Sunday, February 3, 2008

A bit of fluff?

That's pretty much all people ever give her credit for, but was there more to Marilyn Monroe than we all think?

For Christmas, I was given a collection of old movies. One of these was 'Some Like It Hot', a film I hadn't seen for at least 20 years. During my lazy summer break, I indulged myself by watching it (and the others), and I've concluded that these movies are considered classics for a reason.

But I'm digressing from the subject of this post: Marilyn Monroe. In my 'post comp' lethargy, I've been indulging in one of my vices, YouTube. This morning, I typed in 'Madonna', and selected 'Material Girl'. I'd probably never seen the film clip, but quickly realised she'd ripped off Marilyn's 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' routine from 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. So I brought up the Monroe musical number and found that Madonna had replicated pretty much everything. Except that Marilyn did it better.

Until recently, I had always been of the opinion that Marilyn Monroe was the quintessential dippy blonde, but after watching her in 'Some Like It Hot', I've had to change my position. Today, watching her sing the famous 'Diamonds' number, I was further convinced that I'd misjudged her. Marilyn is enormously entertaining to watch, her comic timing is near flawless, and then there's that other hit-you-between-the-eyes quality. The very obvious, drop dead gorgeous sexpot quality. Kind of hard to miss, that one, and men find it particularly distracting.

When telling some friends about how funny I found 'Some Like It Hot', how ahead of its time it was, my husband proceeded to describe Sugar's (the character played by Marilyn) flesh-toned, strategically-sequinned dress to the friends' husbands in amazing detail. I'd challenge him to describe one of my dresses so meticulously. I had to agree with him, it was an arresting dress, and so suggestive I can hardly believe it got past the censors, back in those days. But that was the contradiction of Marilyn. In her most obvious lip-pouting, hip-swaying, boob-thrusting method of acting, she brought such light-hearted freshness to the screen, such unassuming sex-appeal and girlish charm, that she was, and still is, practically impossible to resist.

Her talent for comedy has long been recognised, but was she - as some insist - the product of clever editing? I don't think so. There have been a lot of mediocre performances from plenty of other gorgeous blondes in the history of film, but Marilyn brought something to the screen that set her aside from the rest. Was it the X factor? whatever that intangible quality might be. Was she a gifted performer with a passion for acting and an intrinsic understanding of the craft? Or was it all a fluke?

Was Marilyn really just a dumb blonde? Did stupidity bring her immunity to stage fright, or to the daunting concept of a worldwide audience? She certainly always looked at ease in front of the camera. Or could we credit a lack of self-awareness for her ability to appear unstudied and natural as only the best actors can?

Perhaps it was a combination of all those things, but I think Marilyn had a lot more talent than she's ever been given credit for. Her roles often included singing, and indeed she had a lovely voice, yet nobody ever thought of her as a singer.

It probably is the case that Marilyn did a lot of it by instinct, getting the performance right by sheer absence of inhibition. But in the end, who cares? Her performances are a delight, ranging from the light romantic comedies she's famous for, to darker, more complex roles such as her portrayal of the powerless, yet rebellious victim in 'Bus Stop'.

So here is the famous clip. I couldn't resist. With lines like, 'There may come a time when a hard-boiled old lawyer thinks you're awful nice, but get that ice or else no dice', and 'Men grow cold as girls grow old, and we all lose our charms in the end. But square-cut or pear-shaped, these rocks don't lose their shape. Diamonds are a girl's best friend,' this performance is a crack-up. And all that red and hot pink! It's a visual feast with Marilyn at her shining best.

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