Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Gary Vitacco-Robles: Icon: The Life, Times, & Films of Marilyn Monroe, Vol 1–2 (books) continued

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe at the Tiffany Club, 1954. Waco News-Tribune, page 11, November 20, 1954. Published by the Waco News-Tribune, photo by United Press International. Copyright not renewed. Wikipedia.

Having read Volume Two of Gary Vitacco-Robles's remarkable biography on Marilyn Monroe I went on and devoured Volume One. I should be familiar with the material as my interest now dates back 40 years, but Vitacco-Robles manages to surprise me on each page. There is a lot of new detail, and from his meaningful interpretation a new portrait emerges. Vitacco-Robles's approach is sober, but his achievement is "A Passion of Marilyn Monroe". He has a sense of the epic in this story, and psychologically he seems to get deeper than anyone else. This book is a hard act to follow.

Certain earlier books have come near to what the real person Marilyn Monroe may have been like. Some of my favourites include the writings of W. J. Weatherby, Susan Strasberg, Truman Capote, and Norman Rosten. Interestingly, many of her photographers have written about her with insight. Even most of the books written under her lifetime have remained valid. The most important is her often harrowing autobiography My Story (as told to Ben Hecht). The early little books by Sidney Skolsky, Sam Shaw and Pete Martin now have period charm. And Maurice Zolotow did a fine job in the first major biography published while MM was alive.

There were many exciting encounters in MM's life. I learn more about them in Vitacco-Robles's book.


While MM was sharing an apartment with Shelley Winters they met the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas ("Under Milk Wood", "Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night", "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"; Bob Dylan adopted his name in homage to him) and invited him to dinner. Marilyn and Thomas seemed to hit it off, but because of Thomas's serious drinking problem Marilyn declined to continue the evening with the others.

Dean Martin, Leslie Caron, Marilyn Monroe, and Jerry Lewis at the Redbook award ceremony, 1953.


Every now and then MM crossed paths with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In his autobiography (2005) Lewis regretted that they never made a film together. (But Monroe was under contract with Fox while Lewis worked for Paramount). "She had a delicious sense of humor, an ability not only to appreciate what was funny but to see the absurdity in things in general".

Marilyn Monroe in Korea, 1954.


MM consistently repeated that her happiest experience as a performer was the USO tour among American soldiers in Korea in 1954. This quote may be familiar but it's worth repeating: "I've always been frightened by an audience. My stomach pounds, my head gets dizzy and I'm sure my voice has left me. But standing in the snowfall facing these seventeen thousand yelling soldiers, I felt for the first time in my life no fear of anything. I felt only happy... I felt at home".


"I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt... she personally called the owner of Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn's superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times and she didn't know it".

Marilyn Monroe and Constance Collier.


A famous quote worth repeating: "Oh yes, there is something there. She is a beautiful child. I don't mean that in the obvious way - the perhaps too obvious way. I don't think she's an actress at all, not in any traditional sense. What she has - this presence, this luminosity, this flickering intelligence - could never surface on the stage. It's so fragile and subtle, it can only be caught by the camera. It's like a hummingbird in flight: only a camera can freeze the poetry of it. But anyone who thinks this girl is simply another Harlow or harlot or whatever is mad" (as quoted by Truman Capote).

Joshua Logan and Marilyn Monroe.


"Marilyn is as near a genius as any actress I ever knew. She is an artist beyond artistry... She is the most completely realized and authentic film actress since Garbo. Monroe is pure cinema".

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Gary Vitacco-Robles: Icon: The Life, Times, & Films of Marilyn Monroe, Vol 1–2 (books)

Queen Elizabeth II met Marilyn Monroe on 29 October 1956 at the Royal Command Performance of The Battle of the River Plate directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Both queens were 30 years old.

Marilyn Monroe visited the set of El ángel exterminador at the Churubusco Studios on 1 March 1962. She met Luis Buñuel but there does not seem to exist a photograph of the two together. http://www.infobibliotecas.com/es/blog/el-angel-exterminador-bibliotecario-ii/@marilynMexico

Gary Vitacco-Robles: Icon: The Life, Times, and Films of Marilyn Monroe: Volume 1 – 1926 to 1956. Albany, GA: BearManor Media, 2015. 712 p. ISBN: 9781593937942.

Gary Vitacco-Robles: Icon: The Life, Times, and Films of Marilyn Monroe: Volume 2 – 1956 to 1962. Duncan, Oklahoma: Bear Manor Media, 2014. 884 s. ISBN: 9781593937782.

