I first met Marilyn Monroe on the sound stage of 'Some Like It Hot'. My Dad was Production Designer of the movie and it was just the way he did things to take me to the studios with him. Only recently did it occur to me that I never - but once - saw any other children 'on set'.
On this occasion they were filming one of the train sequences - my Dad had reconstructed a sleeper train carriage. Marilyn was standing ready to go on...arms just out from her hips flicking her hands back and forth - maybe an actor's trick to loose the nerves - we were a little bit away from the carriage...and standing not far from us was Arthur Miller waiting for M.
My father had I guess talked with him before and said something to him then introduced me to him saying "Arthur I'd like you to meet my daughter Jann...she want's to become a writer..." Miller looked at me and said, "What have you written?" I thought he meant what had I published or something...and a bit confused by the question I pulled out the word...
"Nothing..." "You'll never be a writer then," he said dismissively.
It was just like that.
Marilyn was pregnant at the time. My father said that is why she looked so beautiful in the movie. She miscarried he said sometime during the shoot.
When I first saw the trailer for 'Waiting for Hockney' I didn't file it with my MM memories - it seemed to be its own story. I loved the insanity of the whole project. The impossible task that the artist Billy Pappas set himself; and the idea of making a documentary about an 8 year project...the crazy idea that a young man today could find a 'patron' to fund his art quest in the 21st century.
When I saw a 'sneak preview' screening of the film in Salt Lake City, however, I discovered that what the film does is to take this story into amazing and unexpected territory. The first part brings out the eccentric and 'FABULOUS' (in all capital letters as Billy's Svengali Larry Link would say) process where Billy finds out the limitations of the photographic image. He was working from an Avedon photo of MM and photo lenses were not, are not, as crisp as the eye's focused perception. So Billy had to look at real flesh, real lipstick on lips, real hair in a curl...so he used his mother, sister, himself, Victoria's secret blow up photos...to 'see'. So MM became every women - every man.
I loved this. Goddess became mortal. She is mortal in Avedon's photo but not as mortal as in Billy's version of her.
The second part ups the ante...The getting to Hockney...meeting him (in 'still shot' form, interestingly drawing us into comparing him with MM: Gods are photographed never real.) and Billy's conviction that 'He's the one' as Billy's mom Cookie says...he's the one to validate 8 years of Billy's life - his masterpiece or folly.
What is on the table is the old chestnut: 'Is it Art?' Billy's image of Marilyn is not just 'the photograph' or a work of art (or not) as the photograph is the photo has the beauty and the pain - his drawing has something more. The image has been consumed by the eye, the mind and the hand - put though a body and pulled out like a baby in forceps - painfully. Billy's Marilyn is like Edvard Munch's Scream. The pain the Everywoman is there and The Scream is there silent as the Munch but NOT depicted. It's even more searing than the Munch because it is in the eyes...the skin...the whole of the image spills pain.
And the message...the above is enough...but there is something else that speaks to all of us that fight with the devil 'art' - whether it is on the stage, in film, on canvas, or other: Who will tell us that what we do is valid? I've lived my life in art......I can tell you it is not the critic, the art historian...or even 'the great' artist, who is able to tell us. We won't find a 'father' figure for confirmation that what we do is GOOD, or ART. Or tell us: 'You are a writer'...The knowing comes from inside not outside. It comes from the shock of looking at something you made and not knowing how you did it and from the insatiable drive, the obsession and passion to make the thing your mind sees happen in the world.
The film tells this story.
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