The Misfits (1961) Directed by John Huston

When I was younger The Misfits had a certain reputation as being a dark glamor picture as well as having mystery attached to it. You really had to rely on the picture being shown on TV, as it was quite hard to see in the early 80's. Things are different now. A lot of extra material is available on The Misfits nowadays as it assumes legendary status in popular culture. Books, posters, journals, it's one of the most documented films ever. I think this must be because The Misfits is a picture surrounded by morbid fascination. Clark Gable died before he saw it, Marilyn Monroe never finished another movie and Montgomery Clift died a few years after it's release. Doomed.

The other thing that had died pre-shooting of The Misfits was screenwriter Arthur Miller's marriage to Monroe.  The Misfits is a thinly disguised sermon of Miller's view of Monroe. It doesn't always flatter.
Miller must have been pretty burnt to have such a cynical view of Monroe. Of course there is tenderness and well meaning in his words but at times Miller implies Monroe's self awareness of her own sexual power and how she gets things her way by using it. His Marilyn can also be shallow, vague and stupid. Miller possesses the snobbish view that Marilyn's early career was not worthy or to be taken seriously. The reference to her dancing in the picture can be taken as a swipe at her movie career. You really feel that Miller is at times disgusted by Monroe. He really misses the point of Marilyn. No wonder the marriage broke down. Still, this personal introspection of Miller's gives the picture extra grit and focus. You can try to guess what is fiction or personal biography.

The principle actors were joined by Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter and all are excellent. Monroe serves some notice that she could act straight, though sometimes she does seem quite out of it. The presence is still there, Huston captures a certain vulnerability in Monroe which is endearing. Gable is solid and old school. Wallach is so good in a thankless role. Clift supply's a funny cameo and is sympathetic. The Nevada desert steals the picture from the stars and often resembles the surface of the moon.

Depending on your mood, The Misfits can be a slow viewing experience. None of these characters you'd really want to spend time with. On the other hand you can just listen to the great dialogue of these lost figures. Engage with this strange film and you'll be rewarded. An iconic viewing experience.

I named my latest album Better Than Wages because of The Misfits. Clark Gable's Gay, a cowboy in principal and practice, talks of his life style as "better than wages". In the climax scene of the film Montgomery Clift's character comments: "anything's better than wages", but there is a melancholy and a lack of belief in his echoing of Gay's words. A freedom is lost. A fight is over.

I also wrote a song (Misfit) loosely related to and inspired by the film. Or inspired by the narrative woven into watching this piece of cinema: Marilyn Monroe's last picture, the script written by Arthur Miller especially for her to star in, Gable's last picture. There is a sense of alarming intimacy with Monroe, a self on the loose, wandering away from coherence. But starling fragility is also on offer in the performance of Clift, Gable and Wallach who are forced to question their routine existence when they all take turns to reflect themselves in the eyes of Rosalyn (Monroe).

Arthur Miller must be considered a very important star in this film. I think that with his script this would have been an amazing movie with some completely unknown actors too. Although, now the fact that he wrote Rosalyn to be played by Monroe is difficult to forget – it informs my interpretation of the character from beginning to end.

I am reading Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. She has written a 900-page fictive version of the life of Norma Jean, the woman who becomes Marilyn Monroe. Reading this book is one of those rare experiences for me where I feel it changing me irreversibly. I suffer from wanting to read the book fast because it is so good while at the same time I want to read it slow so the enjoyment lasts longer.
What I can only admire is how Oates takes the facts, dates and places from real life but then imagines in detail what the people in these situations and places would think, say and do. I am telling all this about a book here because I think Arthur Miller used the same device when he wrote The Misfits.

To take fact and make it fiction, to take fiction and make it fact. That's what writers do. Songwriters do something else.


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