' ' Cinema Romantico: Merry Marilyn!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Merry Marilyn!

Marilyn Monroe is the most beautiful woman ever to have graced this earth. Wait, let me rephrase – Marilyn Monroe is the most beautiful woman ever to grace a movie screen. I’ve been guilty of many screen crushes, as have we all. (Julie Christie in “Darling”. Donna Reed in “From Here to Eternity”. Katie Holmes in “Pieces of April”.) But, oh, the glory of Marilyn.

One of the many blessings of residing in Chicago is that for the entire month of December the Gene Siskel Center has been hosting a Marilyn Monroe film festival. Last Saturday I watched her final film, “The Misfits”. Tonight I will be attending my favorite Monroe movie, “Niagara” (I’ll also be drinking a Newcastle while watching it, and maybe even two. Thus, consider me over the moon.)

I’ve seen both of them on my trusty 20 inch television set – and while I can’t yet speak for “Niagara” – I can say “The Misfits” on TV is no match for the power of 35 mm film. It’s often said that Marilyn Monroe looked better in a photograph than she did in person. I believe it should also be said that she looked better on film than she did in a photograph. Much, much better.

Seeing dear Marilyn up there on the big screen unleashed a torrent of beauty unmatched. Would words do it justice? I think not, yet I’ll attempt it anyway. You can’t help but be drawn to her. It doesn’t matter if she’s the primary focus of the shot – off to the side of the frame – hovering in the background – or barely in the frame – by God, she calls your attention. There’s a shot in “The Misfits” in which the camera lingers on Monroe as she sleeps in the passenger’s seat of a car. It is nearly celestial in both its beauty and restraint. (Thank God some modern day director wasn’t there to muck it up with 24 different quick cuts.)

Now, it must also be stated that Monroe’s performance in “The Misfits” (the role was written specifically for her by then-husband Arthur Miller) is arguably the most self-conscious performance ever given on film. By self-conscious, I mean extremely aware the camera is running and you are in front of it. When she is drinking a bottle scotch in “The Misfits”, she knows she’s drinking a bottle of scotch. When she is dancing by herself after drinking too much of that same scotch, she knows she’s dancing by herself. This was filmed after she had gone through the famed Actor’s Studio and she performs the entire time as if she is still in acting class – loaded with acting “tics”. This is why she was always more of an icon than an actress, but why am I quibbling? This is like standing on the Golden Gate Bridge and whining there’s a spot of bird residue on one of the railings.

“The Misfits” was a world premiere of a restored print of said film and afterwards the man responsible for the restoration – John Kirk – spoke to the audience. The most troubling aspect of his address was a revelation that the decline in movie theater ticket sales as well as the dramatic increase in DVD sales has led to the possibility of the end to not only film restoration but also the death of 35 mm film itself. Much like Mr. Kirk, I agree this would be a crime of epic proportions. I understand the convenience of DVD and the fact that the glut of bad movies may you keep away from the theater. But there are quality films that reach your local Cineplex from time to time and they deserve (demand!) you to see them the way they were intended to be seen. (Note: That’s why some of us made it to the theater a total of 4 times to view “Million Dollar Baby”.) You can’t compare a DVD to 35 mm. If you disagree, I urge you to make it to the theater the next time a Marilyn Monroe movie is revived in your city or perhaps a city nearby. But first re-watch it at home on DVD. When you see it before viewing it on the big screen, you will realize there is nothing remotely close to resembling even a hint of a comparison. The woman born as Norma Jean is the definitive proof that film must not die.

At one point in “The Misfits” Clark Gable sits down beside everyone’s favorite blonde and remarks, “It’s a real honor sittin’ next to you.” Boy, it must have been.


Wretched Genius said...

I agree that most DVD presentations are no match for 35mm, but I do believe that future generations of digital technology will far surpass film. Not that it is very evident right now. But the other day I had the priviledge of watching "Sin City," a movie shot entirely in HD digital, play from an uncompressed DVD onto a 71-inch HD plasma TV. I have never before seen such crisp, vivid images onscreen. And with the next generation of DVD's coming in the next 2 years, we'll soon be able to have IMAX films transferred directly from their 70mm source to digital without any compression or loss of picture quality.

Now, I love 35mm. It has served us well for more than half a decade, and I do support 35mm films continuing to be restored and transferred onto digital (because even if you hate digital, at least it never ages, and can preserve classic films indefinately), but I think the days of film are drawing to close.

Rory Larry said...

I'm sorry, Nick, but Grace Kelly was a thousand times better looking on screen than Marilyn.