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My Week with Marilyn


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#1 Helene

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Posted 26 November 2011 - 11:13 PM

A friend and I went to see "My Week with Marilyn" this afternoon, the film based on filmmaker Colin Clark's memoir. Clark, the son of a upper, wealthy parents who weren't very keen on their son going into the movie profession, he wormed his way into the production of the film "The Prince and the Showgirl", starring Lawrence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, as Olivier's 3rd Assistant Director.

I thought Branaugh was amazing as Olivier, a lauded actor facing midlife professional and sexual crises, conveying impotence without whiny self-pity. I was gobsmacked by the way his normal speech would morph into unselfconscious and perfectly conversational lines from Shakespeare. While Michelle Williams, who played Monroe, doesn't have the icon's fullness or richness, I thought she did a wonderful job of conveying, quite subtly and like-ably, an emotional landscape and appeal. There was no in-your-face pounding like in Cotillard's portrayal of Piaf, but the danger she posed was just as palpable. Julia Ormond portrayed Vivien Leigh, Olivier's wife at the time, and the lead in the stage production on which the movie script was based, as a sophisticate. Having declared bluntly that Olivier wanted to make the film because he had fallen in love with Monroe in New York and wanted to have an affair with her, she played the knowing wife about to be discarded because of her age, just as Olivier deemed her too old to play the role in the film. (There is a good smattering of bluntness in this movie.) It wasn't until the end of the movie that she showed any inkling of the bi-polar illness that would have made an interesting parallel to Monroe in the movie, and even in that scene, she was more like Fricka to Olivier's Wotan. An opportunity missed.

Eddie Redmayne played the young Clark as a little bit more interesting than the standard naive young man who overestimated his own sophistication, but there was too much of the standard Hollywood face brightening and puppy energy. He is, though, beautiful to look at -- I'm a sucker for freckles, and it's time to find that "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" in which I'm sure he brought the pretty to Angel Clare -- and he's long, lean, and moves elegantly. Derek Jacobi did a cameo appearance as either Clark's uncle or godfather, an art historian at Windsor Castle, and I'm not sure if he was parodying the standard Hollywood portrayal of an older British man who is enchanted by the backwards, but blunt, American. The Hollywood people were vulgar stereotypes, and even Zoe Wannamaker, as Paula Strasberg, was a bit over-the-top: I kept expecting her eyes to pop through her huge glasses.

Perhaps the performance in the film was Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, who portrayed steeliness and graciousness in equal measure.

#2 miliosr

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 09:57 AM

I saw it on Friday.

At first, I had a hard time suspending disbelief so that I could view Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. But, gradually, I came to believe Williams as Marilyn, especially in the later scenes where she bears a striking resemblance to her. I came and went with Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier, not due to any deficiency in the performance but because Olivier, as written, was so unlikeable that I found it hard to care about the very real problems he was confronting at the time. Eddie Redmayne was appropriately swoonalicious. I didn't like Julia Ormond's portrayal of Vivien Leigh at all. And Judi Dench and Zoe Wannamaker were great as, respectively, Sybil Thorndike and Paula Strasberg.

SPOILERS AHEAD

For me, the best parts of the movie revolved around the underlying debate about classical (Olivier) vs. Method (Strasberg) vs. instinctual (Monroe) acting and, in particular, Marilyn's search for the "truth" in her acting. I thought the movie did an excellent job of showing how threatened Olivier was by the rise of a competing acting technique, and how he realized he was not a great movie actor. (I agree with this -- he wasn't a great movie actor; certainly not in the way Monroe was.) But I also thought the movie did a subtle job of questioning whether Marilyn's use of the Method to achieve truer results in her acting bore fruit or not. I, for one, think she was better and truer in her pre-Method films than in the post-1956 films. To me, the Strasbergs gave her something she didn't really need as her instincts usually led her to more naturalistic results than the Method ever did. Like Garbo and Taylor, Monroe was a creature of the camera (which the Judi Dench character points out during the movie.)

