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Madonna Interview : The Face (June 1991)

Madonna - The Face / June 1991

In Bed With Madonna : The Inside Story

What was originally conceived as a TV special on Madonna’s Blond Ambition tou has been turned into a movie. For the first time, the singer has allowed the cameras to followe her from shower to bedroom. Destined to be more controversial than the “Justify My Love” video, it’s not called In Bed With Madonna for nothing.

“I don’t know how many people could stay in a room when I’m throwing a tantrum.” says Madonna in praise of film-maker Alek Keshishian, who spent five months capturing the star’s every mood for her revealing concert documentary.

The media hurricane that raged over Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video may seem like a mere hiccup once the Material Girl’s critics set eyes on this film, which delves deeper into the tawdry side of a pop star’s life than anything we’ve ever seen before. The film. due to be released in cinemas here next month under the title In Bed With Madonna, was originally conceived as a television special on the singer’s Blond Ambition tour. But after viewing footage shot during the first leg of the tour in Japan. the film-maker and his subject decided there was a bigger – more risque – story to be told.

Twenty-six-year-old Harvard graduate Keshishian first had to convince Madonna to let him candidly film every aspect of her life. “I give Alek a lot of credit for being insistent because I’m a really strong person.” says Madonna. Most people. when I go. ‘No. that’s it. you’re not coming in here.’ they go. But Alek wouldn’t.”

The result is a backstage view that’s far from the usual air-brushed portrait of a pop star at rest and play. Interspersed with live segments, we see everything from discussions about her throat to the singer stepping in and out of the shower. Madonna, who is never content to be just on our minds but is always seeking new buttons to push, must have foreseen infinite opportunities here. Although we get glimpses of her as a devoted daughter to her family and compassionate surrogate mother to her “orphaned” crew, the moments more likely to gain attention are even more candid: Madonna dissing Kevin Costner for calling her show “neat”; Madonna discussing anatomical shortcomings in bed with a train of gay male dancers; and in a scene from which provided the name for the movie’s American release, Madonna performing oral sex on a bottle during a game of ‘Truth or Dare’.

Why include a scene like the bottle game, which is bound to cause controversy? “There’s a raunchiness that happens when you’re on the road. and that game, to me, captured it,” says Keshishian, who insisted on having final cut before taking on the project. “Some people will hate her for it, others will love her for it.”

Says Madonna: “The game of Truth or Dare is a metaphor. The bottle thing, that was part of the game. It’s like, OK, if you’re willing to play this game are you willing to go all the way?”

If indeed, as the movie implies, Madonna’s career can be boiled down to a series of rising dares, giving up her privacy to the unblinking eye of Keshishian’s 16mm camera may have been the toughest gauntlet to accept. “I was very wary of Alek. I just didn’t trust him,” she admits. “In this type of situation, you either become very close to someone or you hate them more than life itself. It was really difficult for me in the beginning because I didn’t know what I was getting into … By the end he could come to the bathroom with me. I didn’t care. But it’s completely to his credit that I grew relaxed in front of the camera.”

Madonna - The Face / June 1991

THE VIDEOS APART, moving cameras haven’t been that kind to Madonna, who one studio mogul recently described as “a movie star in search of a movie”. So far, few of her films have fully capitalised on her stage charisma, a problem she blames on her lack of control. At one point she was to have featured in the debut film by Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David), but it now seems her next screen venture will be the title role in the film-of-the-musical Evita for Disney. However, she is also developing a Reds-like project for herself based on the life of revolutionary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

In the case of Keshishian’s popumentary, getting the control freak to let down her guard was about as easy as persuading Warren Beatty to stop chasing women. The turning-point, he says, came when Madonna gave him permission to film her visiting the grave of her mother, who died of cancer when she was six. He sent his crew in advance to bury a wireless microphone in the soil and position cameras unobtrusively behind trees.

