Not surprisingly, it was “no problem for Madonna to pose without dresses,” says Edel in his halting English. But by all accounts, she also performed formidably fully clothed during an emotionally charged, 11-page scene in which Garrett grills Carlson on the witness stand. “She reacted viscerally to my verbal abuse,” says Joe Mantegna, who also worked with Madonna in her 1988 Broadway debut, Speed the Plow. “All of the sudden she became this vulnerable little blonde girl.” Edel shot the scene twice, in a single close-up; Madonna wouldn’t let him do a third take. “She gave everything. It was amazing,” the director says.
More amazing to those who got early glimpses of Body (Film Threat-drats! – was not among them) was Madonna’s unclothed work. “The audience may think that the actors really f**ked,” says Edel. “But it was really hard work. You have guys putting makeup on your body, adjusting the lights.” As tough as these shots were for the principals, they were just as difficult for the director. “When you say, ‘Listen, your sex looks really strange,’ you intimidate the actor immediately because you’re talking about something he knows about. The response is usually, ‘What is so strange about it? How the f**k do you f**k?'”
Edel didn’t get off any easier when he attempted to guide Madonna through a nonscripted self-gratification scene that she improvised herself. “When I began to tell her how I would like her to move, she stared at me and said, ‘Uli, you can direct me through this whole movie. But don’t teach me about masturbating!’ The place broke up.”
Edel credits Madonna’s sense of humor and willingness to experiment with leavening the rehearsals – particularly during a paint-blistering episode on the hood of a car. “The script only said, ‘Rebecca wants to make love immediately.’ So we developed the scene step by step. Madonna was standing above Willem on the hood of the car, and I said, ‘Why don’t you kneel down and squeeze his head on the hood as you sit on him?’ She moved her legs this way and that way.” The irony of Madonna nailing Dafoe – “a Christlike figure” (he was Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ) – didn’t escape Edel.
Nor does it escape media psychologist Stuart Fischoff. “What strikes me about Madonna is what strikes are about Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese, which is a tremendous rebellion against their Catholic upbringing,” he says. “You can ber that she wanted so make this film The Postman Only Rings 26 Times. But my guess is that her performance is going to seem more like a caricature. Based on Sex and just about everything else she’s done, I think it’s very clear that Madonna hasn’t got a clue about what’s sexual. It’s not a beaver shot – it’s more in the mind’s eye.”
Mantegna, who was also commissioned to narrate the audio version of the film’s book tie-in, sees Madonna’s intent differently. “Many elements of this character are what people think she is anyway. So she could just grab it with both hands and say, ‘Well, f**k it, here it is. I’m gonna play this thing to the hoop.’ The task for her was to transcend it so that people could relate to her as an actress. And I think she did it. It’s nor just based on P.R. – she’s gotten there with talent. She keeps pushing it to the next rung.”
“Madonna is somebody who always tries to push the limits,” agrees Edel. Yet he clearly isn’t pleased with the timing of her book. “I wish it would not have come out now,” he says, un-aware of a report that Madonna wrote some of the volume’s salacious prose during breaks on the set. “I didn’t know about it when we started the film. Hopefully, it will not hurt the movie.” (Originally, Edel says, Body was to appear in theaters last October – but Madonna’s contract stipulated that the film couldn’t be released concurrently with Sex and Erotica.)
If anything threatened to hurt the film, it was the MPAA ratings board. “[The U.S.] is still very Puritanical, and repressed sex always erupts in violence,” laments Edel. “This movie has an explicit sexual content, but it tries to live without violence. It wouldn’t even be a discussion in Europe.” Stateside, however, the discussion over Body’s ultimate rating was heated. When the film was awarded an NC-17 last August, MGM pledged to stand behind it. But the studio’s resolve began to weaken as the release date drew near. MGM cochairman Alan Ladd Jr. said the decision to cut for an R was made to avoid “the stigma of the NC-17 rating” – and probably to avoid losing 25% of the film’s potential audience.
“In contrast to Last Exit to Brooklyn, I really wanted to do a mainstream movie that wouldn’t just be shown in art houses,” says Edel, who hastens to add that the edits were limited so “a few seconds” of footage. Still, he fumes over the process. “[The MPAA] has no rules; it’s this ambiguous, ‘Cut three frames here, cut four frames there.’ I mean, everybody in this country knows what Madonna looks like naked. Why is it not possible in a movie? They said because, in this case, she is ‘moving.’ But isn’t that what the word movie means?”
One of the scenes that aroused the ire (or, more likely, she naughty bits) of the ratings folks shows Madonna from the waist up, bobbing atop her soon-to-be-deceased older beau in a videotaped love-making session. “I also had to fight for Willem’s ass,” wails Edel, who feels that he’s being made to pay for the ratings flak that surrounded Basic Instinct. “If Mickey Rourke could do it in Angel Heart, why couldn’t we? They explained that that was only one scene in the entire movie, whereas the very theme of this film is sex. You end up really angry and desperate. I can only hope that the long version will be shown in Europe.”