Definitely worth seeing for the performances of Williams, Branagh, Redmayne, Dench and Wannamaker and for the period "Englishness" of it all.

#3 Helene

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 11:19 AM

SPOILERS AHEAD

For me, the best parts of the movie revolved around the underlying debate about classical (Olivier) vs. Method (Strasberg) vs. instinctual (Monroe) acting and, in particular, Marilyn's search for the "truth" in her acting. I thought the movie did an excellent job of showing how threatened Olivier was by the rise of a competing acting technique, and how he realized he was not a great movie actor. (I agree with this -- he wasn't a great movie actor; certainly not in the way Monroe was.) But I also thought the movie did a subtle job of questioning whether Marilyn's use of the Method to achieve truer results in her acting bore fruit or not. I, for one, think she was better and truer in her pre-Method films than in the post-1956 films. To me, the Strasbergs gave her something she didn't really need as her instincts usually led her to more naturalistic results than the Method ever did. Like Garbo and Taylor, Monroe was a creature of the camera (which the Judi Dench character points out during the movie.)


This was the real center of the movie, although I think they created a real diversion with the assertion that Monroe's entourage kept her doped up because she was their cash cow, without following it through. That made Strasberg look like a quack, in her hovering, suffocating presence as she almost laughably shoved method acting down Monroe's throat as if "The Prince and the Showgirl" were "Rebel without a Cause" instead of a a stock theater piece transferred to film. From a character point of view, it was interesting because Wannamaker portrayed Strasberg as a controlling mother who had drunk the kool-aid, but the accusation of exploitative quackery hovered and distracted from the conflict of style.

#4 dirac

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 12:00 PM

Branagh played Olivier as impotent during this period? That's rather funny.

Leigh was never considered for the movie version. Monroe had bought the rights for herself and was producing, so Olivier "deeming" his wife to old for the role wouldn't come into it - everyone involved knew Leigh wouldn't play the movie version even without Monroe.No doubt she was worried about Monroe and Olivier- Olivier was worried himself, so charmed was he by Marilyn at their initial meetings. A few weeks of actually working with her put paid to that.

The "conflict of style" is mainly a red herring, although Olivier had no use for the Method. Olivier was a great movie actor - to some extent the distinction is specious and Olivier could give performances geared to the camera as well as anyone. His performance in Carrie is as a great as any committed to celluloid and he was very fine in Term of Trial, for example. He's very good in The Prince and the Showgirl and I think under more harmonious circumstances he and Monroe could have been better together. The mistake, most likely, was making him director. He was certainly no villain, although he probably didn't understand the depths of Marilyn's insecurity and as the most intense of professionals he could only have disdain for her working habits. He didn't look at the film for years but when at length he did he thought it much better than anticipated and Monroe was delightful (which she is, and she certainly never looked more beautiful on film.).

Monroe was a serious student of acting well before she met the Strasbergs. That was nothing new for her. Very few aspiring starlets work as hard as she did. Certainly there had been no one like her as a camera subject since Garbo and it makes sense to compare the two.

Milton Greene, Marilyn's business partner and co-producer, was indeed accused of keeping her stoked with pills, that's not a new insinuation. Since Marilyn generally needed no help in this regard, my hunch is whatever was done was done to get the film in the can and a nighmarish shoot over with. It was Marilyn's money, too.

Leigh was not ill during the Prince and the Showgirl shoot. A hint would be plenty and any more would throw the movie off balance and be exploitative as well.

I'm afraId from the description the whole movie sounds like Oscar bait with the hook sticking out, but I'l catch it if convenient......

#5 Helene

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 01:27 PM

Branagh played Olivier as impotent during this period? That's rather funny.

The impotence of someone at the top of his game in many ways, but insecure in the face of a sea change, and completely unable to influence, let alone control, Monroe in any way, let alone get her into bed, even after Arthur Miller left the set.

Leigh was never considered for the movie version. Monroe had bought the rights for herself and was producing, so Olivier "deeming" his wife to old for the role wouldn't come into it - everyone involved knew Leigh wouldn't play the movie version even without Monroe.No doubt she was worried about Monroe and Olivier- Olivier was worried himself, so charmed was he by Marilyn at their initial meetings. A few weeks of actually working with her put paid to that.