Where others read detective fiction I read Marilyn Monroe books. Because of their wildly incompatible approaches they have to be taken with a Rashomon attitude. (The screenwriter of Rashomon, Shinobu Hashimoto, just died at the age of 100).

But I have not been diligent recently and thus have missed the best, Gary Vitacco-Robles's Icon, in two volumes and almost 1600 pages. It is by far the best Marilyn Monroe biography ever, but for her career as an actress I would recommend Barbara Leaming and Carl Rollyson, and for her star image, Sarah Churchwell.

I started from Volume 2 and register here a few points that I did not know or had forgotten.


In the Royal Command Performance of The Battle of the River Plate in London in 1956 Brigitte Bardot, who had just become world famous thanks to ...And God Created Woman met Marilyn Monroe for the first and only time. Her remark: "That evening was one of the most important ones in my life, above all, because I was finally able to see Marilyn in the flesh and blood. She wasn't as I had imagined her; you could see that she was fragile besides being very beautiful. I've never seen an ethereal beauty like hers again. She actually looked luminous, her sheer presence made you hold your breath".


In March 1962, during her visit to Mexico, she met Luis Buñuel on the set of The Exterminating Angel. "Marilyn stood behind the camera as Buñuel took over from an animal handler and taught the bear to emit a growl while it perched on a swinging chandelier. The director seemed more patient coaching the beast than his human actors" (Vitacco-Robles II, p. 425). "Marilyn told Buñuel the scene was superb and jokingly asked if he had whispered into the bear's ear for motivation for the scene". Vitacco-Robles is quoting Marsha Kinder's account of their dialogue as they talked about the meaning of the scene. "It means that the growls a bear makes while hanging on a chandelier make more sense than all the noise of the tiresome, uncaring people trapped in the room", said Monroe. "They embraced; it was a meeting of the minds. 'Now you tell me,' Buñuel said, 'how do you see life?' 'I see life as long, meaningless...' Marilyn began as the sound of a plane roared overhead. 'Talking, everybody just talking... obviously.'"


On Saturday, 4 August 1962, Andy Warhol was in Los Angeles for his first solo show of Pop Art, displaying his Campbell's Soup silkscreens. Next morning he woke up to hear the news of Monroe's death.


Ayn Rand was quick to comment on Monroe's death. "She preserved her vision of life through a nightmare struggle, fighting her way to the top. What broke her was the discovery, at the top, of as sordid an evil as the one she had left behind – worse, perhaps, because it was incomprehensible. She had expected to reach the sunlight; she found, instead, a limitless swamp of malice... An actress, dedicated to her art with passionate earnestness... who went through hell to make her own boundaries, to offer people the sunlit universe of her own vision... but who was ridiculed for her desire to play serious parts... " (Ayn Rand: "Through Your Most Grievous Fault", Los Angeles Times, 19 August 1962, excerpted by Vitacco-Robles). Ayn Rand had Hollywood experience since the 1920s. Her first book, published in the Soviet Union in 1925, was a monograph on Pola Negri.

I am grateful to Jackie Craig for recommending this book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Professor (2018 reconstruction by Roy Export of the unreleased 1922 Charles Chaplin film)

The Professor. Charles Chaplin as Professor Bosco, Loyal Underwood as the dosshouse proprietor.

US 1922. Roy Export "reconstruction" 2018. P+D+SC: Charles Chaplin. CIN: Roland Totheroh. C: Charles Chaplin (Professor Bosco), Edna Purviance (customer buying a mousetrap), Albert Austin (barbershop customer in Sunnyside outtakes / Dr. Francis Maud in Shoulder Arms outtakes), Loyal Underwood (dosshouse proprietor). Charlie's sons are played by True Boardman Jr., Frankie Lee, and Marion Feducha.
    25'27", no soundtrack.
    Released in YouTube by Roy Export.
    Viewed on a laptop at the summer cottage, Punkaharju, 18 July 2018

Steve Massa's alert on Facebook yesterday led me to view this new Roy Export reconstruction of The Professor, an unreleased Charles Chaplin film. I register here my first impressions having just viewed the film on YouTube where it has been legally released.

The Professor consists of the Professor Bosco sequence which we have seen in Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's Unknown Chaplin (1983) plus rejected outtakes from Shoulder Arms (1918: Charlie's family life and the recruitment bureau) and Sunnyside (1919: the barber scene also seen in Unknown Chaplin).

The Professor was compiled by Chaplin in 1922 as an alternative for First National while arguing on the terms of release for The Pilgrim (1923). The Pilgrim, a four-reeler, was Chaplin's last short film.