“Alek is really responsible for keeping the focus on me when I would have been happy having it on everybody else.” admits Madonna. “What I truly loved was the dancers and my relationship with them. I just found them so inspiring and entertaining. Really, I would have been perfectly happy to make it about them. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think it’s just a movie about me. It’s a movie about the life of a celebrity, but there’s all these other parallel stories going on.”

To capture the singer and those around her at ease backstage, the director positioned his camera behind a one-way make-up mirror. The crew wore black at all times, and were ordered not to respond to their subject. Each night, he
would log the day’s events on a computer to keep track of the 250 hours of film that he would eventually have to pare down to two.

An unabashed fan who has now become a close friend, Keshishian came to his labour of love unexpectedly. The two share an agent, and he had met Madonna several years ago after she viewed a videotape of his Harvard project. a rock musical adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. (The director is currently working with record mogul Irving Azoff to develop the project into a feature film with original music.)

While trying to land a feature-directing assignment and sell his first script, Keshishian kept himself busy making music videos for the likes of Elton John and Bobby Brown. But, last spring, he received a surprise call from Madonna. She asked him to join the tour – David Fincher, who had directed the “Vogue” video and who’d been romantically linked with Madonna, having turned the job down.

Like Roger And Me documentarian Michael Moore, Keshishian admits he took certain “liberties” with time and place to create a narrative structure. He even had his crew track down a childhood friend of Madonna’s, Moira McFarlane, and flew her to Washington DC, so he could set up a meeting between the two. “I’m not making a public-service documentary,” he says defensively. “I wanted to make this madcap journey … I had to make certain choices as a film-maker, but those choices were made by me, not her. She never, ever said anything.”

Madonna, Keshishian maintains, gave him free rein to make the movie he wanted. but although she didn’t force him to cut anything out, she did insist he leave in a scene where two of her male dancers French kiss. A strong supporter of Aids charities and gay-rights issues, the singer says she wanted to “shock” audiences out of their homophobia.

Madonna - The Face / June 1991

MADONNA SAYS THAT some of her advisers have suggested she buy the film back, and fans who don’t wish to see their idol cleaning her nostrils or exposing her tonsils may wish she had. But, never one to shy away from controversy. Madonna sees the movie as a “natural progression” of her work. “I’m not dealing with issues I haven’t dealt with before,” she says, a note of anger rising in her voice. “What am I supposed to do? Retreat and be quiet?

“The hardest part is watching myself,” she continues. “I’m completely scrutinised. This movie is worth five years of psychoanalysis. I really got to know myself and there are some painful moments because I can see where I’m
being withdrawn or guarded with somebody, where I’m being a control freak. I can see all my extreme behaviour, but I can also see my goodness. For a person like me who’s never satisfied with who I am, and who is incredibly critical of myself, it’s good to see that too.”

Although Warren Beatty has a backstage cameo, out-again-in-again lesbian buddy Sandra Bernhard pops in for a chat, and Sean Penn is mentioned a couple of times as “the love of her life”, the movie skirts serious discussion of Madonna’s love life. In fact, Keshishian says he resisted pressure from the film’s Americar distributor, Miramax, to provide more answers in this department. The director also says he didn’t concern himself with how fans or critics would react. His aim was to reveal the persona side of pop stardom – the human side of one a the world’s most famous female Icons.

“For years, Hollywood has operated on the unspoken principle that being a celebrity was about maintaining a certain level of mystery, and revealing the mystery is shattering the myth that you’ve created.” he explains. “But I don’t think this film diminishes who she is. In an odd sort of way, this movie makes her an even greater myth. It’s like if you open a door to a house and you see one room, but realise there are so many other rooms you have no idea about.”

“It will certainly explode the myth of what people think of me.” adds Madonna. “But this is not completely me. This is only a moment in my life. While you get to know me to a certain degree, you don’t know all of me, as you couldn’t know all of anybody in that circumstance. If this was all I was, I’d be completely horrified”

© The Face

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