is just fun and games really, comedy and — though we don’t want to think about it too much — tragedy. Tragedy shimmying and playing a banjo.

Michelle, in My Week with Marilyn, gets that quality of effortless seduction, of innocence and sexuality commingled, and that’s why you have to see the movie: for her. Branagh (who’s already played Olivier’s great Shakespearean movie roles, Henry V and Hamlet) gets Olivier too — especially the master actor’s eloquently eccentric, alternately whiney and clamorous speech patterns. But Michelle gives us something more: the sometimes overpowering sense of entitlement of the very sexy and very famous, mixed with something bigger, bewitching, something terrifying, but lovely still, beautiful always, blonde sometimes, and mysterious. Always.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon