“I spend a lot of time in director jail, then my friend Brad Pitt comes down and talks to the parole board and convinces them to let me out. Then I just go out and re-offend again, I’m incorrigible,” said director Andrew Dominik when speaking to an audience at the Red Sea Film Festival about why he doesn’t get the chance to direct as often as he would like.
The hour-long career conversation held in Jeddah focused mostly on the making and reception of Dominik’s latest, “Blonde,” adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ eponymous fiction book on Marilyn Monroe’s life, and starring Ana de Armas. “I was expecting critical success and that no one would see the film. That’s what I’m kind of used to, films having a positive critical reaction and people not seeing them. ‘Blonde’ was the opposite, at least in America. They hated the movie, they were angry about it. But a lot of people saw the film, I was kind of surprised by it.”
Despite the backlash, Dominik isn’t bothered. “Criticism only hurts if you agree with it, and I didn’t really agree with any of it,” he said, attributing the negative critical response in the U.S. to Americans wanting a “celebration of that person according to the morals of the time.”
“We’re living in a time where it’s important to present women as empowered and they want to reinvent Marilyn Monroe as an empowered woman. That’s what they want to see, and if you’re not showing them that, it upsets them. Americans don’t like when you monkey with their myths too much, they very often jump to the solution without actually looking at any of the trauma.”
Of the claims “Blonde” exploited the existence and legacy of Monroe, Dominik said it was “kind of strange”: “She’s dead, the movie doesn’t make any difference to her one way or another. What they mean is that the film exploited their memory of her, the image of her, which is fair enough — it does. That’s the whole idea of the movie. That’s the whole problem with Marilyn Monroe, that she inspires the desire to rescue. Everybody feels that they know her and what’s best for her.”
The film, which famously took the director over a decade to make, only became possible when Netflix jumped on board, something Dominik also attributes to his friendship with Pitt. Dominik’s 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” was one of Pitt’s earliest producing efforts and their first collaboration. They went on to work together again on 2012’s neo-noir “Killing Them Softly” and “Blonde.”
“[Netflix] agreed to make ‘Blonde’ because I walked in with Brad Pitt, pretty much. Then we found Ana and you could see it was a good idea.” The director continued to say the Cuban actress was the only “believable” version of Monroe. “There have been many movies about Marilyn Monroe and the problem is that I don’t believe it’s Marilyn. I’m looking at Michelle Williams, Mira Sorvino, it’s not her,” he said, referring to 2011’s “My Weekend With Marilyn” and 1996’s made-for-TV film “Norma Jean & Marilyn.”
Dominik spoke at length about how what he perceives as a societal shift toward conservatism affected the reception of his film. “I think society, in general, is becoming more conservative, on both sides. People have weaponized their values against each other. There used to be more discourse, people were willing to talk to each other and now they’re not.” He went on to conclude by stating, “Cinema is getting more and more conservative, you’re making bedtime stories. Do you know when you’re reading a kid a bedtime story and they know every word of the story? It’s kind of what American movies have turned into, where they know every word of the story and it brings them comfort. I don’t want to make bedtime stories.”