Friday, October 26, 2007

Kissing Marilyn Monroe

Monroe... she wants to be kissed by you
_______ [staccato breathy voice]
"Just. you. nobodyelse. but. you"

I'd forgotten how dreamy Marilyn Monroe was, singing and puckering up for the camera in Some Like It Hot (1959) as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. I'd been a little cool on her for the past few years. I was tired of seeing her. Those ready to go lips (and resulting lipstick print) are beautiful but overly familiar. They're even part of the logo at her official site.

But this happens to a lot of icons. Their estates overexpose them. You see them all the time through the inevitable over merchandising. They infiltrate every large discussion since they're so busy signifying something else, something less flesh and blood; an abstraction personalized. Monroe is Hollywood. Monroe is sex (the movie variety). Monroe is that Troubled Actress™ we're still always reading about.

But here's the niftiest thing about Monroe: watching her work her magic provides an instant cure to the disease of her over familiarity. Just pop the DVD in the player and ta-dah: her radiance, her talent, that breathy delivery...she huffs and she puffs and she blows the Icon down. For a couple of hours in the resultant rubble you're left with a fine actress and the character she's playing, just as it should be.

Some Like it Hot, one of the comedy greats, gets a lot of mileage from her kissability. It's not just the puckering but the literal smooching. In one of the film's most famous sequences, Joe (Tony Curtis) whom she knows in drag as "Josephine" fools her into sexcapades with an elaborate charade as a yacht-dwelling frigid millionaire named "Junior". It's a little icky. The audience is essentially asked to root for the cad to trick her into putting out. Without Monroe's deft playing this scene would play too misogynistic for comfort. Her unique pathos and aggressive sexuality (it's still eyebrow raising to watch her pounce --she's the top) keep the comedic ball in the air. The love scene that could've felt like an abusive game of dodgeball plays more like a tennis match.

For all of Sugar Kane's funny enthusiasm, Monroe never hides the character's heartbreak either. Soon Sugar is "Through With Love" a broken hearted songbird right there on the stage. And whaddya know, she melts the jerk's heart. The con artist is finally feeling for her rather than objectifying her and knows he's done her wrong. Joe plants another on her, but this time the kiss is honest --he does it as Josephine, thereby giving up his game.

Chaos that has nothing at all to do with Sugar erupts as gangsters chase Joe through the hotel and he runs for his life. The songbird also gives chase "Wait! Wait for Sugar!" Guess she wasn't through with love after all.

a-deedalee deedalee deedalee-dum, boop boop-a-doop!

previously on "kissing" (new series) Volver


Anonymous said...

Still one of my all-time favorite movies. I was introduced to this in middle school (wait, maybe high school?), I think, by a teacher who also pointed out how "surprisingly" good, how vunerable, Monroe's performance is.

I'm sure she'd be glad that she's remembered, but I'm not sure she'd want to be remembered as she is now, a sort of iconic-cartoon. (The weird thing is when young women admire her - admire the image - without having seen her work.)

Great essay, Nat.


Neel Mehta said...

Marilyn's a reminder that an actress should look like a woman.

The skinny craze today makes most (English-speaking) female stars look like prepubescent boys or clothes mannequins. It's really sad.

Anonymous said...

Great idea for a new series Nat! I can't believe I missed the first entry... must have been when my computer died on me. Pity, those kisses in the first 15' of Volver are the main thing that had me cracking up laughing in the cinema because my mom kisses like that (spaniards... sonorous kisses are almost unavoidable) and my aunt is always telling her to stop 'cause she's afraid of being deaf!

Those are funny kisses... Monroe's are more sensual... not many seen like that anymore!


rsd that's the thing that bugs me about her iconic nature. so many people don't watch her films so they get this really shallow version of what she is. she's so much fun onscreen (sad/fun but still...)

neel agreed. The funny thing watching old movies: the men are usually skinnier than they are now (Clift, Stewart, Grant --they must have had 27 inch waists) and the women are usually heavier (though Bacall and Hepburn cut pretty modern figures)

Monroe's weight really fluctuates in this movie though. She looks her best in the first couple of scenes I think "running wild, lost control..." love it. She's so curvy and feminine. She gains a lot of weight somewhere between then and the "through with love" number though (hence all the modern "fat" comments --especially since she's wearing a tight sheer gown) but it's still more attractive than the stick/bobblehead look we see now

wasn't she actually pregnant when she filmed this?

crazycris -thanks. i have to keep myself entertained in order to keep writing so much so "new" series are inevitable.

Anonymous said...

The Goddess.
Camera has never before, or after, loved someone as much as her.