I'm not sure if the age issue was in Clark's book, which I haven't read, or was created for the film, but it was emphasized in the film.

The "conflict of style" is mainly a red herring, although Olivier had no use for the Method. Olivier was a great movie actor - to some extent the distinction is specious and Olivier could give performances geared to the camera as well as anyone. His performance in Carrie is as a great as any committed to celluloid and he was very fine in Term of Trial, for example.

May be true biographically, but it wasn't what the movie was going for and then shot itself in the foot by undermining its own point.

Monroe was a serious student of acting well before she met the Strasbergs. That was nothing new for her. Very few aspiring starlets work as hard as she did. Certainly there had been no one like her as a camera subject since Garbo and it makes sense to compare the two.

Serious students of all kinds have used the wrong technique for given roles, and the conflict between this particular technique and her preternatural presence on camera was part of this movie.

Milton Greene, Marilyn's business partner and co-producer, was indeed accused of keeping her stoked with pills, that's not a new insinuation.

There was no insinuation in the movie: it was a direct accusation of her entire entourage, not just Greene, who was played like a gangster cartoon by Dominic Cooper. That included Arthur Jacobs, played by Toby Smith, and Stasberg, played by Wannamaker. The blanket accusation puts a different light on Stasberg in a scene where a doctor is called in and asks who is in charge, and Strasberg says that she is. It questions whether she was complicit, where an accusation against Greene would have made her look protective.

'Leigh was not ill during the Prince and the Showgirl shoot. A hint would be plenty and any more would throw the movie off balance and be exploitative as well.

Given the descriptions by Tamara Tchinarova Finch of how Leigh's friends pretended nothing was wrong as they witnessed Leigh in the full throes of her illness just a few years before "Prince and the Showgirl" was made, it's very hard to know whether her illness was forefront at any other time in her life.

I don't think Leigh should have been portrayed at the same level of disturbed as Monroe, but a few more tone changes and expressions throughout the movie, instead of portraying her as Nora Charles would have shed light on Olivier's taste in women who brought emotional drama through more than a heightened temperament.

I'm afraId from the description the whole movie sounds like Oscar bait with the hook sticking out, but I'l catch it if convenient......

It does seem like the token highbrow entry into the Oscar race, yes.

#6 dirac

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 04:37 PM

Given the descriptions by Tamara Tchinarova Finch of how Leigh's friends pretended nothing was wrong as they witnessed Leigh in the full throes of her illness just a few years before "Prince and the Showgirl" was made, it's very hard to know whether her illness was forefront at any other time in her life.

No, it's not difficult. The Oliviers' marriage was certainly in difficulties. There is no evidence that Olivier was drawn to women with emotional problems. Certainly Olivier saw a parallel with his marriage and the Millers', but not in that way.

Serious students of all kinds have used the wrong technique for given roles, and the conflict between this particular technique and her preternatural presence on camera was part of this movie.

That wasn't what I was addressing I made that comment. It was more in reference to miliosr's comment about Monroe as an instinctual performer and whether her studies were or were not good for her. No doubt bringing the Method to bear on this fluffy role was like using a bazooka on a dollhouse, as miliosr notes. It didn't affect her performance, which is charming. My point was that, although the magic Monroe made in front of a camera was beyond what any training could give, she studied it continuously although she never became a fully trained actor.

The difference between Monroe and the British actors was summed up well by Sybil Sibyl Thorndike, who plays with Monroe in a couple of scenes. She remarked that when the scene was in progress she didn't think Marilyn was making any kind of effect - she didn't appear to be doing anything. When Thorndike saw the rushes, she was astonished.

#7 Quiggin

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 04:43 PM

I don't know if this has much bearing on how the movie was constructed, but the memoir "My Week With Marilyn" seems to have had little basis in fact. I read some of it at Amazon, and it reads a pure fantasy. The reviewers point out inconsistencies with Colin Clark's earlier diary, "The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me." From Celia, Amazon UK:

In the diary Colin is frequently unkind to and critical of Monroe, he derides her appearance, her acting ability, even her taste.


