I was looking yesterday for an enthusiasm trigger as I read several Venice Film Festival reviews of Andrew Dominik‘s Blonde (Netflix, 9.28). Alas, I found myself in a depression pit after hearing from a critic friend that the only encounter between Ana de Armas‘s Marilyn Monroe and Caspar Phillipson‘s John F. Kennedy is a blowjob scene. Just that, nothing more.

I understand that the basic Blonde game is about conveying how much of Monroe’s life was shaped by cruel and callous sexism, but my heart sank when I heard this all the same.

The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, a Netflix doc that relies on investigative reporting by Anthony Summers, claims that Monroe’s relationship with JFK dates back to the early ’50s, and repeats the legend that in 1961 and ’62 Monroe was on intimate terms with both Kennedy brothers. Not to mention the May 1962 “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” showstopper in Madison Square Garden plus the after-party encounter at Arthur Schlesinger‘s Manhattan apartment. A whole lot of swirling subcurrents, and all of it reduced to a single act of servitude. That hurts, man.

This strongly suggests that Dominik’s film, closely adhering to the extremely somber slant of Joyce Carol Oates’ 22-year-old same-titled novel, is a series of ugly encounters with cruel, compassion-less men who used and abused Monroe willy nilly.

We’ve all understood for decades that the life of poor Marilyn (aka Norma Jean Baker) was too often defined by bruisings and anguish and emotional starvation at the hands of heartless scumbags, but I was hoping against hope that Blonde might spare us to some extent, perhaps by injecting or even inventing some unusual or unexpected emotional grace notes from time to time. The reviews indicate otherwise.

Of all the Monroe biographers, Donald Spoto is probably the most scrupulous. Consider this excerpt from a Popsugar article, written by by Bret Stephens and posted on 8.29.18:

“Multiple Marilyn historians, including respected biographer Donald Spoto, who wrote the 1993 book ‘Marilyn Monroe: The Biography’, allege that the most plausible time that Marilyn and JFK could have had a sexual encounter was during a party at Bing Crosby‘s home in Palm Springs, CA, on March 24, 1962.

“Marilyn’s masseur and close friend Ralph Roberts told Spoto that he received a call from the actress asking him for massage techniques for muscles of the back, and that he ‘heard a distinctive Boston accent in the background’ before Marilyn handed the phone to President Kennedy.

“Roberts added, ‘Marilyn told me that this night in March was the only time of her ‘affair’ with JFK. A great many people thought, after that weekend, that there was more to it. But Marilyn gave me the impression that it was not a major event for either of them: it happened once, that weekend, and that was that.”

HE insert: What about investigator Paul Otash’s claim that he overheard a sexual encounter between JFK and Monroe at Peter Lawford’s beach home?

Back to Stephens: “It was reportedly that night at Crosby’s home that John asked Marilyn to perform at his upcoming birthday party at Madison Square Garden.

“Despite the fact that JFK’s philandering ways were well known, it’s most likely that his connection with Marilyn was just a dalliance and nothing more than a one-night stand. Was it salacious? Yes. But was it the torrid, persisting affair that we’ve been told it was? All signs point to ‘nah.'”

HE feels that it’s morally and artistically wrong to confine the JFK-MM thing to a single oral episode. Talk about cutting the heart out of things. Talk about harshly dismissive.