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Madonna: too scary to be a star

Alice Bachini is now taking terrorism seriously. (The blogspotting link refuses to work. Scroll to Monday Oct 22: “Taking Terrorism Seriously”, if you aren’t already there.) So I will now pick up the torch of triviality (importance of) and ask: Madonna, crap actress or what? I’m going to argue for the or what position. At some length, I’m afraid, but what the hell? It’s been a rather slow Samizdata day so far.

BBC 1 showed a Madonna movie last Sunday evening. My Radio Times makes no mention of it, but does mention the movie Black Sunday, which they didn’t show. This is the one where Bruce Dern hijacks the Goodyear Blimp in order to zap a Superbowl crowd with knitting needles, and presumably they cancelled it so as not to give those Arab terrorists any clever ideas, or maybe because, what with the bad guys in this movie actually being Arab terrorists, they didn’t want to show a work of fiction that had now become insufficiently fictional. It’s odd that, isn’t it? – although I’m not disagreeing. Odd also that I settle down to blog about triviality (importance of) and profundity has immediately barged its way back in. That’s terrorism for you.

Anyway, Madonna. The movie BBC1 did show was Body of Evidence. The plot concerns a woman who picks on rich old guys with heart conditions and then shags them (very kinkily and dominatingly) to death, after first ensuring that the will gets changed in her favour. Follow the above link and you’ll find what I take to be the critical consensus about this movie in particular, and Madonna movies generally (his lower case lettering):

this movie ranks up (or should that be down?) near the top with Showgirls as possibly one of the greatest movies that is so bad and inept it’s unintentionally hilarious and cheesy entertainment. …

we get to see footage of Madonna and her deceased lover getting it on (while he was still alive of course) ; william dafoe going at it with his wife; madonna pouring hot candle wax all over Dafoe before a lengthy sex scene between the 2 with her on top; another scene where she does him on the hood of his car after he performs oral sex on her and he lays on broken pieces of glass; and yet another scene where dafoe literally rapes her with him on top while she’s laying on her stomach (this comes after we get to see 2 or so minutes of Madonna masturbating in from of him.)

so as a sex flick it delivers. and the cheesy acting and dialogue is some of the most unintentionally hilarious in recent memory.

while it’s nowhere close to being a good film, it’s above average as far as this genre of films goes and is one of the best cheesy bad but good movies in the last few years.

You sense some uncertainty in that last paragraph, don’t you? Quite right mate, she’s not a great movie actress, but neither is she that bad. Not at acting anyway.

I think that the problem with Madonna’s desperate and desperately public quest for movie stardom is quite different. Simply, most of us don’t like her. It’s not that she can’t convincingly portray the women she portrays in her movies. The problem is the women she portrays. These women are – because this is how lead movie acting works – based on her. And she is not what most of us think of as a nice person.

When movie audiences look at a leading performance – a “star” performance – in a movie, they project onto it all the baggage they remember about the star in question, all the stuff they remember him/her as having done in his/her previous movies – or in Madonna’s case her previous life as a pop megastar. For this reason, you cast against type – against previously established public persona – at your peril. If you are doing a movie starring Madonna, you can’t caste her as a genuinely timid virgin, as a women to whom it would never occur to swap sex for stuff, as a woman to whom pretty clothes are a matter of true indifference, as a woman who would only prance about in revealing constumes if forced to. The audience simply couldn’t buy that. They’d be literally unable to watch her without at least suspecting that at some point in the story, Clark Kent (as it were) would step into the proverbial phone box and emerge as: Madonna!!

Come to think of it, I suppose you could define an all-time great movie actor as one who forces you to forget all that baggage you thought you knew about him/her and concentrate entirely on the here and now. And like I say, Madonna is quite good at movie acting, but not that good.

When I say that Madonna’s movie characters are based on Madonna and when I say that most of us don’t like her, I don’t mean that we don’t like the “real” Madonna, the one who is now married to the Brit film director, with two kids, lots of money and money worries, and lots of other worries about getting old, dying, getting the new garage door to work properly, etc. That real Madonna may or may not be a sexy scary bitch. I dare say she’s no worse than most, having learned, as we all do, to cool it with the adolescent flaunting of what was her particular take on being an annoying adolescent. No, I’m talking about the public Madonna, the Madonna persona, carefully and determinedly constructed over the years.