Pay Day (1922) was Chaplin's last released two-reeler. The Professor was his last completed two-reeler, but it was never released.

The Professor is not a masterpiece. The compilation is highly episodic but fun to watch.

We are introduced to Chaplin as a family man with three kids. They perform Chaplin's signature sharp streetcorner turn in unison like in a musical number.

At home Chaplin is immediately hit by a frying pan and a hail of heavy kitchenware. A rolling pin is the lightest item. We never see the harridan wife, but when Chaplin, who apparently has to perform all the hard work, hangs her laundry on the clothes line, we register her XXXL underwear.

It's off to work. Charlie runs a small store with a barbershop service. The barber's chair is incredibly decrepit, coming apart all the time. The customer (Albert Austin) barely manages to get seated. Charlie splashes his entire face with shaving cream and blinds him because he is also simultaneously reading the customer's magazine. Every now and then he performs splendid knife-sharpening rituals. Fire is burning in a stove in the middle of the floor.

A customer (Edna Purviance) asks for a mousetrap, and Charlie produces a huge one. The comic possibilities of Albert Austin blinded by shaving cream, a burning stove, a pretty woman, and a ferocious mousetrap are not ignored.

It's war time, and Charlie receives a letter from the army celebrating the "romantic life of a soldier".

"He sought the army to find peace".

An episode at the draft office focuses on Charlie's overdone shyness in undressing, especially when he notices the text "Francis Maud, examining physician" on the door. There are two innovative scenes in this episode. The first is based on deep focus choreography with Charlie playing hide and seek in a maze of rooms with glass partitions. He mistakes the nurses for Dr. Francis Maud who is actually a bearded male (Albert Austin).

The second is a silhouette scene seen through a bevelled glass door where the doctor examines Charlie with forceps and other formidable instruments, all of which Charlie swallows and which need to be fished back with a line. The verdict: "your feet are too flat". There is "no turning back home when he failed to qualify".

Years later he has turned to Professor Bosco with his Flea Circus. Because the "public is unappreciative of true art" he stays at a dosshouse, its proprietor played by Loyal Underwood. The misery of the dosshouse is heartbreaking. When Bosco goes to bed he accidentally kicks his Flea Circus box, and immediately everybody is scratching. With his lion tamer's whip and his formidable drill approach Bosco gets his act together and the fleas back into the box in no time. Enters a curious dog...

Chaplin is not instantly recognizable as Professor Bosco, his face puffy, his moustache thicker, his attitude commanding, yet fundamentally resigned. The most moving aspect is the change of character. The gentleman tramp has turned coarse. His spirit has been broken by hard times.

Visually the compilation is for short moments based on footage with damage marks.

Friday, July 06, 2018

The 50th anniversary of Rosemary's Baby

Watching Hereditary I was disappointed by the presence of Satanism in the finale. I felt it watered down a potentially shattering psychological account of a family curse, a history of madness.

One of Ari Aster's influences is evidently Rosemary's Baby, the novel by Ira Levin filmed masterfully by Roman Polanski 50 years ago in the "crazy year 1968".

That film also introduced Satanism into mainstream cinema permanently. Rosemary's Baby was also one of the movies which brought horror back into the mainstream. Since 1935 horror had not been a mainstream genre, but Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski changed that in the 1960s.

The demon child became a central figure in horror films such as The Exorcist, The Omen, and It's Alive! with their sequels. Interestingly, also Ingmar Bergman introduced a demon child in 1968, in The Hour of the Wolf. A child infested by a zombie / vampire / rabiatic dog was a new figure in horror.

A child is someone whom we instinctively want to protect. But the demon child is there to destroy.

The appearance of the demon child coincided with new rules of narrative for horror. Happy end was no longer required in the 1960s. Instead, there was the ironic end (Psycho), the ominous end (The Birds), or the apocalyptic end (Rosemary's Baby). When the evil is spectacularly defeated there is the inevitable ominous hint that it will never die.

This year we also remember the 50th anniversary of the end of the Production Code Administration (PCA) in Hollywood. Until 1968 there were no ratings for films in the U.S., and all films produced for general theatrical release had to have a PCA seal of approval. This had a profound impact on the conventions of mainstream film narratives. The MPAA film rating administration was introduced on 1 November 1968, and a new era of American mainstream cinema started at full blast.


After WWII there was a widespread feeling of the death of God in the Western world. Judeo-Christian communities were getting secularized. It was hard to believe in God after the world wars, the Holocaust, the Gulag, and Hiroshima.

