Abel Ferrara Interview : Film Threat
Madonna – The Crack of Yawn
Having skillfully ensnated the media in a harlot’s web of hype, the overheated pop tart is primed for a backlash. Can she stave it off by weaving her sexual wiles into a serious acting career? Film Threat sizes up her Body of Evidence.
“I think that it can start the machinery going for change. I do in a way see myself as a revolutionary at this point.”
Bill Clinton on his plan for revamping the economy, right? Guess again. That’s none other than our First Lady of Lasciviousness, Madonna, on vamping the world with Sex – the armored volume of illicit amore that broke its own miserable binding more readily than its targeted taboos. The book stirred such a fuss and – at $50 a shot and some 500,000 domestic sales the first week – emptied so many wallets that it effectively kept her musical companion piece, Erotica, from cracking the top spot on the pop charts.
Naturally, there was no lack of interest from the press, who were still clucking over the reported $60 million deal the former seven-dollar-an-hour nude model cut with Time Warner last April to get her fledgling multimedia company, Maverick, off the ground. Take the obligatory profile in Vanity Fair, whose photos of Madonna on a playground garbed in something less than Garanimals raised cries of child pornography. Or the obligatory tabloid headlines that screamed how Madonna “stole” former gal pal Sandra Bernhard’s girlfriend, Ingrid Casaras, and used her for “Sex”. And then, of course, there was Madonna’s patently hypocritical public denunciation of Sinead O’ Connor’s Saturday Night Live Pope smear (this from a woman who once said that “crucifixes are sexy because there’s a naked man on them”).
“Whatever she’s doing now, she’s doing for shock value,” says Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., media psychology professor for California State University, Los Angeles. “She’ll say whatever she thinks will get her additional notoriety.” But Madonna bristles at the suggestion that she’s trolling for attention, calling it an “incredible insult. When De Niro does a great performance in a movie, does everyone say, ‘Well, what’s he going to do next?”
Which brings us to the much-awaited third prong of Madonna’s manipulative media triple threat: MGM’s Body of Evidence. If there’s one area in which the singer/songwriter/AIDS activist is still like a virgin, it’s acting – and this $17 million film is considered her acid test. Just forget – if by some chance you haven’t – Desperately Seeking Susan, Shanghai Surprise, Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own and her tacky, little-seen 1980 debut, A Certain Sacrifice: The buzz for months has been that even jaded industryites have been jarred awake by Madonna’s turn (and twist and thrust) as Rebecca Carlson, an apparently double-jointed gallery owner who’s accused of screwing her rich, aged boyfriend to death in order to bag his fortune.
Body of Evidence is the first studio effort by the distinguished German independent filmmaker Uli Edel (Christiane F., Last Exit to Brooklyn), who’s at odds with MGM’s attempts to shoehorn the film into the Basic Instinct/erotic thriller genre. “It’s a courtroom drama,” he says of the Dino De Laurentiis production, which he completed last spring on a 43-day schedule split between Portland, Oregon, and the Culver Studios. “It’s about sex, and sex on trial – the erotic scenes between the courtroom sessions are the only action. They’re not violent, and they don’t have Basic Instinct’s ‘If I f**k you, I kill you’ tone.”
Willem Dafoe plays Frank Dulaney – the powerful Portland lawyer Carlson hires and subsequently seduces. Joe Mantegna, as District Attorney Robert Garrett, and Anne Archer as the dead guy’s hellbent personal secretary, Joanne Braslow, round out what Edel calls a “great ensemble” – not the least of which, he feels, is his lead. “Everybody always said, ‘Madonna might be a rock icon of she 20th century, but one thing’s for sure: She cannot act.’ But after I saw her onstage, I thought, This is such a powerhouse.” Edel saw no reason why her charisma couldn’t be fully captured on film.
Not that Body was supposed to be a “Madonna movie”: Most of the actresses who were approached to play Carlson balked at the seamier aspects of Brad (Knight Moves) Mirman’s script, which Edel felt was “not the greatest. We knew that the film could be really, really junky. It was a thin line.” But Edel was determined to tell the story as best he could, and to him, that meant depicting the passion between Carlson and Dulaney as vividly as possible. So he was only too happy to respond when Madonna’s agent called to express his client’s interest in the role. “I told her, ‘We’ll have to go kind of far. Her reaction was, ‘How far will it go? I can assure you that I will always go a step further.'”
Inking the temperamental superstar – she received $2.25 million for her services – was certainly a daring move for Edel, who had already signed the rest of the cast. Were the more seasoned actors at all standoffish toward the new player? “They would never tell me,” Edel says. “I know that they wanted to work with me because they saw Last Exit to Brooklyn; when they heard that I hired Madonna, they still trusted me. Maybe some of them initially thought she wasn’t at their level. But there was a point early on in the shooting where everybody realized she would be damn good.”