“Madonna” stands for, approximately speaking, the following sorts of notions, in no particular order:

Girl power, not relying on men, who in any case are weak and easy to manipulate. By …

Swapping sex for stuff, “material girl” etc.. Wave your cleverly decorated body at men, give them great sex from the Madonna Great Sex Playbook, and they are then putty in your hands and their bank accounts are your bank accounts.

None of which is a burden, because on the contrary it’s all terrific fun. It’s not prostitution forced on you by some (male) pimp, provided you keep in shape and in control. And …

Any person or institution who says that the above is sinful, or even unattractive, is a pathetic moral-majority stuck-up prude, disguising male terror of the strong sexually active woman, and female jealousy ditto, as theological principle. Papa don’t preach.

Any man who, like me, says he is appalled and repelled by the above doesn’t know his own mind. He’s in the grip of false consciousness. You think you want a nice sweet hausfrau, but really you want me. That’s what a man is. An animal I can dominate, and who likes it when I dominate. Admit it. You want it, really, yes you do. And I can bring it out of you (… and thereby empty your bank account).

The above stuff so far, and this is important, is not just the truth, it is a truth that Madonna is willing to argue for in public, like any other religious leader. The reason why Madonna is both so religious and so anti-other-religions is that religion means a lot to her, and she is just as keen on spreading her religion as those churches with enough balls to denounce her are in spreading theirs.

Finally, if any or all of this gets you into serious trouble, play the sweet female card (like a virgin) – the wronged woman – until you are back in control of everything.

Like I say: a sexy, scary bitch.

Now I don’t mind admitting it. I’m totally terrified by all this. I can just about stand watching it on a stage or in a movie, although it scares me even there, but let it into my drawing room or into my heart? – no, no, no.

The plot of Madonna’s latest hubby-directed movie (which I’ve not seen yet and which scares me already) is, apparently, that she is an unhappy Madonna-type woman who by the end permanently turns over a new leaf and becomes a permanently happy normal woman, with absolutely no monster woman tendencies left inside her. But that’s impossible. Not even an Italian could do that to Madonna. (And don’t get me started on how much I hate Italian leading men in romantic movies.)

But what’s a man to do? Real Men don’t go around saying that they think sexy scary bitches are sexy scary bitches; it’s not polite. It’s not chivalrous. Real Men make polite excuses and move on.

Worse, Real Men really, really don’t admit to being scared, to wanting to be in control of the situation but terrified that if Madonna ever comes at them they won’t be. Mummy, mummy, tell the scary woman to go away!!

Even the “wanting to be in control” bit is not now something we’re supposed to say out loud these days, not as far as our dealings with women are concerned. So how the hell are we supposed to be able to discuss the fact that we want to be in control but won’t be, in Madonna-world?

I’m not quite a Real Man, which is to say that I am the kind of Real Man who is so Real that he can admit to not quite being a Real Man, which is to say that I am an Even Realler Man. So I can say all this. (Those sentences remind me of all those middle class marxists who claimed to be able to step outside the dramas they regarded everyone else as being bound hand and foot by, but I’ll let it pass. Be gone, profundity.)

And what of the Normal Women, who want to stay home and bake bread and raise kids and keep hubby happy and faithful, for at least some of the time, and keep the likes of Madonna completely away from the neighbourhood? What can they possibly say without tripping up hopelessly on their political incorrectness?

But are we, then, supposed to line up with all those stupid churches and embarrassing Republicans and general stuck-up idiots who think that even Abba is the work of the Devil? Hardly. Luckily, there is a far simpler procedure available to us:

(a) let all those not-Real-Men-or-Normal-Women film critics take it in turns to tell the universe that Madonna Is A Hopeless Actress. (These anti-Madonna critics are unchivalrous enough to blame Madonna’s acting, but, unlike your bloggist here, not Real enough to come clean about their own fearfulness.) And:

(b) say nothing.

And poor, poor Madonna’s film career remains mysteriously but permanently stuck in the mud. Ah, the poor wronged woman.

But sorry Ma’am. As one of Madonna’s female rivals in Body of Evidence says:

“She’s not the kind of woman men marry.”

