I like having an easy comeback for that incessantly rebooted complaint: "Madonna's not talented!" For me, it strikes the same chord as "Women aren't funny," because in order to spew such a statement, you have to want to believe it, and you have to ignore obvious conflicting facts. And I don't know why you'd want to, because the formula for Madonna's success is simple and respectable: She's Elvis with brains.
She has all of The Pelvis' swagger, confrontational stage presence, carnal urgency, and underlying soulfulness. Unlike Elvis, she also has subversive wit, a compulsion for revitalizing her theatricality, and the kind of raunchy self-awareness that'd force Ed Sullivan to broadcast her just from the neck up, let alone the waist. To call Madonna's bravado and success "calculated" is -- as All Music Guide critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine once put it brilliantly -- "not to get Madonna." She's righteously in control, and that's a big part of her firepower.
The calculation charge rings truer for a starlet like Katy Perry, whose concert film Part of Me 3D debuts this week, and whose "little girl lost in a sexual cupcake wonderland" persona is both coldly inhuman and just creepy. For tips on how to pair gravitas with gaudiness, Ms. Perry should really watch Truth Or Dare, Madonna's 1991 black-and-white concert documentary that remains a thrilling, but somewhat deceptive glimpse into Madonna's psyche, and proof that Madonna is not just talented -- she loudly, libidinously, humorlessly, hilariously matters.
Truth or Dare also qualifies as a "Best Movie Ever?" candidate because it's damn rewatchable, features legendary concert sequences and nutty celebrity cameos, and simply recalls Madonna at her prime. Also, Kevin Costner never quite recovered after Madge dissed him in Truth Or Dare, if you ask me. That's power. Not to me, y'all. Here are five critical reasons Truth or Dare may be the best movie ever.
1. Madonna's relationship with her father is... about what you'd expect.
It's hard to forget that Madonna is a Michigan-born middle child who's titillated by others' reactions to her gall because she grew up repressed and Jesus-y. Personally, I think it's an easy reason to like her. When you share the name of the Virgin Mary and find yourself questioning Catholic dogma in your teens, surely you'll start attending dance classes in Detroit and reveling in your ability to shock parishioner-types with your bare midriff and sultry swirling. In Truth or Dare, when we see Madonna on the phone with her father Silvio, she defends her saucy tour like a teenage girl who just bought a her first bikini. "Dad, I'm not getting racy, I've been racy!" she clamors. When he asks if she'd tone down her performance for the dates in which he was attending, she scoffs, "That would be compromising my artistic integrity!"
Later, following a concert that features one particularly suggestive and masturbatory act (We'll inspect further in a moment), Silvio tells her, "I was kinda taken aback." Dads! They're all the same. And it's a part of why Madonna's fans feel such an intense connection with her: Like them, she's a ferocious firebrand who's sick of adapting to bizarre norms and reacts by forcing her offendable headmistresses to stand in awe and deal with her liberation.
2. The Blonde Ambition Tour is Madonna at her greatest. Full stop.
Could anyone deny it? The Blonde Ambition Tour gives you Madonna as Aphrodite's official heiress apparent. She's an exotic, thrusting, aerodynamically ponytailed goddess who just oozes self-confidence and perhaps actual ooze, if the "Like a Virgin" masturbation scene is as lube-y as it looks. Of course, one must also give credit to the legendary costumer Jean-Paul Gaultier, who ingeniously clothed her in bustiers and slacks, alien cone brassieres, and golden undergarments. Her look is a jarring blend of masculine and feminine elements, sexy and grotesque. She's Lysistrata up there. I'll take that over "Justin Timberlake duet partner" or "Super Bowl cheerleader," personally.
3. In case you think celebrity cameos are stupid, don't worry. Madonna makes fun of her famous friends for you.
Madonna's then-beau Warren Beatty makes the biggest celebrity splash in the movie when he calls her out for wanting to "live on camera" ("Why would you say something if it wasn't on camera?" he mockingly inquires), but you have to love all the other A-listers who spring up. Kevin Costner is an utter wet blanket when he appears backstage after a show, calling Madonna's performance "neat" and quietly informing her that they won't be making a proposed "business" deal together. (Rumor has it he's talking about The Bodyguard and the role that later went to Whitney Houston.) Madonna's response is deadpan and perfect. "Was it [the show] not 'neat' enough for you?" Later, she swoons over future Evita costar Antonio Banderas, gabs with Sandra Bernhard, and even calls Warren Beatty a "p*ssy man." Not surprised he went with the more genteel Annette Bening, are you?
4. The greatest performance of the movie? My vote is "Holiday."
Yes, "Express Yourself" is wickedly fun, "Vogue" is glamorously ornate, and "Oh Father" brilliantly pairs Catholic iconography with majestic moves, but I just love Madge's performance of "Holiday" most. She clicks hips and butts with her gay dancers. Her longtime backup dancers Niki Harris and Donna De Lory strut and jive like pros. They all break it down and "bus stop," for crise sakes. It's nice to take a break from the intricate choreography and get a little feisty sometimes, and Madonna's connection with her dancers is electric. And speaking of that connection...
5. Madonna's hilariously "maternal," loving, and patronizing relationship with her gay dancers.
The best reason to love Truth or Dare is because the core of this movie is Madonna's relationship with her female and gay dancers (and one straight anomaly named Oliver who is mocked by the others). She forces two of the smirky queens (Slam and Gabriel) to make out during a game of actual Truth or Dare -- which compels Madonna to squawk, "I'm getting a hard-on!" -- and Donna asks her to fellate an Aquafina bottle. Thank the lord, Madonna's bottle-downing skills are downright cinematic. Come to think of it, it's also Donna who gets Madonna to admit that Sean Penn was the love of her life. We should hire Ms. De Lory to drag out the exotic inner lives of all of our gay icons!
Later Madonna stirs about in bed with her homos and presses them for secrets. On another occasion, she scolds two of her fiercest movers for alienating Oliver. "You three together can be pretty ferocious," she chirps like a den mother. "He doesn't have the thick skin that you have. He doesn't have the survival techniques that you guys have." You can claim that Madonna is actually somewhat aloof with the gay community, but the woman gets it. For real.
What are you favorite Truth or Dare moments? Do you watch it again every August 16?