Singer Lana Del Rey has referenced Marilyn several times in her work, most notably in the ‘National Anthem’ video from 2012, where she merged the personae of Marilyn and Jackie Kennedy (see here.) Now, in her ‘Candy Necklace‘ video (directed by Rich Lee), Lana revisits Marilyn again – as well as other Los Angeles icons, including Elizabeth Short (aka the slain ‘Black Dahlia‘) and Veronica Lake (born Constance Ockleman.)
The video is over ten minutes long – you can view the Marilyn sequence, which lasts for about a minute, at 2:40 – and includes behind-the-scenes footage, in what could be described as a statement on how fame distorts reality.
Lana wears a blonde wig that recalls her own appearance in an early, homemade video for the ‘Kill Kill‘ single she recorded in 2008, when she was still using her ‘real’ name, Lizzy Grant. However, her black turtleneck sweater and capri pants are clearly intended to evoke LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt‘s 1953 session with Marilyn. The outfit is topped with a chunky necklace.
Whereas Marilyn’s photo shoot came during a hopeful period when her star was on the rise, Lana’s video uses the imagery to express the disillusionment Marilyn felt in later years. Lana’s version also recalls a similar layout Marilyn made with Ben Ross at around the same time as the Eisenstaedt shoot.
“I don’t know how not to be a robot,” Lana says, while surrounded by hairdressers, make-up artists, and camera crew. “I just have to shoot, shoot, shoot … It’s not working anymore for me.” This comment may reflect Lana’s own discomfort with projecting a glamorous public image – this is the only video she has made to promote her current album.
Her words also reminds me of what Marilyn told a reporter after completing The Misfits: “Everybody is always tugging at you. They’d all like a sort of chunk out of you. I don’t think they realize it, but it’s like ‘grrr do this, grr do that …’ But you do want to stay intact – intact and on two feet.”
We then see Lana through the camera lens, singing the second verse…
“Sittin’ on the sofa, feelin’ super suicidalHate to say the word, but, baby, hand on the Bible I do Feel like it’s you, the one who’s bringing me down Thought that we were cool and we were kickin’ it like Tribe Called Quest You the best, but, baby, you’ve been bringing me down I can see it now …”
As the camera pans out, we see that she is lying on a psychiatrist’s couch, faced by an analyst taking notes, and with The Handbook of General Psychology standing on a bookshelf nearby. She then switches from confessional mode to striking vampy, Monroesque poses until her mood changes again, and she shakes her head in disgust. While Marilyn’s years in therapy are well-known, Lana may also be thinking of her own experience of intrusive press interviews.
In another behind-the-scenes clip, a brunette Lana talks more of the concepts behind her impersonations of Marilyn and others. “Why it was all supposed to be behind-the-scenes is because all these women who changed their name, changed their hair, like me … it’s like they all fell into these different snakeholes, so the whole point is like how do you learn from that and not fall into your own thing?”
At the end of the video, after her Black Dahlia alter-ego meets a grisly fate, we see Lana in the Priscilla Presley getup she often wore in the early days of her stardom (including the aforementioned ‘National Anthem’ video), kneeling on the ground as she accepts a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The mostly black-and-white video briefly erupts into colour.
While Lana doesn’t currently have her own star, she did present one to filmmaker Benicio Del Toro in 2019. And, of course, Marilyn is also honoured there. It also reminds me of when Marilyn and Jane Russell signed their names in cement on Hollywood Boulevard in 1953 (just a few months after the Eisenstaedt/Ross sittings.)
“When I was younger, I used to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and try to fit my foot in the prints in the cement there,” Marilyn remembered. “I did have a funny feeling later when I finally put my foot down into that wet cement, I sure knew what it really meant to me; anything’s possible, almost.”
Writing for her Culled Culture blog, Genna Rivieccio ponders the subject further:
“While some would write Del Rey’s portrayal of Marilyn off as yet another tired trick in her usual playbook, it bears remarking that her putting on this particular ‘character’ has more significance at this moment in time, with Del Rey currently being thirty-seven—a year older than Marilyn was when she died … After talking about being like a robot, Del Rey adds, ‘I’m not, like, it’s not, like, working anymore for me.’ There are two interpretations of this line: 1) the concept isn’t working for her anymore or 2) doing the shoot no longer feels like work to her because she’s so ‘in it.’ In this manner, as well, there is a layer of duality to everything … For to live in the twentieth century and beyond is to never really know the difference anymore. Just ask Gloria Swanson/Norma Desmond. Or Norma Jeane/Marilyn. Or Elizabeth Short/the Black Dahlia. Or Lizzy/Lana.”