That’s why she will never be a A-list Hollywood movie star.

Here’s my Madonna career advice: she should become a James Bond villain. She’d be great at that. She should simply be told to try to be as nice as possible and her persona will do the rest. The entire audience will quake in terror as soon as they spot her. Swivel chair, ooh! White fluffy pussy cat, ooooooh!! It’s Madonna!!! Perfect, she’s finally found her ideal place in society, happy at last, with an enormous army of glam-feminists. There’d be no more crap about how she can’t act, because she’d act everybody else, Bond definitely including, clean off the screen.

She should make sure they don’t definitely kill her at the end, because I reckon – as per the great Jaws – they’d want her back for the next one.

16 comments to Madonna: too scary to be a star

  • What an odd posting. You obviously spent a fair amount of time writing it, though I’m a bit puzzled as to why.

    Personally, I think Madonna is hot. I hate most of her music, and I’ve never seen any of her movies. That’s about where my opinion ends.

  • Madonna is huge. She will be up there with Elvis in the pantheon of music stars.

    She has re-invented herself, credibly, ‘time after time’ in a way that only David Bowie once managed.

    So she’s not great as an actress. Well the fat lady hasn’t sung yet on that stage.

    I wouldn’t be suprised to see Madonna get an Oscar within a decade.

    Care to bet against me?

    P.S. Thought she was hot in Body of Evidence, I watched it in bed with my girlfriend, and as soft porn goes, it was up there. 😉

  • Fan

    I agree that Madonna would make a great villain for a Bond film. And there’s evidence, too. See Evita. She’s supposed to be appealing but scary and she does it.

  • Lars

    Sexy and in control is scary, eh? Imagine, then, how women have felt for centuries, being in the control of men. I think that sexy women- or men- who are in control of themselves and their lives are powerful. The idea that a person has the right to control another is wrong, though.

    I think you’ve missed the boat when it comes to equating Madonna with a religion. Religion gives people a framework of meaning within which to live thier lives, and a large part of that is morality. While I haven’t made much of a study of Madonna’s art and career, I don’t think she had come up with anything new in this arena. And, well, I think that religion is passe, anyhow.

    She has challenged societal memes- that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Gets people thinking about, or at least reacting to, what is disturbing about her portrayals in music and movies. Questioning the status quo is always good.

    Maybe marriage is not the be-all and end-all of existence. Maybe we are on the way to a better way to live and relate amongst humans, and Madonna (and others) are on the forefront of this change. She’s not the type of woman that men marry? That can be seen as high praise indeed!

    And I agree, she would make a perfect James Bond villianess…. perhaps the one equal to Bond, and turning out to be good. Maybe Bond is the one who is on the wrong side. 😉

  • Brian Micklethwait


    My point about the religion thing is that Madonna (the public Madonna I mean) has over the years stood for a set of ideas, and your point about how she “challenges” is the same point.

    In her music videos she has certainly used a lot of religious imagery. Okay, maybe only to undermine religion, but I always felt more was involved than that. She’s setting up an alternative woman. Think of the name, for heaven’s sake. Madonna! That’s definitely squaring up to religion, especially the Roman Catholic religion of her Italian ancestors.

    If my piece had been about how right or wrong she is, I might well have written it along the lines of your comment. Actually I was writing about why lots of people don’t like her enough for her to be regular movie star, which is a somewhat different topic, albeit a related one. I was writing mostly about what I feel, as opposed to what I think. Which of course exposes me to criticism along the lines that I’m silly to think that way, as perhaps I would be if I did. As it is I hardly know what I think, because I havn’t really thought about it.

    I’m thinking now that maybe the key to it – whether Madonna’s right, whether I’m an idiot to feel scared of her, and so on – may hinge on the degree to which the power Madonna seeks depends on lessening the self-control of men. Insofar as she undermines male control over women, fine. But if she merely substitutes female domination for male domination, then not fine. In Body of Evidence this was certainly what the Modonna character was doing, as she was in other movies I’ve seen, such as Desperately Seeking Susan.

