FILM QUARTERLY | Marilyn Times Five

BY MICHAEL SHEDLIN

Spring 1974, pg. 47

 MARILYN TIMES FIVE (1968-1973, 16mm, b&w/sound, 13.5min.); © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco

MARILYN TIMES FIVE (1968-1973, 16mm, b&w/sound, 13.5min.); © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco

Marilyn, Bruce Conner’s eleventh 16mm film, is constructed of brief segments excised from two Marilyn Monroe softcore nudies of the early forties (she was about 19). The clips are few, and are repeated over and over, punctuated heavily by black spaces of opaque leader. The sound track is the song “I’m Through with Love,” which Monroe sings in Some Like It Hot—repeated five times. The images: Monroe lying down and smoothing her hair, Monroe playing with an apple, Monroe stepping out of a skirt, Monroe rolling onto her back, etc. She wears only panties. The effect is hypnotic and depressing. Rhythmic repetition of movements emphasizes the ritualization of “erotic” material in general. Watching Marilyn hulk endlessly through these banal motions is like watching every poor naked individual who has ever been used to purvey graceless and profiteering sex. The film has a dreamlike quality: it is not linear, its affective power derives from droning visual cycles – short, pure, looped, reiterated, non-forgettable. Our fascination with the contours of her flesh is indulged and honed. The effect is disconcerting: we cannot forget the horror of her life and death in America, and yet we are obliged by minimalism to examine the sway of her breasts and the shape of her nipples. The voyeurism is painful and relentless. Mailer has speculated,” says Conner, “that this may not be Marilyn because the breasts are so large, but I have written him a long letter arguing that she is real.” Nicholas Ray declared at a showing of the film in Berkeley that the image was indeed not Marilyn. Conner, however, seems certain. Perhaps new experts with inside information will step forward… The last image of the film is a quick clip of Marilyn sprawled face down on the floor, motionless. It seems calculated to convey a feeling of death. Where the film proceeds structurally, it ends dramatically. The whole thing is very provocative and upsetting. Marilyn seems drunken and dead inside. There is no vivaciousness or beauty, only necromancy and doom.