Cinematic Releases: Blonde (2022) - Reviewed

Courtesy of Netflix
By now for good or for ill, you’ve probably caught wind of the controversy surrounding Killing Them Softly director Andrew Dominik’s new Netflix produced drama Blonde, a fictionalized, lyrical take on the life and final days of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe.  From Joyce Carol Oates’ fictitious novel to Cuban born actress Ana de Armas’ controversial casting to being the first Netflix streaming film to be branded with the dreaded NC-17 for graphic sexual content, Blonde was already shaping up to be a divisive shocker destined to highlight the ugly belly of the beast that is Tinseltown and how unfairly it treated one of its most prolific moneymakers.  Many are writing the film off sight unseen as puerile exploitation of a gifted Hollywood starlet. 

After seeing the film (currently in limited theatrical release before going to Netflix) co-produced by Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B and factoring the experience of uncompromising confrontational unpleasantries, I can confirm Blonde to be the saga of Marilyn Monroe through the mournful lens of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me by way of equally challenging and difficult hyperkinetic artworks such as Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers or even Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. 
Alas, here is a period piece about a familiar subject that pushes the boundaries of what is seeable or hearable in a film, experimenting wildly with innovative filmmaking and sound engineering techniques.  Those who are looking for a straight-laced Netflix biopic are likely going to be turned off while others more interested in subverting conventions will have a field day.  Whether or not audiences at home will have the same experience as in theaters, which felt increasingly like a frontal sensory assault, remains to be seen.  What unspooled in the theater setting, however, was in its way kind of astonishing.  There has never been a biopic of an actor/actress quite like this before except maybe Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus and given the noise made about Blonde before anyone got a real look at Dominik’s film, it is unlikely we’ll see one like it ever again.

Much has been made of actress Ana de Armas who all but completely inhabits every aspect of the role from the physicality to the psychology of Marilyn Monroe.  Though having to reenact degradations experienced by the actress, including one particularly unnerving scene with former president John F. Kennedy, de Armas IS Marilyn Monroe.  From her movements to the way she speaks and carries herself to the bevy of innovative cinematographic techniques employed by cinematographer Chayse Irvin, we are believably transported into Monroe’s world and headspace which grows increasingly hallucinatory and even bizarre as the forces of Old Hollywood evils close in around her.
Visually Blonde has the feel of experimental filmmaking with a wide variety of cinematic invention including but not limited to multiple aspect ratios, windowboxing, rapid-fire editing, frequent use of the Snorricam where the camera apparatus is attached to de Armas’ body and the subtle use of curved lenses to give certain shots a circular effect.  Simply put, this is the most hyperactive experimental piece of filmmaking of its kind since Aronofsky set moviegoers loose into druggie Hell back in 2001.  Then there’s the soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis which is evocative, ethereal, haunted and finally ambient ala Angelo Badalamenti, again fueling comparisons to the tonality of Lynch’s work.

Yes Blonde is like being in a Hell, an unmitigated misery that just keeps spiraling downward into degradation and death.  Whether or not it does right or wrong by Monroe is open to debate but for my money, Blonde washes over the viewer like a Tsunami, galvanizing and hurting you as it crashes into you, leaving you feeling somewhat shaken, perhaps angry but ultimately cleansed.  More than anything, it takes what we think we know about Monroe and the conventions of the biopic and completely tears them limb from limb in what is an evocative film experience that doesn’t attempt to clear up our notions of who Marilyn Monroe was so much as it tries to bring us a little bit closer to her fragile soul.  Not for most people, not to be enjoyed but as a piece of purely audiovisual art, Blonde is breathtaking!

--Andrew Kotwicki