    As to what the “real” Modonna thinks about it all, I just don’t know, although I’m sure plenty of Madonna watchers do. Maybe she doesn’t believe in famale domination. Maybe she does believe in it, but only with consenting men (which means it isn’t really domination). Maybe she reckons that after all the historic wrongs that women have suffered, a dose of corrective gender counter-terrorism is in order, whether men consent to it or not, to speed up the establishment of true equality. Maybe her real thoughts and fancies are scarier even than that. My guess is she oscillates, but I havn’t read many Madonna interviews so I don’t know.

    About the Bond villain thing, I seem to have struck a chord there, don’t I? I think what I’d like would be for the next Bond movie to start with Madonna just being, villain-wise, one of the team, and only ENDING UP as Madam Superboss, with the full number one Bond villain kit: pussy cat, shark tank, secret hideaway, etc.

    In fact, even better, she could begin her journey as a regular Bond girl, a junior member of the “good” team, and then – perhaps partly in response to the standard Bond fuck-her-and-dump-her routine, she could gradually change sides, getting gradually more pro- (anarcho?) capitalist and anti-statist along the way.

    And does it actually have to be a Bond film? Maybe the Bond allusions could be brush-stroked in, the way they are in xXx, the new Vin Diesel secret agent extravaganza. In that, a Bond clone gets killed early on, hence the need for an alternative protagonist, with tattoos, without hair on his head, better at skateboarding, etc.

    Somebody call Brian Linse …

  • Hamish

    I CANNOT understand what people see in that whorish slapper Madonna. Asia Argento in xXx is…OK, just OK, but what a rubbish movie. Every lame hacknied cliche piled on top of one another.

    The Madonna film was also just a meaningless waste of eyeballs. Real women don’t need to play daft wee games to show how “strong” they are and a gentlemen knows real strength when he see it.

  • Lars

    Hey, Brian-

    Madonna is the anti-christ! Of course! I think of her as- rather than setting up an ‘alternative woman’- integrating the whore-madonna dichotomy that has played in the human subconscious for lo these many years.

    Heck, I don’t think that anyone is an idiot for feeling X about something- it’s good information from which to create knowledge.

    Perhaps the role that Madonna plays is a catharsis, part of a transition from the nasties of patriarchal society to one that recognizes autonomy of individuals. Matriarchy had its day, before the patriarchy took over, so maybe now we can strike a happy medium (no, not slapping of psychics).

    Hoping you are working on a screenplay…


  • molly

    Oh Hamish, I think Madonna is hot. I mean really HOT.

  • Rekha


  • Rekha


  • Rekha


  • hachaia

    i want to see madonna its my big dream

  • harchaia slimane

    i want to see madonna

  • Dovy

    People say that Madge promotes discussion,
    The only discussion she promoted in me was what happened to women who could actually sing and didnt have to reinvent themselves because their talent was already there….
    I never liked her and it got to the point where I was sick of magazines and and other media saying ” Every one likes Madonna”
    Well I think her music is crap and so is her acting.
    She can be either really pretty or really ugly.
    But- some body likes her because she is richer than God.
    I just dont get it…..

  • I don’t want to see Madonna in *any* movie.

    It’s an interesting premise you have about her making a good villian, since most people do not like her off screen.

    However, it is my understanding that her acting in the film ‘Swept Away,’ where she is supposed to play an unlikeable, quasi-evil character, was *still* horrible.

    For anyone who hates Madonna, do drop by my anti-Madonna site:

  • amy w

    I think you are ridiculous to think Madonna is bad or immoral or untalented. People say she is a slut and that she is “not the type to marry”. Britney Spears is a slut, someone with no talent, brains or ability trying to pass their sex appeal off to gain fame. Well Madonna is not like this. In her song “Like a Virgin” she talks about her spiritual awaking or the breakthrough in her life, when she finally began her journey to become an artist and well known singer. It is an anthem of life and freedom, and she uses the virginal and sexual imagery and lyrics to show sexual freedom as well. In “Like a Prayer” she discusses the relationship between spirituality and religion and relationships. It is very thought provoking and full of energy. What she does as an artist is challenge social mileus and shows that people dont have to be comply with what everyone expects. She is brilliant as a singer/artist and steps right over the ideas of women as subjigated sex objects and ideas of mysogyny with her raw sexuality. This is the point she is trying to make. She will last and be remembered as one of the greatest artists in history.