Madonna In Bloom
Circe at Her Loom Roll Over, Ulysses, she’s at it again: winking, beckoning, scandalizing with her new film Truth or Dare, and making one or two points on the way
So they stood at the outer gate of the fair-tressed goddess, and within they heard Circe singing in a sweet voice, as she fared to and fro before the great web imperishable, such as is the handiwork of goddesses They cried aloud and called to her. And straightway she came forth and opened the shining doors and bade them in, and all went with her in their heedlessness . . . Now when she had given them the cup and they had drunk it off, presently she smote them with a wand, and in the sties of swine she penned them. So they had the head and voice, and bristles and shape of swine, but their mind abode even as of old. – Homer, the Odyssey
Beyond the black steel spikes, tall forbidding trees and gimlet eye of a surveillance camera repairs this modern Circe: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. The air is perfumed with the sweet fragrance of a floating garland of fresh gardenias. She plies a visitor with strong drink and cunning smiles. Within earshot of the murmuring fax machine and the constant siren’s whine of the telephone, Circe reclines in audience on a couch of golden threads, and speaks:
“I think the Circe comparison is great. Warren’s (Beatty) point of view about all of this is that he thinks I have to humiliate men publicly. That is his overall simplification of what I do, that I am living out my hatred of my father for leaving me for my stepmother after my mother died. That is true, but it is too much of an oversimplification. If that were all I was doing, it would be a lot less interesting.”
“On one hand, you could say I am turning men into swine, but I also have this other side of my head that is saying that I am forcing men – not forcing, asking men – to behave in ways that they are not supposed to have in society. If they want to wear a bra, they can wear a bra. If they want to cry, they can cry. If they want to kiss another man, they can kiss another man. I give them license to do that. My rebellion is not just against my father but against the priests and all the men who made the rules while I was growing up.”
“In the Like a Virgin scene in my show, I have these men whom I have emasculated with bras on who are attending to me and offering me sex if I so wish. But in the end, I would rather be alone and masturbate. Until God comes, of course, and frightens me. (Laughs) Then all of a sudden Like a Prayer begins, and you hear the voice of God, and the curtain opens. Figures clothed in black, like priests and nuns, appear onstage and the cross descends. It’s like here comes the Catholic Church saying ‘Sex goes here, and spirituality goes there.’ And I say – but I say, NO, THEY GO TOGETHER! I am supposed to pray, right? But my praying gets so frenzied and passionate and frenetic that by the end, I am flailing my body all over the place, and it becomes a masturbatorysexualpassionate thing.”
Madonna’s artistic persona has clearly transformed from daffy Disco Dolly into a more substantial, surrealistic Poly Dali incarnation. For a long time, she seemed like a rebelette without a cause vamping for the world’s attention. Now she has it. Not content to continue spinning out mere dance-floor fodder, she has used her bully pulpit to preach scantily clad homilies on bigotry, abortion, civic duty, power, love, death, safe sex, grief and the importance of families.
Circe Ciccone’s alluring attitude is not just a simple sexual defiance but a symphony of rebellions laced with a deep sense of responsibility: now she is undraped in Penthouse, now she is doing a benefit for AIDS research, now she is doing a Pepsi commercial, now she is the dutiful wife, now she is the brazen divorcee. Serious feminist scholars defend her intelligent womanliness. Bluenoses sniff at her every bump and grind. The Vatican has denounced her. Academics spin doctoral dissertations based on her canon. The Queer Nation beatifies her. Wannabes still, well, wanna be.
Now 32, the Michigan-born Madonna has three world tours, 20-plus music videos, seven feature films and eight albums under her Boy Toy belt. She has single-handedly created a boom in music-video sales. That the image refracted in the media-crazed mirror never settles is hypnotizing. Her throwaway line “Experience has made me rich/ And now they’re after me,” from her tune Material Girl, seems more a wily prophecy than mere egoistic cant. Her latest public catharsis – a quantum artistic growth spurt, if you will – is Truth or Dare. It is a panoramic, emetic, beauty-marks-and-all, feature-length autobiographical documentary shot during her Blond Ambition tour. The film, which opens nationally on May 17, is a celebrity voyeur’s feast that draws its substance from the dark well of Madonna’s life. It is her bid for serious consideration as a multimedia artiste who is more attuned to the aesthetic ideas of Martha Graham (whom she plans to play in a forthcoming film) and Isadora Duncan than to her contemporary pop-star peers. To recast a line of her favorite playwright, David Mamet: “She’s eating at the Big Table now.” Quoth Circe:
“I present my view on life in my work. The provocation slaps you in the face and makes you take notice, and the ambiguity thing makes you say, Well, is it that or is it that? You are forced to have a discourse about it in your mind.”