Amazon US reviews go further: "Even his own brother Alan Clark accused Colin of later fabricating his own diaries."

Here's book dialogue from one of the first meetings between Colin and Marilyn:

...I suppose somebody hoped it would be like one of those Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn movies but our script script is stifled by all that old fashioned dialogue. it’s such a pity because you and Olivler both deserve roles you can get your teeth into.

--They told me this was a great script – and I wanted to act with Olivier, so people would take me seriously. This was the only way to get him to agree to act with me.

--Well, I think you were taken for a ride.

--Gee Colin, you really care, don’t you. What are we going to do?


Incidentally the casting for the American production of the stage version, "The Sleeping Prince," which had "vexing casting problems" (Robert Donat and Grace Kelly had been considered for the parts), featured Michael Redgrave, Barbara Bel Gedes, and Catherine Nesbitt, and on tour, Francis Lederer, Shirley McLaine and Hermoine Gingold.

But don't the memoir and the movie seem in some way an inversion of the "Prince & the Showgirl" itself, with Colin as Marilyn? And how many "[famous person] and me" books and movies will there finally be?

#8 miliosr

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 05:13 PM

The difference between Monroe and the British actors was summed up well by Sybil Thorndike, who plays with Monroe in a couple of scenes. She remarked that when the scene was in progress she didn't think Marilyn was making any kind of effect - she didn't appear to be doing anything. When Thorndike saw the rushes, she was astonished.

Garbo's contemporaries said much the same thing about her. She would give the appearance of being "flat" in scenes but, when directors/co-stars/studio heads saw the rushes, the magic would be there.

#9 Quiggin

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 05:43 PM

The Method and its allied techniques taught by the Strasbergs, Stella Adler, and Sandy Meisner, derived from Stanislavski (with whom Chekhov did have some arguments regarding the staging of his plays) were taught freely in Hollywood and New York in the forties and fifties. Marilyn Monroe might have not found them to be so foreign to her own talents. Though they seem to have acquired a subsequent bad rep, what great talents they nurtured!

Wikipedia

... freeing them to react "honestly" as the character. Miesner: "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances."


The British, for complex cultural reasons, did not seems to need these prompts. British acting is so amazing to me - I see someone like Robert Shaw in Pinter and think, where does it come from. And each line seems to come from a slightly different place and hit at a different angle.

#10 dirac

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Posted 27 November 2011 - 09:39 PM

But don't the memoir and the movie seem in some way an inversion of the "Prince & the Showgirl" itself, with Colin as Marilyn? And how many "[famous person] and me" books and movies will there finally be?

The genre will last as long as movie stardom does, I expect. Some of the books aren't so unreliable, others are horrible. One of the most worthless books I ever picked up was a "biography" of Montgomery Clift by one Maurice Leonard whose primary claim to expertise in the subject was allegedly having tricked with Clift a few times when Clift was in London filming Suddenly, Last Summer.

Monroe was a good judge of properties. I guess it's possible she might have bought the rights to "The Sleeping Prince" without having read it or becoming familiar with it, but I'd think it unlikely. The play, intended as a Coronation year jeu d'esprit, is weak but it's not that bad, just not as frothy and witty as it needs to be.

The Method and its allied techniques taught by the Strasbergs, Stella Adler, and Sandy Meisner, derived from Stanislavski (with whom Chekhov did have some arguments regarding the staging of his plays) were taught freely in Hollywood and New York in the forties and fifties.

You remind me that Monroe took acting classes with Michael Chekhov in her early years.

Thanks for the OP, Helene. Interesting discussion.

#11 dirac

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 11:32 AM

I finally caught this. I didn't expect a masterpiece but it was rather worse and less entertaining that I had hoped - unnecessarily excitable editing, scenes with no follow up, that kind of thing. The sense of period is weak and the movie drags. It might have been all right as a movie made for the BBC or U.S. cable.

