Music documentary

“Madonna: Truth or Dare” Still the Ultimate Pop Music Documentary

She does not have to clean the hotel room. You usually don’t get the chance to spend time in luxury French hotel suites like this, unless you are rich and mega-famous, and when you become this rich and mega-famous, you have a lot of people to clean up your mess. But the woman in the bathrobe is still picking up the champagne flutes, pushing a tray of ice buckets into the corner, quietly tidying the aftermath of a celebration. She talks about fear and anxiety and how last week she was convinced she was having a nervous breakdown in Spain. The lights go out, she rests her tired head, and the camera lingers on her, capturing what appears to be an extremely vulnerable moment.

It’s August 1990. Instagram won’t be invented for 20 years, and TMZ won’t collapse to Bethlehem for 15 years. Twitter isn’t even a glint in Jack Dorsey’s eyes yet. In this era of late Mesozoic celebrity culture, the preservation of the image of a famous person is still outsourced, advertising is still a commodity, and privacy is still a bargaining chip. But that woman, a bona fide pop star who allows someone to film her as she opens straight to the camera and throws empty Heineken bottles and sleeps? Damn, it’s Madonna. And as was the case with everything else, the singer / dancer / cultural icon had a well-groomed hand, she happily rewrites the rules of the game in real time.

A tour chronicle, a time capsule and a model, Madonna: Truth or Dare announced herself as something different when it premiered on May 10, 1991. What started as an idea to shoot a few of her shows Blonde Ambition ended up being the model for injecting performative franchise into documentaries. of pop music – it is not. Pull the curtain back on the backstage tantrums, blood-sweat-tears hard work or bitchy celebrity encounters as much as incorporating them into the show you see on stage. It’s all a big Madonna drama. And yet, you still feel like you’re getting the portrayal of an artist as a control freak who feels uniquely raw, semi-filtered, off-book if not off-camera. It is pop fame as a provocative truth. They should have called her Truth and Dare.

The backstory has now become Her Madge-esty lore: After seeing filmmaker Alex Keshishian’s thesis at Harvard (a pop interpretation The Wuthering Heights), Madonna requests a date. They hit it off. He was hired to film concert footage and some behind-the-scenes information on a possible upcoming tour special, and was quickly taken to Japan. There, he begins interviewing the dancers of the show, a mishmash of European, Asian, Hispanic and African-American men who are as much an integral part of the show as the musicians. Because he can only corner them for talking the morning after they come home from a post-show party night, Keshishian conducts most of their interviews in bed.

He realizes he’s getting good things here. Ditto for backstage and after-hours exchanges. After showing Madonna some of what he shot, he pivots to something bigger, wider, more intimate than a concert movie. She agrees and, despite protests from her management, allows her and her team to run the cameras longer after the lights in the house go out. You want to film Madonna reciting fart poems to her makeup artists, tearing up a new asshole to the stage managers because of faulty monitors, and having an awkward exchange with her dad after seeing her banging a bed on scene? Here’s your unlimited pass, Alex.

TRUTH OR TRUTH, Madonna, 1991

© Miramax / Everett Collection

The end result remains a tantalizing mix of performance streaks and Madonna’s after dark shenanigans, rock-solid professionalism, and personal NSFW hooping. Madonna is what you tend to think of when you think of her: the blonde bombshell post-bracelets and lace, all in sinews and Gaultier corsets. (We hold the Cabaret droog is also watching. ) But thirty years later, it’s practically playing like an album of the greatest hits of private moments turned into touchstones of pop culture: The Water Bottle. Kevin Costner called the series “neat”. Toronto cops turn “Like a Virgin” into a First Amendment Rubicon. The kiss of the same sex. Flirtatiously with Antonio Banderas. (The real hero of this doc? The infinitely tolerant wife of Antonio Banderas.) The montage of Madonna laughing with her dancers between the sheets. The pride parade. The chuckle of a story involving an affair with one of the troupe’s self-identified straight dancers. Warren Freakin ‘Beatty.

Everyone remembers Beatty’s big knockout blow – “She doesn’t want to live off camera, let alone talk…. Why say something if it’s off camera? How much does it exist? – but his real highlight probably comes before that, when he watches the circus backstage blow into Madonna’s dressing room. As he watches her remove her makeup, he stands silently behind, his hands on her shoulders. He looks straight into the camera and by extension, at the team filming the entire meeting. And then he smiles and, with movie star perfect timing, shakes his head. He’s a man who’s been famous for decades, and he doesn’t understand why anyone would want his most mundane or messy exchanges captured for an audience. Madonna doesn’t understand why you would not give that to the audience – shouldn’t a peek behind the curtain be an advantage you control?

This is how celebrity would be manipulated and managed in the 21st century, a kind of direct exchange between fan and artist. Mystique would be replaced by relatability, and Truth or Dare turns the whole story of fame into a balancing act. Madonna – she’s like you, folks. She gets angry and depressed and sometimes has a night’s rest. And also, wouldn’t you want to hang out with her and have those fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that are also only available to stratospheric famous people?

Truth or Dare remains revolutionary in many ways, from its gamble of showing what happens when people stop being nice and start to get real, to its portrayal of gay life – a decade after AIDS began to decimate the community , almost a decade before Will & Grace started selling it to the general public. It’s how Madonna writes her own tale about warts and everything else that makes it the most influential music documentary since Dylan’s movie. Do not look back, Nevertheless. Everyone from Beyoncé to Bieber to Billie Eilish would try to replicate her mix of brutal backstage honesty and big tent staging – you won’t let Queen Bey admit she’s not. safe because she’s just inches from a camcorder or a depressed Katy. Perry sobbing before a show without Madge showing them how.

The difference is that few of today’s pop stars have the confidence or the guts to trust someone outside of their team to capture a truth that isn’t verified or micromanaged to death. After a 25th anniversary screening at the Museum of Modern Art (which Madonna herself reportedly squished for a brief second), Keshishian admitted that he had been approached over the years by many high profile musicians who claimed to want the full. Truth or Dare processing. He would film a week with carte blanche, he said, then put what he had together. “Well, we don’t want you to use this gone, and I don’t want you to show me do this.‘I would say to [their] direction, ‘There is no movie here.’ ”

There are too many layers to go through now, Keshishian said. With Truth or Dare, he basically needed Madonna’s approval, and that was it. What she said is what they did, that Liz Rosenberg and Freddy DeMann were stressed. And what she wanted was something close to a beautifully shot version of the horrible truth, 24 frames per second. She had it, or at the very least, one hell of a legend to print. Madonna has always loved to take risks and push the limits. This documentary was a gamble which, 30 years later, still pays off.