Sunday, January 1, 2012

"My Week With Marilyn" (2011) Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh

Genre: Romance
Those who might be in the mood for an old-fashioned popcorn movie could do a lot worse than to see this one, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of two great talents coming together to make what was supposed to be a light-hearted comedy that had hit written all over it.

Except that it wasn't a hit and shooting the picture was not so light-hearted.

As great as Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe were in their separate careers, they brought little in the way of chemistry to the screen.

Accept that Olivier, the director and star of the 1957 film, "The Prince and the Showgirl", found the often temperamental and always-late Miss Monroe a major pain. Her acting teacher, Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee Strasberg a founder of the "Method" based Actor's Studio in New York City, ran interference between Olivier and his co-star. Her husband at the time, the great playwright Arthur Miller, was caught up in his own problems with her, exacerbated by her finding out she was the main subject of some notes he was making for a play. "She's devouring me," Miller says at one point to Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and soon he flies back to New York City to visit his kids and Sir Larry is left to try and manage her truancy and constant blown lines from the set without any help from home.

One of the best things in the film is watching Branagh (as Olivier) slowly depart from the affable and generous actor-director he purports to be when the project begins and then--a few days into the shooting--realizes that Monroe is both nearly impossible to direct and also quite irreplaceable as far as his producers are concerned. He descends from a patronizing theatrical giant into a small and agitated man mumbling savage lines from his previous screen incarnation as "Richard III".

Adding to his sense of insecurity is that fact that, despite her delaying tactics and neurosis, Monroe's "good days" on the set steal the film away from him. Somehow, in a inexplicable way, she is a natural before the camera, and the damn thing loves her--and that same love eludes him.

The main plot here follows a brief affair Monroe has with an assistant director on the film named Colin Clarke . This throws the whole hierarchy "Larry" and his American producer have carefully set up on its ear. Suddenly a non-entity is the only person on the crew Marilyn will deal with, so make that two indispensable people. Eventually the film gets made. Clarke tries to "save" Marilyn, as all men want to do when this seemingly vulnerable woman lets them into her life, but she things are a lot more complicated than that.

The whole "Olivier/Monroe Flying Circus" movie ends with a rather nice twist and so does the brief and unusual affair between the blond bombshell and young Clarke. The film is based on the latter's 1995 memoir "The Prince, the Showgirl and Me" and all I can say is that if this story is true it's amazing because the whole brief affair plays like a young male's wildest dream. Only the ending has the bite of a real fling.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn is incredible. She might even be better than the original. And that's just her walk!

Anyway, a fun movie for old time film fans, and a break from all the 3-D kid flicks and techno-action films.


  1. Here's the trailer for the 1957 film.

  2. cant rate it because I havent seen it yet...but it looks to be a good film.

  3. Be careful not to get in too deep son.........

    Films about film stars, this must be the wheel of karma, you don't need Bollywood to get into the birth and rebirth of such icons as Marilyn Monroe. The birth of a legend she will be there now forever until the end of the age of images, this is clearly a form of immortality

    Needless-to-say I haven't seen the film as yet, but i was struck by the juxtaposition of American sex goddess and the somewhat stilted English upper middle class theatrical elite.
    However, it may be that the unreality of both the new and the old celebrity subcultures is what unites them, the dramaturgical and the delusional morphing into one 'product' that forms the copious outpourings of the popular culture industry reaching full-tilt by the mid-1960s.
    So here we have a film about those unreal worlds which adds another dimension of unreality which seems to me to be the way of legends generally. the facts merge with the publicity into a morality tale, now populated only by archetypes magically manifested in our consciousness.

    The vulnerable vamp, Hollywood's contribution to the pantheon of incredible and meteoric celebrity, half girl - half advertising agency -a testament to the dream spinners and the bean counters who made the whole crazy thing possible Doug.

  4. It was Marty...a nice surprise.

  5. All good points, AA.

    Amusing to think that, if the Hindus and Buddhists are right about the Wheel of Life, Marilyn Monroe has been reborn into some other incarnation, utterly unrecognizable.

    The cross between a "naive" American sex goddess (the more naive in some departments the better, it was thought, to counteract American fear of nuclear attack) and the more staid and theatrically confident likes of Olivier, Vivien Leigh, et al, is an interesting juxaposition to me. America itself seemed a naive country back then, looking for beautiful ladies to take our minds off The Bomb while the same time not trusting real artists (like Arthur Miller for instance) to be "loyal" Americans and hauling them in front of committees in Congress to either name names or prove they spent the New Deal years of their youth as mild-mannered social reformers, or face The Blacklist. A film version of Miller's "The Crucible" might have been a better film venture for the likes of Mrs. Miller and Sir Larry come to think of it. It strikes me happy that at least a better film was made out of this original bittersweet little bauble.

    Seeing fine actors of today bringing the Old Guard of deities to life might not be all that different from some shadowy magic that might astound the original mystics and priests along the Ganges and the Nile had we power to conjour them back from the dead. Or maybe these earlier folk would just nod their heads sagely and remark that the more things change, the more they staty the same.

    Surely Marilyn Monroe is reborn in the modern world here in this film in unceasing permutations (commericals for perfumes or clothes, endless books and docudramas and now a feature which show her "real" self") which, if I follow your reasoning, is still within a modern archetype---the moral being the very search for immortality in front of a big-studio camera will scald your psyche if you're not made of stern stuff. Rather like a fragile and female Gilgamesh, Monroe sallys forth on a journey to a distant land seeking something to fulfill an impossible destiny. The moral of the story is that it all slips away in the end....all too soon thanks to those around you.

    Aand these few lucky people are left as shadows on our television screens, or to be reinhabited by lesser figures who one day might be inhabited themsleves in little morality tales should they become commodities after death.

    Imagine a film about two famous actors from 2011 say, Ken Branagh and Ms. Williams playing two other more famous actors from 1956 but set in the year 2051, say? The inside story of the inside story--like bein g caugth in a fun house mirror. That would force the viewer to think a bit more, eh? Would there be a story there? Not a very commerical one perhaps, but...for a one-act theatrical, maybe.

    "Half girl--half advertising agency". I'dsay that's a fair summation. I suspect the list of Monroe impersonators (and those of other celebrities) will be a brisk business for new dream-merchants. And now that images can be transposed by technology, they can be sold again and again for products they never even knew would exist--just as long as their luster lasts. Hopefully, their heirs will at least get a share of the swag.

    Thanks for adding a lot to my brief overview, AA.

    Seeing the actual 1957 film again a couple months back was a bittersweet experience--it manifests itself today as a charming relic.

  6. To this very day Doug I find that she has always and shall always be an Icon within cinema. This sounds like it would be a very interesting movie especially during this season from Christmas through to the New Year, I found there were and array of tremendous movies such as this. I think if my memory serves me correctly I recall a write of the like of this before from you but within a different manner.

  7. Marilyn Monroe is iconic, that's for sure Jack. Most of the time I've avoided films like this because they are pretty one -dimensional. People who enjoy older films, of which I am an enthusiast, will, I hope, like it too.

    It bugs me that the best films come out so late in the year. Wish they would spread them out a bit more over the year. I think it's the same with newer quality books and music.