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Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox Hardcover – 2 Aug 2012
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Here, finally, is a book that does not sensationalise her erratic and exotic life, but reveals her as the damaged, childlike and lost feminist she was ... An excellent book ... A detailed narrative that does not scream with hyperbole, or moan with lust. It is much sadder than that ... It is fascinating ***** (Daily Telegraph)
Banner presents a rich and often imaginative narrative of Marilyn's life. By the end, Monroe feels at once like an earthly being - an almost-friend - and an enigma, still slightly out of focus and just beyond reach. That seems right (New York Times Book Review)
A dazzling portrait of a fragile but remarkably ambitious and determined personality, as spiritual as she was corporeal, as canny as she was careless (Elle)
Banner elegantly and skillfully chronicles Monroe's short life ... [she] paints a portrait of Monroe as a complicated, many-faceted woman (Publishers Weekly)
Exciting to read; Banner's admiration of, and belief in, her subject really animate the text (Susie Boyt Financial Times)
Banner gives us a powerful portrayal of a savvy self-publicist who worked tirelessly to ensure her trajectory from glamour model to screen goddess (Frances Wilson Sunday Telegraph ‘Book of the Week')
Offers a new perspective on her story. Drawing on new material from her diaries and private papers, it's a revelatory and intelligent tribute (Good Housekeeping)
Offering a new interpretation of the star's life which draws on feminism and the history of gender ... Banner's book provides the most detailed account yet of Marilyn's fractured childhood (Joan Smith Independent ‘Book of the Week’)
Rigorously researched and scholarly (Daily Express)
Banner sheds new light on the life and legend of Marilyn Monroe ... A fascinating portrait(Choice)
With revelatory new information, from a leading feminist scholar and biographer, a nuanced and sympathetic biography of Marilyn Monroe to be published on the 50th anniversary of her deathSee all Product description
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Aspects of this biography are helpful in forming a picture of Marilyn's life, and her circumstances are sometimes well-described. This is not an exploitative book. The author appears sincere, and is sometimes startlingly frank, for example she describes Marilyn's performance at President Kennedy's Birthday as, "tasteless". Marilyn's fans will certainly find much of interest. But does anyone on the planet still need to be told that Marilyn is famous ? Ms.Banner thinks so, she goes on about MM's celebrity at length (it is probably the main theme of the book) and sometimes she sounds intoxicated by the fame of her subject.
Banner is in awe of Marilyn and describes her reverently as "a great star". Does this mean that Marilyn's flaws may therefore be brushed aside ? For this author Marilyn's personal problems, plus her stardom, appear to excuse almost everything. She is granted a sort of primal innocence and magical immunity from criticism. Of course a biographer must be in sympathy with her subject, but Banner's adoring approach reminds you of an indulgent mother's defence of a child. Is this a realistic assessment of Marilyn, the worldly-wise grown-up ?
Marilyn was a canny, determined, capable adult, who had a clear idea of what her job was about and how to achieve what she wanted. But despite occasional insights from Ms.Banner, this is not how the author wants to see her. For Ms.Banner Marilyn has the aura of a Hollywood saint: a beautiful, vulnerable and inwardly-wounded princess, somehow set above and miraculously apart from the flawed setting of film-studios (and the corruption we know she was part of). And as in the idealised legends of a saint, the colleagues Marilyn exasperated and enfuriated and otherwise offended during her career, somehow just disappear...
Legend-worship like this can remove us from reality. For example the luminous Monroe is wonderful in "The Prince and the Showgirl", but the truth is she made herself seriously unpopular on the set, and drove director Laurence Olivier round the bend. This is very inconvenient for the author's immaculate portrait of Marilyn. So like biographer Donald Spoto before her, she dodges this difficulty and explains Marilyn's uncooperative antics, by casting her as a "persecuted" victim of a "tyrannical" Olivier. In this scenario Olivier has to be a baddy, so Banner tries to blacken Olivier's character. He becomes a heartless "manipulator" who makes Marilyn suffer. (And Banner, like Donald Spoto, rubbishes Olivier's "wooden" acting.)
