The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe
"Before I begin, I would first like to thank all of you for coming out on this warm, summer-like afternoon. As I announced last week, attendance for today's class was not mandatory. Your grades have been handed in, so there is no need to try and impress me any further. Having said that, those of you who have mistakenly thought otherwise, please feel free to exit quietly.
"Now let us begin with an overview of what we have learned so far. In August of 1996, a lost film by renowned American film-artist, Clarkson Hughes Bryant, was discovered during the settlement of his estate. The documentary-styled cinema verité entitled 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe' was recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival to a resounding chorus of negative response. Allusions not withstanding, the audience was appalled by Bryant's self-indulgent use of the female anatomy. Many condemned the work as trash, equating it to a crude, one scene pornographic movie. I disagree.
"I will begin my analysis by first showing you the film. I realize that all of you have seen it--at least most of you have. After reading some of the papers that were handed in, I couldn't guess if you had watched the film or an episode of Gilligan's Island. Thankfully, the majority of you took this course somewhat seriously.
"But enough prelude. 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe,' by Clarkson Hughes Bryant. Mark?"
[The lights in the auditorium dim. The professor reaches up and pulls down a white viewing screen from the top edge of the black board. At the back of the auditorium, a projector rattles to life and the blank white screen jitters and jumps as the opening sequence of overexposed film threads its way across the lens....]
Long view: an island paradise in black and white: grey palm trees waving in a gentle breeze, surrounded by a soft white apron of beach sand.
The camera moves closer, pans along the beach until it comes upon two adults: a man dressed in a white lab coat and a woman in a nurse's uniform.
In the distance, against a backdrop of palm trees: an adolescent girl, blonde hair windswept across her eyes, dressed in a Tahitian-styled two-piece skirt and halter top. She jogs towards the two adults. The two adults wait expectantly on the beach in the foreground. The woman in the nurse's uniform stands beside a makeshift table, a series of steel saucepans line the tabletop. The man in the lab coat, a clipboard in one hand, stands beside an army cot, he takes notes.
Focus shifts to the adolescent girl's feet: the sand gives way beneath her heels as she tries to hurry.
The camera pans up: even though she is young, there is an obvious maturity to her rounded hips and full halter top.
Foreground, left: the nurse bends to examine her sauce pans.
Nurse's-eye view, looking down: the saucepans simmer, their clear fluid reveals their contents: mites and tick-like parasites swim for purchase. In one of the saucepans, the parasites are still.
Foreground, right: the man in the lab coat directs the adolescent girl onto the cot.
Close up: the man's face is serious, analytical. He is wearing black-rimmed glasses. He nods in the direction of the nurse.
Close up: the nurse's face is serious, analytical; eyes, close-set; mouth, firm.
Foreground, 45 degree angle overhead, looking down: the adolescent girl is lying on the cot, head back, eyes closed. Her legs are spread as if about to give birth. The nurse sits on a stool between her legs, arms hidden behind the curtain of the taut Tahitian-styled shirt.
Reverse angle, nurse's-eye view: the adolescent girl's vagina, swollen like a puckered mouth.
Close up: adult fingers spread the outer labia, reveals a syrupy interior, it crawls with tiny six-legged parasites. A hand reaches out of camera view, returns with one of the saucepans. The contents of the saucepan is poured into the infected opening, it fills to overflowing. The saucepan is then put aside and in its place the pair of hands hold a needle and thread. The hands work quickly, expertly, to close the opening, sewing it shut with a crude yet effective cross-stitch pattern.
Fade to black.
"Okay. Before I begin my analysis, let us first discuss what effect Marilyn Monroe had on American culture--socially, politically, sexually.
"In her time, she was the most desired woman in America, a true sex symbol, in every sense of the word. She was sexually liberated. Often times, she dressed without under garments. She even appeared nude in Playboy magazine. She lived up and dressed down to her reputation.
"Politically, she became embroiled in scandal in search of the ultimate white knight. Lesser knights came--Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller--but none could compare to our thirty-fifth president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
"And, finally, her death. Many believe she was silenced for what she had learned through her liaison with the president, her mouth forever sealed by an administered lethal overdose.
"This is public knowledge of what we know of the woman we knew as Marilyn Monroe. But Bryant's film speaks of a darker side. There is in truth a 'blank zone' period in Marilyn's life where little is documented. Bryant's film, in some ways, tries to expose this 'blank zone,' or mythic period, that is romanticized in so many biographies and in people's minds.
"In Bryant's documentary, there are two adults with the young Marilyn. These two adults are clearly a depiction of her parents. The nurse--her mother--sews up her sex. At the time of Marilyn's death, a vast majority of women were not unhappy to see her go. Traditionalists viewed her as a threat. Feminists saw her as a weak, manipulated, exploited child. Note, that in the film, Marilyn is still a child.
"The research scientist, of course, is Marilyn's father figure. He is depicted as experimenting with cures for Marilyn's affliction. Playing doctor, so to speak. In real life, the men that entered Marilyn's life toyed with her, manipulated her, experimented with her. It is well-known that Marilyn had given birth to a child as a young teen, which was taken from her before she left the hospital, a routine practice in the 1940s. It is unknown who the father was, but speculation suggests it was her own stepfather. There is also an unsubstantiated report of an abortion a short time afterwards. As for who is responsible for this second pregnancy? Scientific process demands that the result of any experiment be repeated. You decide.
"Finally, and the most disturbing facet of this 'film' is that it was shot in black and white. This implies coldness, calculation, a lack of emotion, lifelessness; death, institutionalized death, ritualized death, a recurrent theme. It must be assumed that Marilyn, in fact, never truly lived. Her 'life' was lived through her film roles, a collection of still-lives set to motion.
"Some film analysts doubt 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe' was even made by Bryant. Bryant, himself, had a personal interest in the career of Ms. Monroe, and once even courted her. He kept an extensive library of her films and related ephemera: original movie reels, promotional stills, childhood photos, locks of her hair, even a medical slide--affectionately know as a 'pap smear'-- from one of Marilyn's many gynecological exams--all of which were recently sold at auction. Some suggest, a bit outrageously, that this film is indeed a true documentary, that Marilyn, a troubled, promiscuous teen, had been taken to some South Sea island facility run by the U.S. Government as part of a secret military biological weapons program to create a virulent strain of syphilis.
"Regardless of the truth, the film in question is indeed a work of art and, I believe, a worthy addition to the art of film.
"And so ends my analysis.
"I hope you have enjoyed the course. Thank you again for coming, and have a safe and pleasant summer."