the american writer Joyce Carol Oates He commented on his twitter account with more or less this idea: for the novel whose length is justified by the purpose of covering decades of a biography, an audiovisual series would work well; however, summing it up in a film of just over two hours means that there is not enough time to grasp its full intention and that the final result is “twisted”.
The term “twist” is visually apt to explain what has happened to readers like me after seeing Blonde, the highly publicized Netflix production based on the novel of the same name with which Carol Oates was nominated for a Pulitzer and the National Book Award (2000). A series was also made, by the way, for which she herself was a screenwriter in a job directed by Joyce Chopra.
Carol Oates and Chopra had worked together before, when in 1985 she directed the film smooth talkadaptation of an own story with the title “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Here too, she explores one of her favorite themes: women facing male predation.
Now the film directed by Andrew Dominik and played by the always tender, tenacious and powerful in crescendo Ana de Armas, if compared to the work on which she is inspired, at times seems to be deformed, as when a finger is pressed on a white surface or as if an effect were applied to a digital image by which it leaves an echo of colors and patterns. It may not be completely deformed or twisted, but by transforming images born from a sea of words into an audiovisual product, the consequence can be unfair.
If Carol Oates had warned that her Norma Jeane was the result of “a life radically distilled in the form of fiction”, the one we see now may even seem like obvious and certainly biased fiction, so that we are faced with a heterogeneous triumvirate: the myth that subsumed a woman, the woman who is presented to us emaciated in the book and the one we see on the screen thanks to the characterization of de Armas, modulated by Dominik.
Norma Jeane returns as a renewed invention; after all, the symbol by which she is known was the result of “the producer”, which is how in the novel the recording studio is identified, synecdoche of Hollywood. Although, it should be pointed out in favor of those who have only seen the Netflix production that in that fabrication there was also, as the book says, a willful conviction to take advantage of that circumstance: “I will invent myself as this city has done” , writes the literary character in one of his diaries.
His mother (Gladis Mortesen) had also worked in that empire of Los Angeles, “the city of Sand”, and because of that place, to which, perhaps, he owed his illness, he ended up neglecting her. And she, Norma Jeane, after a traumatic, intense, wayward, innocent childhood and adolescence, marked by beauty and sexual inspiration, had ceased to be the shy and stuttering Norma at the demand of the businessmen: they transformed her appearance, changed her name, they made him learn an elegant calligraphy to stamp his signature clearly. “MARILYN MONROE was an automaton designed by the producer. Too bad we couldn’t get the patent. ”
“She wasn’t even nominated for the Oscars that year. Everyone knew that she deserved it for Bus stop”, Says the voice that would correspond to Joshua Logan, the director of one of her latest films, and nothing more than a voice to reveal the contempt to which, despite pampering her to the point of suffocation, she was exposed. In view of one of her lovers “if you added the measurement of his bust to that of her hips, one obtained the approximate figure of her IQ.” And I say “corresponds”, because the book is careful when it comes to reinventing the biography of many characters, although we all know who is who and almost no one is saved from the burning embers of this narrative. He mixes quotes, invents poems and fragments of interviews, alludes to names, but does not compromise reality, which in the end many times nobody knows what it was.
In the book, Norma Jeane was a tenacious woman with a firm stance on certain issues. She had fasted for long hours and practiced yoga just to strengthen her mind and body in favor of acting before succumbing to drugs, somehow mimicking her mother’s behavior, wanting to meet the one she had been. She studied drama in New York, had taken summer classes in writing and poetry, and was able to rewrite the scripts she was forced to memorize long after she had left the factory where she worked to be photographed nude for a calendar for only fifty dollars.
For the Norma of the book, the tortuous path of acting supposes a consideration: it is the “more difficult job than any other that I had done”; she who could never overcome her shyness, despite the apparent pleasure of fame, feared the weight of the gaze of others, with its cruel power to “laugh, mock, reject her, fire her, send her back, like a beaten dog, to the oblivion from which it has just emerged.”
The family has a greater importance, and not seen in its fullness by the scenes deleted in the film. She is not an ardent obsessive in search of a father, she is a woman who grows up in the shadow of deficient women among whom her grandmother had been her greatest support. Norma Jeane emerges from a world of needs with the weight of not assisting her grandmother Norma Monroe on the afternoon in which she would accidentally lose her life, after having yelled at her, after having waited for help from that girl. More than herself, the scene haunts one like a bloodhound about to show its rage: “Norma adored her grandmother, the only person who truly loved her, the only person who loved her without hurting her and who only pretended to love her. protect her.”
At one point in the book, one of her lovers, perhaps the person she feels most romantically attached to, Cass Chaplin, tells her: “You never knew your father, so you are free to invent yourself”… “No. You are named after the bastard who conceived you. Your name, Marilyn Monroe, is completely false.” Charles Chaplin is reiteration, one of the last faces that she sees when she dies is hers when the hand of her mother reaches out to receive her in her death and tell her the phrase with which Carol Oates closes her voluminous book .
Norma Jeane, according to what can be interpreted here, did not matter to the industry more than to satisfy itself, but the same could be said of the political system that, let’s say, here would be represented by the president: he knows her, he sends to make an appointment with her , they have sex, she likes it, she wants to repeat it and asks to be made to travel from Los Angeles to New York for a few hours, simply to have sex again, and in the middle of a fellatio (unjustifiable in the film) Jeane herself understands that her lover hardly pays her any more importance than she has for being a producer of pleasure, her mind at that moment is somewhere else: nuclear rockets have been installed in Cuba!
“Names are so important! If you don’t know a person’s name, you can’t think of him, and others must also know your name; otherwise, what would become of you?”, her mother told him when asking him to name a doll with which she would have rewarded him on her sixth birthday. That doll has various meanings in the story, like a striped tiger that she had won at Christmas, when she was in the orphanage, where she lost it a few days later. A similar one returns to her at the end of her days in a cardboard box when Cass has died. She knows that much of her past, that she herself is somehow leaving with him.
I won’t spoil the reading of the book (in my case this time, possible through a digital edition of Minicaja, with a translation by María Eugenia Ciocchini), but there are enigmatic characters like The Sniper so keep them in mind: “The Sniper works under the orders of the United States, at the orders of justice, decency and morality. It could be said that he worked at the command of God”. One of the phrases from the diaries of the famous blonde: “You have to die at the right time”, writes here Norma Jeane.