Till last week-ish, if you typed “The Last Sitting”, you got one link about disgruntled members of parliament from Uttar Pradesh, India, and a list of links with pictures from the last photoshoot that Marilyn Monroe did before committing suicide. Photographer Bert Stern brought out all the pictures, including the ones Marilyn had rejected with a red pen, and called them “The Last Sitting”.
Type last sitting now and it’s Lindsay Lohan all over the place because New York magazine got Bert Stern to recreate the entire shoot with Lohan in a platinum blonde wig. Net results – the realisation that make really can work magic, Lohan has bigger boobs than Monroe and that we, as a generation, seem to be pretty rogered when it comes to creativity.
The photographs of Monroe’s The Last Sitting are gorgeous, honest and sensual in the way we like seeing a woman – just a bit broken, as though we can fix her. Women will want to wrap her in a quilt and give her a mug of hot chocolate and tell her she doesn’t have to do all this, she’s still beautiful, etc. etc. Men will make love to her for hours in an attempt to communicate the same thing. Neither would probably have managed since Monroe was weeks away from overdosing her way out of this glittery, made-up world. Stern did manage to capture this woman’s fakeness and her very real vivacity in these pictures, particularly the boozy black and white ones where you can almost imagine him towering over her as she drunkenly giggles. These pictures are celebrity portraiture at their best – it’s artistic, intensely voyeuristic and suggestive without being an exposé.
It isn’t either Lohan’s or Stern’s fault that the photographs with Lohan don’t seem half as alive as Monroe’s do. After all, Lohan is playing photocopy machine here. Stern gets her to match Monroe, pose for pose, prop for prop, angle for angle so that Lohan disappears and a pale, freckled, fuller-breasted and less giggly ghost of Marilyn arises. It’s a remake.
We seem to constantly be looking back. Music keeps seeing old styles resurface. There’s even retro techno now, apparently. Who knew techno was old enough to go retro? Films do remakes but the worst is fashion. Fashion looked back to the sixties and now, apparently, the 80s’ look is back (why? the whole point of the nineties was to leave the disaster of big hair and big jewellery behind). I once met a woman who sells vintage purses and asked her what qualified for “vintage”. She said, “Anything more than 20 years old.” Is it any wonder people feel like their world is collapsing when they hit 30 and 40? At one time, you weren’t considered properly adult till you were 40; now you’re vintage at 21.
Clearly, this is an American definition. Unfortunately, while I would love to look Continental and sneer dismissively, it’s a definition that the rest of the world is happy to accept. Because this means, you don’t have to actually look for new trends or create them. We can just mine the “old” ones for all they are worth. Vogue India, I’m told, has each issue of the magazine ready about 3 months in advance. This is a country where people frequently don’t know what’s going to happen next week. How on earth can you predict fashion trends before the architects of the trends have figured out what they’re going to do? So everyone takes the easy way out: pick up something that’s already done and airbrush it into modernity. Or to misquote Daniel in There Will Be Blood, we’re sticking our straws in and trying to drink the milkshake, except it’s only the frothy bubbles that’s left sticking to the bottom of the glass.
Maybe the milkshake metaphor wasn’t the best to use given we were talking nudes here….