Branagh is dogged as he has been throughout his film career by his lack of physical glamour and so we get a doughy-faced sad sack Olivier with small eyes and no lips who is barely taller than his wife. That said, he's fun to watch for the first half, parodying Olivier's vocal and facial mannerisms and throwing tantrums, and he gives the movie a bit of a jolt. Eddie Redmayne has nothing to play and works the puppyishness sufficiently hard that I was ready to strike him smartly on the snout with a rolled up newspaper. But I don't blame the actor in such a case. Dougray Scott looks very like the Arthur Miller of the newsreels, standing to one side awkwardly while his wife is mobbed. (He goes off on a trip to New York and then is never seen again, typical for this script. While it's true that the Millers' marriage had problems while they were abroad, I think it unlikely that Miller would have confided publicly to a man he barely knows that his new wife is "devouring" him.) Poor Emma Watson fares worst in a subplot that is perfunctory above the call of duty.

I wouldn't take anything about this movie with great seriousness. Any value it possesses is as a setting for a star performance. Williams didn't quite do it for this viewer. One kept waiting for some other aspect of Monroe to be shown beyond from the little-girl-lost-on-too-many-pills-surrounded-by-wolves but the movie went on and on and it became clear that was all we were going to get. She has no particular resemblance to Monroe; her facial features are thicker and more common and her figure is nice but unspectacular and it's not clear why her hip wiggles set men aflame. She's a good actor and compensates somewhat by close attention to posture and other details, but the impersonation isn't particularly persuasive - again, the script is no help - except for a bit where she recreates the charming little dance that Marilyn does in the movie. But she seems to be receiving raves in many quarters, so what do I know.

The line from "The Entertainer" about being dead behind the eyes is boosted shamelessly to express Olivier's middle-aged anomie and much as I enjoy Judi Dench, it seems to me there are several other excellent British actresses of a certain age who could have been cast as well and perhaps Dame Judi is a bit overexposed (so was her bosom, frankly, but let that pass).

#12 Helene

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 11:37 AM

it's not clear why her hip wiggles set men aflame.


Because to a contemporary audience, that she's allowed to have any hips at all as an actress is almost remarkable. An actress with Monroe's actual body today would be considered a cow.

#13 dirac

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 11:59 AM


it's not clear why her hip wiggles set men aflame.


Because to a contemporary audience, that she's allowed to have any hips at all as an actress is almost remarkable. An actress with Monroe's actual body today would be considered a cow.


I don't think gaining weight for the part would have helped Williams much. As I said, her figure is nice but unsensational and she doesn't quite have the charisma to explain why people are going nuts. (The costumer might have helped her with a different sort of bra - she's wearing a more contemporary softer style, not the industrial strength Fifties type that shove the breasts up and forward.)

#14 dirac

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Posted 28 December 2011 - 03:35 PM

I don't know if this has much bearing on how the movie was constructed, but the memoir "My Week With Marilyn" seems to have had little basis in fact. I read some of it at Amazon, and it reads a pure fantasy. The reviewers point out inconsistencies with Colin Clark's earlier diary, "The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me."


I haven't read either book, but my hunch is that the picture relies primarily on "My Week with Marilyn" and less on the earlier book, which apparently took a more caustic view of its subject. The dramatization certainly seems like fantasy - Marilyn and Colin escape from the beady eye of Greene and do all kinds of generically fun things together and there's a nude swimming sequence, natch.

#15 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 07:55 AM

Saw it and not impressed at all. (Williams has never done it for me anyhow...too much of a grey type of actress). Marilyn is FIRE when you see her on screen-(whatever her real persona might have been), and Williams does not have what it takes to project that. Plus, the physique was WRONG. When my mother saw her she turned to me and whispered..."She's toooo skiny...that's NOT Marilyn!" And she's right.


What about Charlize Theron...?

http://www.flickr.co...kups/222375626/

or Lindsay Lohan...?

http://nymag.com/ima..._lindsay_lg.jpg


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