Because it was the only Marilyn biopic written and directed by women, it has a deeper well of humanity and empathy for its subject.
It’s funny that Andrew Dominik, who just made a movie called “Blonde” about Marilyn Monroe, wonders if anyone still watches her movies. I’d say that the many biopics about Monroe that have been made, whether they are direct retellings of her life or just loosely based on it like her own, show otherwise.
Even more frustrating is the fact that only two of the movies about Marilyn have been directed by women, and only one has been written and directed by a woman. That same movie, which is also based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates, seems to know more about Marilyn and her movies.
In 2001, CBS aired the two-part miniseries “Blonde,” which was written and directed by Joyce Chopra and Joyce Eliason. The TV movie tells the familiar story of Norma Jean Baker, aka Marilyn Monroe (played by Poppy Montgomery), as she grows up with a mentally ill mother and goes on to find fame, love, heartbreak, and tragedy.
Due to the source material, CBS’s “Blonde” has the same plot points as Dominik’s film, but it shows a lot more sympathy and respect for Monroe, her career, and her life than the almost three-hour film on Netflix.
Chopra’s “Blonde” is a standard life-to-death story that tells as much of Monroe’s life as it can, including her teen years and rise to fame. It is only two minutes shorter than Dominik’s film. “Blonde” by Chopra tells you everything you need to know about Marilyn Monroe. If you already know everything, it shows her story to say,
“Why did no one help her?” Chopra says that Monroe’s dance with death began when she was young when her alcoholic and mentally ill mother told young Norma that her unknown father was a big name in the business world (untrue, historically). Norma Jean ends up going to a number of foster homes, which makes her feel even more alone.
The 2001 ‘Blonde’ Miniseries Understands Marilyn Monroe Better Than Andrew Dominik
Dominik doesn’t show any of this in his movie. Instead, he skips from Norma Jean’s mother’s mental breakdown to a short stay with a neighbor that leads to foster care and a few years’ worths of time jumps. Without all of this, it’s hard to see how Norma Jean could have become Marilyn Monroe.
Gone are the years when Marilyn was a model, had small roles, and had to change her whole body to fit what the studio wanted. Dominik seems to be saying that the girl was lucky (a rape scene early in the movie is also implied to have been her entry into Hollywood).
It’s important to show Marilyn’s early days as a model, especially the famous pictures she took with photographer Tom Kelley for the 1949 red velvet calendar. As Chopra’s article says, once Monroe became famous, these pictures caused a lot of trouble because studio executives said she did something inappropriate.
But this Marilyn shows how hypocritical Hollywood is by reminding people who criticize her choices that war is much more immoral than a woman posing naked to make a few bucks. Even if it didn’t happen exactly like that, Marilyn has a chance to show how smart, strong, and aware she is of Hollywood’s double standards. Dominik might not have wanted to talk about the times Marilyn tried to change Hollywood (like starting her own production company),
But in Chopra’s view, Marilyn is always aware of how precarious her life is, and this could have made her turn to drugs or kill herself.
Chopra says that Marilyn’s problems weren’t just caused by men using and abusing her, which is true and shown in the miniseries, but that a lack of support from other women also did irreparable damage.
It’s another reason why Dominik’s claim in a Sight and Sound interview that “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is a story about “romanticized whoredom” and is a good example of Marilyn’s life as a guy’s girl doesn’t ring true in real life or onscreen. In the past, Marilyn had a number of close female friends, and Chopra’s book “Blonde” explains that the ones who left her were often forced to by society, men, or both.
In one scene, Norma stays with Elsie, a foster mother played by Kirstie Alley. Elsie arranges Norma’s first marriage, but Norma can’t stay with Elsie because her husband is too interested in her. This version says that Marilyn was a threat to women because she was a sex symbol, but that was only because men couldn’t act normally around her.
Marilyn becomes a symbol of loneliness because she is often put in situations that she doesn’t want to be in.
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