Glenn Dunks said...

See, I actually think that as time progresses and more people actually watch her films she is actually seen more as a great actress. And as movies like The Misfits now seen as classics, it's easier for people to see her as the smart actress that she was.

Anonymous said...

auggh....not to dampen the spirit here - but a "great" actress? her to Streep, Hepburn, Vivian Leigh, Jessica Tandy, Helen Mirren. Hardly....she was luminous, the camera loved her, star quality, great set of real cans, very good in "Some Like it Hot." Terrible in "Bus Stop." Look at the directors she was handed - Billy Wilder, Joshua Logan, Frank Capra, john huston, etc - who had to work work work to get something out of her. In my book - she's the best movie star ever...a legendary personality...but only a passable actress at best.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I always found Monroe much warmer, more engrossing and human-like than Meryl Streep. It isn't only a matter of beauty and charisma. Few actresses in Hollywood ever gave a comedic performance as arresting, committed and note-perfect as Sugar Kowalczyk. I don't care that she didn't know any of her lines during the shoot - everything that made it on-screen is pure gold. And she's been wonderful in plenty of other films too.


jimmy --i understand the hesitation to include Monroe with some of the more technically accomplished legends but seriously now: jessica tandy? she did so very little for the cinema. i hate to see her placed above Marilyn freaking Monroe.

(but i realized i'm biased against Tandy on account of that whole 1989 lifetime achievement debacle --in order to celebrate her they had to pass over a true cinematic legend. WRONG TOPIC. sorry. my obsessions, my obsessions... they won't go away.)

I also want to add that I don't think we can hold stories of Marilyn's onset behavior and problems with directors against her work. The reason that's unfair is that we know A LOT about Monroe's life in comparison to other screen stars (on account of the public fascination) ---chances are there are a lot of great performances out there which directors had a major hand in. Few stars filmographies are as combed over for details. Why fault Monroe when the work we can look at is so good?

Anonymous said...

I loved Some like it Hot.
I also enjoyed How to Marry a Millionaire.

I agree women (in film) were more curvier back then. They need to bring it I can't believe people think Kate Winslet is fat.

Emma said...

Marilyn's one of my ultimate icons. She was sexy, she was sassy, she was absolutely amazing and had more curves than a slinky. As Sugar in Some Like it Hot, she rocked.

Kenneth M. Walsh said...

When my parents lived in San Diego we'd always go to the Hotel del Coronado and I'd have daydreams of Marilyn running through my head the whole time we'd be there ...

Glenn Dunks said...

"Terrible in "Bus Stop.""

Well that's just crazy talk.

I too can understand the "she's not a great actress" argument, but, the thing is she gave perhaps the greatest ever performance out of anyone ever. And by that I mean her performance as herself. She was not how she was perceived. Which is why the hints of sadness that she puts into Some Like It Hot and the performances in movies like Bus Stop and The Misfits feel so deep and real. She was performing her entire life.

Anonymous said...

i cant watch a monroe film or a audrey hepburn film. I cant seem to seperate them from their iconic images. I prefer watching the ones i know nothing about like Rosalind Russel and Katherine Hepburn.

Happy said...

Marilyn is amazing! I love this movie, it's the first movie with her that I've watched. She was so unusual, she had bright personality. I had found some Marilyn Monroe quotes by her and about her. She was real woman and she is worth being adored!

Anonymous said...

Meredith Vieira talks to Darren Julien from Julien’s Auctions about the sale of never-before-seen footage of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable shot from behind the scenes during the filming of "The Misfits". The footage of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable will be the high light of Julien’s Summer Auction 2008, or will it be the high light?

Photographer George Barris my up stage the movie footage in Julien’s Summer Auction by auctioning off merchandising rights to 114 images he took of Marilyn Monroe on the set of the “Seven Year Itch” in 1954. Never before has anyone sold the merchandising rights with full copyrights in place.

George Barris grew up in New York City before World War II. His interest in photography was life long, and as a young man he worked for the U.S. Army's Office of Public Relations as a photo journalist. Many of his photographs of General Eisenhower were published.

After the war, he became a freelance photographer and readily found work in Hollywood. He photographed many stars of the 1950s and 1960s, including Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra. He is best known for his work with Marilyn Monroe, with whom he was collaborating on a book at the time of her death “Marilyn In Her Own Words“.

Other item being auctioned off by Barris in Julien’s Summer Auction are some of the finest gelatin silver prints ever printed of his work, all signed by the artist. His camera that he shot Marilyn with and his original notes from his interview with Marilyn Monroe