At the noon press conference for W.E., the cluster of photographers are warned that once their 90 seconds is up they will be escorted out of the room. About 10 minutes late, after we’ve all been told strictly no still photography even from our cameraphones, writer/director Madonna emerges, along with composer Abel Korzeniowski and two cast members: Abbie Cornish, who plays the modern-day Wally of the tale, and Andrea Riseborough, who plays Wallis Simpson. A burly security guard looms over one photographic straggler, a flick of the chin silently motioning for him to leave.
Moderator Richard Crouse introduces each one, stopping at Madonna (“one of the most famous people in the world”) with an abbreviated litany of her accomplishments from the first pop hit in 1983 to her New York Times’ bestselling children’s book. Here, Madonna closes her eyes a bit and smiles to herself. The room is a little tense, to be honest. Later, every so often throughout the presser Madonna interjects a barbed quip or corrects and clarifies Korzeniowski’s English. She’s clearly in charge. And she’s wearing power red — a crimson blouse with a crisp black pencil skirt. One rambling, rather unctuous question from one reporter gets the most laughs. “It was kind of like a Chanel fairytale,” he gushes of the film. “Did you notice that in the movie that all the women kind of looked like you? And is it just me that every beautiful woman looks like you, or is that your plan?” This elicits a big tension-relieving round of laughter from the audience. “That was two questions again, Maury,” says Crouse. Madonna chimes in, “Cheaters, cheaters, cheaters,” before answering. “Really? I never thought anyone looked like me. First of all they’re all brunettes. So …” Long pause, and: “I’m not. I’m not a brunette. I’m not.” More laughter.
Some of the best bits, below.
On the singalongs the cast did on set, between takes
“Who said this? We did have singalongs,” she allows, “but it wasn’t a [directorial] trick. It was a way to pass time. When it’s pouring down rain and you were shooting outside and you were stuck inside some grey dirty shack and waiting for the sun to come out. What can you do but make up a song?” Crouse asks what songs they sang. “Um, well, let’s see.” She starts campfire sing-songing: “We’re making a movie, isn’t it groovy, welcome to my house.” And now, Mrs. Charisma Ciccone, however forbidding and haughty and not suffering fools she may be, well, she has the room. “That was one of them,” she deadpans. Still more laughter. The composer chimes in that they would also sing along while mixing in the studio. “You were jumping on the couch,” he reminds her.
“I don’t remember that. Ssssh!” she tuts.
On her daily ritual on set
“One of my rituals, one of the most important rituals for me was to help finish dressing the actors or the actresses. I loved putting the finishing touches on them and feeling a connection with them before we began the day of shooting. So, putting on their necklaces and their bracelets and fine-tuning their hair and clothes and finding an excuse to touch them, basically, was my ritual.”
On her use of a Sex Pistols song in a certain scene
“Because I thought that King Edward VIII was quite punk rock,” she says. “He was very rebellious and cutting-edge in his point of view about life and how to run the Empire and I thought that using the Sex Pistols was a perfect marriage between the monarchy at the time and what they were doing — drinking Benzadrine cocktails while watching a Charlie Chaplin film.”
Does Johnny Rotten know?
“Of course he knows, I had to pay him.” Chuckles all around.
On the choice to use parallel storylines
“I was never interested in making a straight-forward biopic, so I created the modern-day story and the modern-day character of Wally Winthrop, so that I could have a point of view in which to tell this story. Because I think in the end truth is subjective and we can all read the same history book and have a different point of view and get something different from it. It was important for me to not present the story and say this is the one and only story but rather this is the story that moved me and inspired me. That’s how the two love stories were created.”
On cinematic approach
“First of all it was important to me to underline and express the world of luxury that these characters came from, the Royal Family, the world that Wallis Simpson lived in. She was very much a presentational character that cared deeply about the rooms that she was in, the lighting, the flowers, her dress. And then of course Wally’s character, she lives on Park Avenue she also lived in a world of good taste, refinement and luxury. So I wanted to express that in the film. Also, the Sotheby’s auction aspect of the film was very much about objects and objects being used as a device to go back and forth in time, objects with a very tactile sensibility about them, so you needed to see that shiny gleaming-ness of the martini shaker or the pillbox or the linen, the tactile quality of touching a linen tablecloth. So it was important to pick up on those details and nuances.”
On the overall cinematic style
“A lot of the movies that I referenced or that inspired me were movies where there was a lot of tracking shots or Steadicam — I like a lot of movement with cameras, not locked-on shots. I like the magic that is created, I like the lyricism and the dance that the movie becomes with the camera moving and following. It’s like a living breathing creature that has to be choreographed and I equate a dolly tracking shot and a woman walking down the street as something extremely feminine and mysterious. That was some of the millions ideas that I had.”
On the film’s position for wide release in December, high Oscar campaign season
“My legs and my fingers are crossed.”
After a pause, Crouse points out that Madonna happens to be wearing a small necklace with the initials W.E. on it. “Why do you want to point that out?” she asks him. “Because it’s a nice promotional item,” he explains. “It was actually a birthday gift from my staff, so … I love it.” So there, Richard.
On feeling pressure in music versus in film realm
“Of course I do [feel pressure], because it’s new. And I had the same kind of pressure when I started my music career. And I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect and people didn’t know what to expect and I had to earn my way in the world of being taken seriously in the music department. And now I’m well aware that I have to do the same in the world of film.
