BY CHUCK KLEINHANS
Included in Women and the Cinema: A Critical Anthology, ed. Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary
Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, Toronto and Vancouver, 1977: pp. 262-263.
MARILYN TIMES FIVE ( 1968-1973) is a short work by New American Cinema veteran Bruce Conner that uses "found" footage to attempt a discovery of Marilyn Monroe. At the same time, Conner's film explores the question of how a film's form can influence the way an audience receives the content. He takes a little over a minute of material from a film purported to be of young Marilyn Monroe: a girlie film with the actress dressed only in underpants. Conner's intent, he has said, was to take footage with the crudest victimization of a woman, deconstruct it by rearranging the parts, and see if the quintessential "Marilyn" could emerge. The filmmaker admits that the content—sexist images of a female body—is so gross that it was and is questionable in his mind if he succeeded in changing the given footage, in which Marilyn is the victim of our voyeurism, into something else. The film is experimental in the scientific sense: Conner set himself a project to see if he could do it. What he came up with is five different re-editing jobs, using loop repetitions of the original footage, black leader, and Monroe on the sound track singing "I'm Through with Love" (from Some Like It Hot, 1959) five times.
MARILYN TIMES FIVE forces us to come to terms with the raw content, which unmistakably has a sexist voyeurist appeal, by showing the same few hundred frames five, or twelve, or twenty times. Conner isolates through selection and then uses repetition to show the irreducibly human element of the film. A single fleeting gesture becomes the same gesture twenty times, and no longer fleeting and thereby it stands out from the naked body in the image. Thus Conner lets us see those little things that can be read out of context by formal rearrangement: the gesture, the smile, the pout, the way of crossing arms and legs.
Is Conner's new version sexist or not? That depends on the context of viewing and on the audience's predisposition. As it is, the film does not satisfy as porn, which is some achievement in overcoming the given footage, but it still acts as a voyeuristic film: we can't totally stop watching the body, the torso, the legs, the breasts—they are inescapable. This seems to show that, as Conner says, we can't escape the content through the form, though we can distance it. Conner can indicate certain things: that Marilyn Monroe was a human being, not merely an object, even in a film designed to make her an object. We see Marilyn as a victim of our voyeurism, but through Conner's isolation of and attention to the particularly individual traits of the actress, we also see she is more than a victim. In the end, the Conner version is a homage to Marilyn Monroe as a person, and it is the most respectful homage to her that I know.