This is inaccurate, unreal, and very unjust. Laurence Olivier had to direct this film, and Ms.Banner surely knows it is a creative director's job to shape, or manipulate, an actor's performance ? (By keeping the crew waiting on set for hours, often not turning up at all, MM did some of the manipulating herself !) Olivier's sharply-observed performance as the pompous Prince is intentionally "wooden" -to play up the the contrast with Marilyn's radiant Showgirl. Just watch the dvd. Laurence Olivier GIVES this film to Marilyn.
It is regrettable that the author chooses to distort Olivier's professionalism, and refuses to address Marilyn's exasperating and self-centred disruptions which made his job a nightmare. The absurd myth that Marilyn was unkindly treated by Olivier has now been repeated so often by writers trying to idealise her, many people think it is the truth.
On the first page of this book we are told that the photograph of Monroe with her dress swirling in the subway breeze places her at the very summit of artistic achievement. She is said to be equal to the Greek statue 'The Winged Victory of Samothrace' in the Louvre Museum -and you can't get much higher than that ! Amongst other breathless, stratospheric estimations of Marilyn, the bedazzled Banner refers to "her flawless body". (Marilyn was human by the way -in the real world no one's body is flawless.)
There are a lot of sometimes silly and cringe-making references like this. Marilyn does not need this kind of thing. She is marvellous in her own way, and instead of continually glorifying her celebrity, I wish Banner had tried to examine Marilyn's unforgettable talent for feather-light comedy and pathos, her unique gift on film.
From the start Lois Banner declares her fervent feminist agenda, and I began to wonder how soon she would link the current feminist term 'empowerment' to Marilyn. We don't have long to wait. Gender-issues are the author's priority and she does her best to present Marilyn as a forerunner and heroine of the modern Women's Movement. It's no coincidence that the ravishing cover-photo of MM displays a flexed bicep: in this book the author sees to it that Marilyn gets 'empowered', as the expression has it.
MM certainly exercised to the limit her personal power not to turn up on time. But in reality, the modern 'empowered woman' template rarely fits Monroe. Marilyn is much more a heroine of old-fashioned 'sexism' than she is of Women's Liberation. On screen and off throughout her career, Marilyn acted out a conventional fantasy as a melting, compliant (and completely unthreatening) object of desire. This was the basis of her success, and it remains the defining theme of her famous identity today. Has this playful, unassertive, submissive image -still visible everywhere- done anything to advance the feminist cause ??
The heart of this biography is where it should be -right in the middle of the book. It's a mind-boggling chapter entitled, "The Meaning of Marilyn". Serious fans of MM may be gratified to know that Marilyn apparently symbolises so many aspects of human existence. But in this chapter the author appears to go seriously loopy. Explored ideas include "The Whiteness of Marilyn", and much of this chapter looks like grandly-expressed hot air. If indeed Marilyn actually represented all these vast 'meanings' then probably anyone could be made to mean anything. (As long as they are famous -for Banner it seems that being famous is what always counts.)
The idea of a glamour-girl playing Shakespeare is naturally irresistible, and the author with complete seriousness, states that Marilyn could have played 'Lady Macbeth' on stage :-
a) Marilyn was enchanting -and intelligent- but she couldn't remember her LINES.
b) She NEVER acted any complete role on the stage of any theatre, anywhere.
c) At The Actors Studio she didn't perform more than short scenes.
d) She was often hours late on the set, and needed incessant reassurance for short camera-takes (the film-editor constructed her performances.)
e) Marilyn is enormously touching on screen, but for heaven's sake, it would have been humanly IMPOSSIBLE for Marilyn to perform Lady Macbeth on stage -particularly later in her career when she was reliant on champagne and dope.
Marilyn will never be forgotten, she was the most delightful creature on celluloid in the 20th Century. No one can replace her. Parts of this biography are helpful, but Ms.Banner, please drop the gender-issues for a moment -and get real about the girl !