On whether she cares what film critics think
“Well I do when I think that it’s a fair criticism. I can tell when people are reviewing my film and when they are reviewing me personally. I welcome criticisms of my film when it’s viewed as an artistic form and not when people are mentioning things about my personal life or my achievements in any other field. They’re irrelevant to the film. So when they stick to the film, I do care. I pay attention to it.”
On the origins of the modern-day storyline heroine Wally
“She was mostly inspired by a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel Tender is the Night, which was an important book for Wally and for Abbie to read. “
On her interest in Simpson
“She was and is a very provocative character in the history of world politics, in the world of fashion, in the decision of King Edward VIII made to leave the throne. It changed the British empire. It changed things enormously. And she is a mysterious, enigmatic creature. Not conventionally beautiful. Not young. Twice divorced. Not anything fabulous about her background and somehow she managed to capture the heart of the man who at the time held the most important position in the world. That story intrigued me. I wanted to understand it.”
On portraying Simpson sympathetically
“But also what I was interested in was the idea or the concept of the cult of celebrity, which we are all consumed with, now and then. And the idea is that there are so many rumours that are now believed to be true about Wallis Simpson and when I investigated her story, there were so many of them yet I could find no empirical evidence stating that they were true. I realized that we have always – since the time of Chris or Cleopatra or you can go back through story and name any iconic or historical figure — we hear … it’s like Chinese whispers. It starts off as one story and by the time it gets to us, it’s something different and we believe it to be true. And we often reduce our historical figures, or our iconic figures, to a soundbite. And it’s tremendously unfair. We forget that they are human beings. So what was important to me was to portray Wallis Simpson as a human being.”
Madonna’s second feature looks decent and features a dramatic, cello-heavy score that throbs with art-house class. But the film is basically a low-rent take on The Hours, with two overlapping stories instead of three and none of the emotional depth. Now Toronto
In one of her inexplicable visits, Wallis Simpson advises young Wally to maximize her assets: “The most important thing is your face,” she says. “The other end you sit on.” The same could be said for this movie: it’s got a pretty face, but the rest is just ass. 4/10 In Movies
This vaguely feminist fairytale crossed with fashion porn is a wildly stylish, dazzlingly entertaining and sumptuously melodramatic flipside to that horrendous Oscar-baiting nonsense.
The Material Girl provides plenty of stylish clothes, jewels, houses, and hotel rooms to look at in her second film. 4/5 Canoe
The picture is not an awards season player, but it’s certainly not a Razzie contender either. Hopefully, critics and the media will give Madonna more credit the next time around. Because if you know anything about Madonna these early reactions will only fuel her to direct once again and prove she has true cinematic talent. “W.E” proves she’s certainly getting better. Hit Fix
A visually pleasing film that seriously disappoints. 1.5/5 Globe and Mail
“W.E.” has been called a big screen shopping spree. It’s certainly a close up parade of expensive objects, the people included. I think the best way to enjoy it is as fiction. The Duke and Duchess were terrible people: Nazi sympathizers, totally self involved. The world was lucky to be rid of them. But who wants to hear that story? Madonna has instead captured their decadence and their isolation. She’s also shown her keen eye for detail. Her next movie–because there will be one–should be drawn entirely from fiction, I think. When her imagination can run wild, untethered to facts, her films will be judged entirely on their own. Roger Friedman
Once you get through the atrocious early scenes, “W.E.” becomes a reasonably watchable and mostly non-narrative curiosity, a handsome fantasy mounted by someone who has no storytelling ability and no connection to real life. Salon
Madonna says she has no problem with critics panning her new film, “W.E.” — as long as the scribes are judging the movie on its own merits.
The pop star-turned-director was speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival on Monday, flanked by stars Andrea Riseborough and Abbie Cornish.
Madonna said that some reviews have focused on her and her personal life, rather than on the film itself.
The movie jumps back and forth in time and focuses in part on Wallis Simpson, the American socialite whose romance with Edward VIII ultimately led to his abdication of the throne.
Madonna said she did extensive research on Simpson and wanted to show that much of what is believed about the infamous divorcee is false.
Madonna with crew at the Toronto Film Festival Press Conference for W.E. (September 12 2011)
In Toronto, you lose a Pitt, you say goodbye to a Clooney, but you gain a Madonna.
Tomorrow, her Madgesty arrives in Toronto, to promote her Wallis Simpson pic W.E. The lush romantic drama divided critics in Venice, so expect more conversation here about Madonna’s first feature-film directorial effort. It all starts with a press conference at mid-day Monday.
Julien’s Auctions, the world’s premier entertainment auction house, announces its 2nd annual Legends Auction on Saturday, October 22, 2011 in Macau China at Ponte 16, a world-class entertainment resort.
The Legends Auction returns with a showcase of film and music memorabilia from some of the world’s most admired superstars including legendary film icon Marilyn Monroe and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Other iconic pieces to be offered include personal effects from Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Madonna, Her Royal Highness, Diana Princess of Wales and many others.
…other auction highlights include a Madonna signed “Sex” book, a stage worn gold bustier from her Who’s That Girl tour, images of Madonna by Herb Ritz signed by the superstar, an early model headshot with information sheet, and a recording of Madonna singing “Simon Says” with her band The Emmy’s.
more info at juliensauctions.com