In the 1960s the figure of the Devil became more prominent in popular culture, not only in horror films. 50 years ago, in June 1968, The Rolling Stones recorded "Sympathy for the Devil", their recording sessions documented by Jean-Luc Godard in his eponymous film.

Also 50 years ago, heavy metal music started as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin were founded. Blasphemy and devil worship belonged to many currents of heavy metal music.

I remember the year 1968 from the perspective of a 13-year-old. The play with the devil was about defiance and irreverence, and also about agony and anxiety. It was about Weltschmerz. We were a generation of the Cold War under a permanent sense of the world going under. The Western world lost its respectability in Vietnam. The Thaw of the Eastern bloc ended when Warsaw Bloc tanks crushed the Prague Spring. We were aware of nuclear horror but also of ecological horror since Rachel Carson's A Silent Spring.

Devil worship was an act of defiance in that moment, but I do not know what to think about it now that the current trend has lasted for 50 years.

I am also at loss with the trend of vampire films, where the vampire, the incarnation of the Devil or worse, becomes a love object and an identification figure.

I try to interpret this as a postmodern phenomenon where the Devil and the vampire have been reduced to empty signifiers which have lost their content.

But I also sense that unconsciously they reflect a fatalism, a sense that we are already beyond hope, that the end of the world cannot be prevented. Which is why we are living like there is no tomorrow.

When I try to raise these issues I invariably draw a blank. When I try to discuss Twilight in these terms people do not know what I'm talking about. Maybe I'm a square. But unless someone convinces me otherwise I think that the cinema and music I have referred to reflect a twilight period in popular culture.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


Hereditary – pahan perintö / Hereditary [Swedish title].
    US © 2018 Hereditary Film Productions, LLC. PC: PalmStar Media. With: Finch Entertainment / Windy Hill Pictures. P: Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, Buddy Patrick. D: Ari Aster. SC: Ari Aster. CIN: Pawel Pogorzelski – camera: Arri Alexa Mini – master format: 2K – colour – 2.00:1 – release: DCP. PD: Grace Yun. AD: Richard T. Olson. Set dec: Brian Lives. Cost: Olga Mill. Makeup: Greg T. Moon. Hair: Megan Danner. VFX: Eran Dinur, Lucien Harriot, Ryan Sonderegger. M: Colin Stetson. S: Lewis Goldstein.  ED: Jennifer Lame, Lucian Johnston.
    C: Toni Collette (Annie Graham), Alex Wolff (Peter Graham), Milly Shapiro (Charlie Graham), Ann Dowd (Joan), Gabriel Byrne (Steve Graham).
    Loc: Utah.
    127 min
    US premiere 8 June 2018.
    Finnish premiere 20 June 2018, released by Nordisk Film Finland on DCP with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Nina Ekholm.
    Viewed at Tennispalatsi, Helsinki, 4 July 2018.

Hereditary is a remarkable entry in the new wave of original horror films that started about five years ago. There is a strange feeling of majestic splendour in this study of loss, deprivation and madness.

Hereditary is an image-driven film. The director Ari Aster, his cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski and his team create haunting visions out of ordinary elements. They discover original ways to explore the uncanny: how a little difference can change something familiar into something unfamiliar.

Hereditary is also a sound-driven film. The sound team with Lewis Goldstein as the supervising sound editor enhances and expands the chamberpiece with puzzling and dramatic aural dimensions.

But most of all Hereditary is a character-driven film. Toni Collette as Annie Graham, Alex Wolff as her son Peter, Milly Shapiro as her daughter Charlie, and Gabriel Byrne as the father Steven create memorable characters whose lives are horribly shattered. In a film worth revisiting some of the most ordinary situations are among the most effective such as Annie's funeral speech at her mother's grave. Annie's character is a great performance by Toni Collette.

The gorgeous visual approach to the depressive story lifts it towards the realm of the sublime. Ari Aster's touch in his extremely difficult subject is assured until before the finale.

The account of the hereditary family curse is compelling as long as it remains within plausible psychological dimensions.

The switch to Satanism in the finale is a letdown. Less would have been more. Otherwise Ari Aster had in his hands the makings of a masterpiece.

The digital quality of the movie is used as a means of expression. The digital unreality, the hypersharp lack of atmosphere is consistent with the introduction in which real houses and Annie's miniature houses are juxtaposed to create of a sense of a cosmic marionette theatre.


