close
close

On September 23, the long-awaited Andrew Dominik-directed adaptation of Joyce Carol Oate’s best-selling book, Blonde, about the desperate life of Norma Jeane Baker, who stars as Marilyn Monroe, will be released on Netflix and likely to premiere worldwide before that at the Venice Film Festival . Oates has already seen the film and likes it, she revealed during a discussion at the 21st Neuchâtel Intl. Fantastic film festival in Switzerland.

“Andrew Dominik is a very brilliant director. I think he managed to show Norma Jeane Baker’s experience from her perspective rather than seeing it from the outside, the male’s view of a woman. He immersed himself in their perspective,” Oates said.

In her novel, published in 2000, Oates explored the phenomenon of a vulnerable Norma Jeane Baker who loses her own identity to that of Marilyn Monroe, a completely fabricated identity by becoming a product exploited by the film industry. “She’s become famous around the world, but that’s not an identity to live with. It’s one that made a lot of money for a lot of men, but not much for herself. When she died at 36, she didn’t have enough money for a proper burial,” Oates said.

The Blonde teaser shows Norma Jeane Baker being worked over by her makeup artist while waiting for Marilyn Monroe to appear in her mirror, terrified that she might not come. “It always took hours to turn into Marilyn,” Oates said. “Ana de Armas, the wonderful actress who plays her, I think it took her about four hours to do the makeup. So when you see them on screen, they don’t really exist. It’s like an amazing picture, but to make it a living you have to endure a lot of agony. As Marilyn got older, she was still getting those roles that a young starlet would play, and she felt humiliated. You can’t play that dumb blonde at almost 40 anymore. Some people say she committed suicide. I don’t necessarily think so. I think she may have died of something like extreme despair.”

Lazy loaded image


Courtesy of Dustin Cohen

Oates, who chaired the international jury at the festival, has written more than 150 novels and short stories in a career spanning more than 60 years. She is a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, five-time Bram Stoker Prize winner, and has established herself as a ruthless observer of American society. She is very active on Twitter with more than 136,000 tweets and is a bitter opponent of Donald Trump.

Her new work, Babysitter, based on a serial killer who lived in the Detroit area when she lived there, will hit shelves next month. The novel explores the feelings of fear and anxiety felt in the midst of the experience, not looking back on it. “I wanted to record the emotions and how people deal with it and with each other during the time when there is a state of floating fear before you get to the end of something.”

At the NIFFF, the prolific writer gave an insight into her working methods. At 84, she still teaches creative writing at Princeton University. “Before you really start writing, think, dream, meditate, take long walks alone to think about what you’re going to work on,” she advised.

She herself begins to write every day early in the morning after walking or running for an hour. “When I run, I think about the scenes that are happening, I imagine the interactions. You can build up the whole novel like this before you write anything.”

Another piece of advice she gives her students is to start with short texts. “Every time you finish a text that you know is good, you have a feeling of happiness, a sense of accomplishment. A novel can be a burden because it can take years and years to finish and it can kind of weigh you down. A lot of writers have a melancholy and a tendency to depression, so you have to be aware of that.”

She told Variety of her sadness at not telling so many stories that she fears she’ll never be able to write them down. “Like most writers, I have folders and drawers filled with drafts, sketches, and thousands of pages of notes. I have worked out all the novels that seem so promising to me, down to the last detail, but I don’t have the time to write them. I can only work on one at a time. I have a lot more work to write than I’ll ever live to write, and I’m sorry about that.”

Noting that this was her first trip to Switzerland, she said: “I’m just impressed and delighted to be in Switzerland, mostly because it’s a civilized country and that’s kind of surprising and original for someone who lives in the USA. especially since 2016 with these vicious presidential campaigns, and our entire society is very polarized,” Oates said.

“Since 2016, it’s been very obvious that there are two Americas, so the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the Roe vs. Wade litigation in June was not at all surprising,” she told Variety. “America was very puritanical and very punitive towards women. There is a story in the 18th and 19th centuries where women were considered second class citizens and not full human beings. There has always been prejudice against women, so passing laws to control them is natural in the United States. But some thought that since the 1960s we had come a long way, that we were more educated, but we have a complex situation in the country where a minority of people who are evangelical Christians have disproportionate power.”

She said this aging minority is on the decline, which is why she’s been so aggressive lately. Oates is very optimistic about the younger generation: “There is a lot of bigotry in some circles in the United States against liberals, black women, immigrants, transgender people, gays and lesbians, a large group that is feared by the white minority Christian Evangelicals. That’s why I’m optimistic about the future: there will be more immigrants and there will be more children of educated people, more education. Education is the key! So ultimately I think the majority will get stronger and go back to more liberal policies. This will happen in the coming decades, maybe 20 years or so.”

The Catholic-turned-atheist author was equally direct when asked about religion: it only interested the naturally skeptical writer as a psychological and historical phenomenon. “As I got older, it struck me that organized religion was a way of controlling people’s minds and manipulating them into accepting something about reality that shouldn’t be accepted.”

In A Book of American Martyrs, published in 2017, Oates, himself a pro-choice, expertly tackled the issue of abortion, unraveling the opposing viewpoints of evangelical Luther Dunphy and abortion doctor Augustus Voorhees about the assassin, his victim, and their daughters. Putting herself in the shoes of her characters so brilliantly is one of the many talents of the New York-born author.

“There’s no difference between writing from the perspective of a man or a woman, a child or an older person,” she tells Variety. “The challenge for the writer is to find language original enough to interest him. The challenge for the artist is to challenge yourself, so for each novel I have to find its own language that is different. The language is the challenge.”

In interviews, Oates often described herself as a person without personality, saying she was “as transparent as a glass of water.” In her work she explores the different perspectives and refuses to write from her own. “I am interested in holding up a mirror to the world, observing other people and exploring the inside of experiences. I don’t judge. I don’t care putting my own shadow on things. I’m more interested in reflecting the complexity of reality,” she said in Neuchâtel. “If there is a complex situation, I want to explore all facets and not just have my own perspective.”

Likewise, there is no question that she will ever write the story of her life. “I have no history,” she insisted. “We don’t have just one. A day or an hour in your life could be a whole story. I never really felt like I wanted to write about myself. I am much more interested in others.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.