Anyone familiar with the antics of popular singer-type Madonna Ciconne will know that, a while back, there were some rather alarming rumours circulating about the place. You probably said something along the lines of that can’t possibly be true, no way such shit ever occurred, but let The Duke be the first to confirm this unbelievable turn of events;
Madonna, honest to God, once made a really good film. I’d tell you it was brilliant if I didn’t think you might die to fuck right now with the shock.
After you’re done reading this here article concerning said flick (an article which, in the words of some very respected and highly knowledgeable members of MENSA I met outside a whorehouse, “will probably be the most significant contribution to humanity since monkeys starting shaving”), you can go back and not watch Swept Away and Dick Tracy and all those other pieces of rancid garbage she got involved with, and the equilibrium will be restored. But for now, let us journey though the midsts of time and all that, back to the heady days of 1991, accompanied on our journey by the pleasing sounds of some hit song from the time, re-recorded by session musicians on account of The Duke couldn’t get the rights.
Fuck you Bryan Adams. I prefer the Sexy Dave And Friends version anyway.
In Bed With Madonna (or Truth Or Dare as it is also known), concerns itself with being a documentary account of the ever-so-controversial Blonde Ambition tour of 1990, i.e., the one where she pretended to do a finger-sex during Like A Virgin, and also had bits where a priest whips her. The Pope didn’t like it, is what happened. “I preferred her early shit”, I think he said.
What we get, then, is lots and lots of backstage footage shot in grainy black and white, and also some amazing concert performances what, The Duke feels confident in announcing, are among the best examples of such ever to have been committed to film. We get to go ooh and aah and so on, as Madonna does kooky, demented shit like swear a whole lot and expose her breasts and fellate a wine bottle and date Warren Beatty. It’s all very candid with the camera, is what, like that show what used to be on television. Prisoner Cell Block H, I think it was.
Although the director credit goes to Alek Keshishian, one imagines that the subject, who also serves as executive producer, is behind every editorial decision. The camera may be on hand to capture every sneeze (something Madonna seems infinitely at ease with, but which annoys Beatty no end), but it would be no great stretch to assume that the all-encompassing hold Madonna has over her career includes calling the shots here.
What this means is that all the potty-talk and sexual shenanigans and “emotional” moments seem rather calculated. There’s nothing in In Bed With Madonna that would make a fella think the star were anything less than wonderful. When she’s rude, like when, in a particularly sour moment, she mocks Kevin Costner’s lack of street-cred, it’s because shit, man, Madonna is so cool. When she has all her dancers share a bed with her one at a time for a bit of the old discussion, it’s because shit, man, Madonna is so caring. When she visits her mother’s grave it’s because shit, man, Madonna is so sensitive.
We certainly, on occasion, get a glimpse past the persona, but not that far. Like, a couple inches, tops. Thankfully, the persona is as captivating as all hell. A vanity project this may be, but damn The Duke if it isn’t engrossing, deliriously entertaining and packed to the right nut with some of the finest pop music ever written.
The backstage stuff recalls nothing less than D.A Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, another flick following a musician around on tour, and another concerning a performer who never really stops performing.
Alek Keshishian’s roots are in music video, ie, a fistful of Bobby Brown promos, but his Madonna flick is a world away from the kinds of consumer-friendly, glossy PR exercises such a CV might suggest. Like all great rockumentaries, it is captivating as a work of cinema, first and foremost.
Interestingly, David Fincher, who had crafted the promo for Vogue, amongst others, was initially scheduled to direct the film, but eventually pulled out. Fincher went on to make Se7en and Fight Club. His replacement on In Bed With Madonna has offered only 1994’s With Honours. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Maybe something about mathematics. Fucked if I know.
As befits such a cinematic enterprise, the film is filled with great actors, some of whom actually do it for a living. Antonio Banderas makes an appearance, as does Al Pacino and Sandra Bernhard, star of King Of Comedy and 1997’s Plump Fiction. She also lent her vocal talents to Shogun Assassin once upon a time.
Pedro Almadovar shows up too, the “genius” responsible for such treats as rape-comedy Pepi Luci Bon. To be fair, though, that film also had one of the few scenes in legitimate cinema about a woman raises her leg and pisses over another woman’s face.
In Bed With Madonna also offers us the chance to spend a minute or two with the dancers from the tour, who emerge as a bunch of the most unlovable motherfuckers ever to have touched Madonna’s breast, no small feat since she’s married to Guy Richie. Oliver, a ludicrously camp homophobe, gets the most screentime, allowing us to absorb plenty of his nauseating whining about folks think he’s “a fag”.
These dancers are Madonna’s “children”, and we see her nurse them through any number of torments. We also see Madonna’s own father, as well as her brother, a fella just out of rehab and eager to hook up with some of those lady dancers swanning about the place. One of those dancers, incidentally, went on to be in Snap, the group responsible for such hits as Rhythm Is A Dancer.
“I’m as serious as cancer, when I say rhythm is a dancer.”
Much hoopla was thrown about at the time of release regarding the “controversial” nature of all this tomfoolery. Needless to say, it looks rather tame nowadays. Given the subject, the film would have proved much more shocking had Madonna kept her clothes on. It does seem to offer insight at times, but you find yourself wondering just how authentic some of this stuff is.
In Bed With Madonna is vain, pretentious, laughable and trashy, and yet, probably because of all that, it’s nothing less than a work of motherfucking genius. It’s a portrait of a smart, prodigiously talented, business minded extrovert, and even if the hand of the artist was guided by the subject, it’s still just, like, a couple notches below, say, the Mona Lisa, so long as we’re talking portraits.
The film is fifteen minutes too long, but for the most part remains utterly compelling. And honest to God, that concert footage is mesmerizing. Even the occasional flaunting of Madonna’s gut-bothering “cockney” accent can’t keep it from being genuinely brilliant.
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