“Blonde” Cinematography: Netflix Marilyn Monroe Movie Created in Chaos
Cinematographer Chayse Irvin tells IndieWire how he and writer-director Andrew Dominik took an intuitive approach to telling the story of one of American pop culture’s most iconic women.
Though writer-director Andrew Dominik’s Blonde is packed with moments that meticulously recreate iconic Marilyn Monroe images — from magazine shoots and paparazzi photographs to classic scenes from Some Like It Hot and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — the cinematographer had had Chayse Irvin has never felt more free to experiment and explore.
“We created the film with the feeling of chaos,” he told IndieWire. “As filmmakers, we have concepts and ideas about how to structure everything, but a lot of the art is actually how it’s produced and executed. And if you have a method for doing that, it reflects the images more vividly than creating the images as symbols for a specific meaning. It becomes more interpretive and you just use the energy instead of telling the viewer how to feel or think something.”
Irvin got his first clues from two massive documents: a 700-plus page collection of images from Monroe’s life that Dominik had amassed over a decade of research, and the novel by Joyce Carol Oates on which the film is based. The photos were placed in an order that reflected the story, of which Irvin said “it felt like being caught in a stream of images depicting her life.”
The Oates novel provided the psychology behind the images. “I read the novel three times and had an interpretation that it was a portrayal of her entire life, but it was as if she were reliving her life at the moment of death.” The dreamlike nature of Oates’ narration motivated Irvin’s fluid approach to his imagery. “It was like a hallucination happening in a sequence,” Irvin said. “So we took things to the extreme because her feelings were the guide through this particular story. It was less about recreating actual events and more about, ‘How do we warp it in a way that really uses how she must have felt in that moment?’”
One of the most striking aspects of Blonde, however, is the way in which images we’re all familiar with are replicated to create an eerie sense of cinematic deja vu, and the accuracy of the recreations overlaps with the more nightmarish Expressionism of the film to yield really unique effects. Whenever he used actual photos or recordings of Monroe as points of reference — as in the scenes showing them with their celebrity husbands — Irvin was rigorous in recreating the compositions.
“I used the same focal lengths – I didn’t know for sure, but I suspected what they might be – and we shot in a lot of real locations where these images were taken. So I had the image printed on a card in front of me and I would look at it and then I would place the camera and try to create the same geometry inside the frame.”
However, Irvin emphasized that all experimentation was at the service of the actors, particularly Ana de Armas, whose portrayal as Marilyn anchors the entire film. “The composition has to harmonize with the emotional events,” he said. “My main function is to create a window through which the viewer can travel into the story. I often use geometric shapes and lines and negative space and various rules, but the image in cinematography just emanates from the humanity of the moment that is being expressed. If that’s denied in any way, it doesn’t get through to the viewer. When I think of scenes, I don’t think of shots. I really refrain from such thoughts. I see them almost exclusively as events. And then once I get the gist of that event, the ideas usually come naturally to me.”
Given the instability at the center of the film and its main character, Blonde was an even more intuitive film for Irvin than usual. “I wasn’t trying to use any particular structure. I actually did the opposite. I tried to make it seem structureless because Marilyn always had this need for stability and love in her life, but she could never find it. It has been denied over and over again. I felt like if I was creating a structure, I was creating that stability, and I wanted to hurt that.”
Irvin also left room for surprises in scenes that had to be pre-planned for logistical reasons, such as movie premiere sequences that required hundreds of extras. “When they pulled up in the limo and the camera tracked the mob and cut to a single of Marilyn looking out the window, that single was a gift,” Irvin said. “I had seen the reflection in the glass when we were rehearsing, so I asked my key handle to prepare a door mount. Even in those sequences that were more intentional, much of the film was completely intuitive. We really wanted a humanity and in my opinion that human touch is far from perfect.”
Blonde is now streaming on Netflix.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/blonde-cinematography-netflix-marilyn-monroe-1234766933/ “Blonde” Cinematography: Netflix Marilyn Monroe Movie Created in Chaos