Mullin mallin / Helter Skelter

Mullin mallin / Helter Skelter. Ville-Veikko Salminen, Leni Katajakoski, Esa Pakarinen (in drag as Impi Umpilampi), Eemeli.

Mullin mallin / Helter Skelter. Bluff Brothers: Matti Kuusla, Spede Pasanen, and Pentti Nevaluoma parodying television.

Upp och ner.
    FI 1961. P+D+CIN: Veikko Itkonen. SC: Reino Helismaa. AD: Roy. M: Toivo Kärki. S: Eija Itkonen. ED: Armas Laurinen.
    C: Esa Pakarinen (Severi Suhonen), Eemeli, Kokemäen Uuno, Leni Katajakoski (Anja), Ville-Veikko Salminen (Ville), Spede Pasanen, Matti Kuusla, Pentti Nevaluoma (cooks / Bluff Brothers), Heimo Lepistö (Heikku, youth priest), Pentti Irjala (Topi, hotel proprietor), Reino Helismaa (Repe), Matti Louhivuori (Matti), Erkki Brandt (Saku / acrobat / companion of Aatu ja Iitu), Tatu Asumaniemi (roadman / acrobat / Aatu and Iitu), Matti Heiskanen (Kalle), Aimo Paapio (Jopi, doorman), Toivo Gerdt (boss), Eero Manner (roadman).
    Premiere: 7.4.1961 Helsinki (Capitol, Tuulensuu), Tampere (Hällä), Turku (Casino), Lahti (Ilves). Muiden kaupunkien ensi-iltoja: 9.4.1961 Pori (Jaarli), Kuopio (Kuvakukko), 10.5.1961 Oulu (Bio Kiistola), 27.5.1961 Jyväskylä (Fantasia), 3.6.1961 Vaasa (Kinema). Telecast: 22.8.1991 TV2, 1.5.1999 TV2, 1.3.2005 TV2, 21.4.2009 TV2, 30.11.2010 Yle Teema, 3.12.2010 Yle Teema, 5.12.2010 Yle Teema, 2.10.2012 TV1, 4.2.2014 TV1, 3.11.2015 TV1, 8.11.2017 TV1 – VET A-11050 – S – 2050 m – 75 min
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Veikko Itkonen), 4 July 2018

Helter Skelter is a treat for completists of the Finnish cinema only. One of the worst Finnish films ever, there was instant consensus that it had no redeeming qualities. It has never been rehabilitated, and now in our Veikko Itkonen retrospective no reason was found to revise the verdict.

Petteri Kalliomäki links it with three other pure "cinema of attractions" vehicles produced by Veikko Itkonen. The three previous ones had been directed by maestro Jack Witikka as Spartan bread-and-butter assignments.

Now the director was Veikko Itkonen himself, also busy as producer and cinematographer. The art of direction and cinematography is non-existent, but next year, in his last film as director, Vaarallista vapautta / Dangerous Freedom, Itkonen was at his best again.

A revue film with a nominal plot, Helter Skelter is relevant mostly as a quasi-documentary record of a popular entertainment form that was vanishing due to the growing popularity of television. A Finnish term for that culture is iltamat (soirée). They were local events with touring and local artists, comedians, singers, athletes, quizzes, and dancing.

Helter Skelter also includes parodies of television shows and commercials in the sketch comedy numbers of the Bluff Brothers team.

Esa Pakarinen, born in 1911, was the old-timer of the cast, a clown and a singer, a true original and a veteran of the rillumarei subgenre of popular farce, here in his last movie role before a stand-alone comeback film ten years later. Here he also presents his drag number as Impi Umpilampi.

Eemeli, born in 1920, was a latecomer to the popular film farce of the studio era: discovered for the cinema by Veikko Itkonen in 1959, he managed to appear in nine films in four years before the demise of the studio era.

A younger generation of entertainers is represented by none other than Spede Pasanen, born in 1930, here in one of his most prominent roles before film stardom. The screenwriter, the prolific Reino Helismaa, one of the giants of Finnish entertainment history, appears in a supporting role as a kind of guardian spirit. Add acrobats and contortionists with some incredible numbers, and a beautiful woman, Leni Katajakoski, radiating wonderfully although the screenplay provides her with nothing to do.

Helter Skelter is less than the sum of its parts. Not even the cinematography is adequate. Veikko Itkonen is taking the premise of everything happening in a deserted hotel too literally, and the performances are poorly lit.

The unfulfilled promise of Helter Skelter is a rousing reconstruction of a roadmen's entertainment evening with wild and wonderful artists and performers.

A good vintage print.