Barely a week ago the Cuban Cinematheque began to screen all the films in which Marilyn Monroe played, and this Friday three Cubans: Juan Carlos Cremata, Reynaldo Gonzalez and Manuel Herrera opened a panel to discuss the American actress. The panel and the screenings that will run through all August are named for a good reason “Marilyn, the myth.”
By 2.05 pm all seats are taken in the small room, the “Charlot”, which is on top of the Chaplin movie theater in Havana. Most heads are already grey, but the eyes are ageless. For half an hour before the screening of the film people talk of past times, films that youngsters have never watched, and they talk about “The blonde.”
One man takes out a sweater that must be at least 15 years old, pretty run down, but displaying a photo of Marilyn. He never wears it, he admits, but he does not want to get rid of it. There is a young man who always goes and takes the first seat, does not talk, but apparently follows the debate.
Another man there maintains that the best film in movie history is The Godfather, and you suddenly wonder, after he confesses his preference, what is he doing there waiting for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a feminine, frivolous, brilliantly frivolous musical? But the minute the screen turns from dark to bright, the answer jumps to your eyes, and after a while you cease wondering.
There Marilyn Monroe is. This year marks the 50th anniversary of her suicide (or murder) and the blood continues to rise to our heads when we see her appear, when eyebrows she arches her brows almost like a seductive lady in a cartoon. Marilyn also knows how to slide her lips over his teeth when she speaks, as if could utter with more accuracy her words that way. And she moves her shoulders and hips. And she has the voice of a mature woman and tone of a girl…
I have seen her so many times in photos at a friend’s house ─ now that I think, somewhat obsessed with her figure ─ and only now I find that her beauty was born for the moving image.
There in the Charlot room, a draftsman in the dark is trying to catch the curves of the woman in a notebook, and turns the pages with excitement every time. It seems to me that he fails each time.
After Nicaraguan priest Ernesto Cardenal wrote his famous Prayer for Marilyn Monroe, it is not longer necessary to stress the idea that the American actress has become the heritage of all moviegoers. And since we Cubans who shared with her the almanac remember her image better than the other countrymen, it is OK to claim her myth as our own.
But it is only that. Marilyn offered to all the myth and perhaps only reserved for herself the real story. Even in tough western films as River of No Return she refuses to play a resigned, bitter woman battered by life and man alike. Critics were harsh with her appearance in that movie, but her psychiatrist put it during the wake, the actress always disguised arid segments of her biography and described them as passengers, maybe even happy.
It wouldn’t be fair to mention the myth of Monroe without recognizing that only a woman of fierce intelligence can choose the dazzling joy that makes us all swallow air, after so upset a past.
The beauty that made her succeed on screen cost her two rapes in her childhood. And perhaps the experience of jumping from one adoptive father to another led her to conclude that it is crucial to put a brave face on it.
Anyway, even by herself, now that the lights are off and the credits begin to roll of a film of her, we all prefer to live the myth as she did in her time; we pretend that 50 years ago she went on a very long trip, we forget that her hair is not blond and we think that her luxuriously white smile will be there when the cameras are off.