Today in Madonna History: May 17, 1991

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On May 17 1991, Roger Ebert gave Madonna’s Truth or Dare documentary a 3 1/2 star rating and a thumbs up review.

Here’s what Ebert had to say:

Although the movie seems happiest when it is retailing potential scandal, its heart is not in sex but in business, and the central value in the film is the work ethic. Madonna schedules herself for a punishing international tour of mostly one-night stands and then delivers with a clockwork determination, explaining to a family member in Detroit that she can’t go out to party because she has to conserve her strength.

Night after night the exhausting show goes on, taking on aspects of a crusade for the cast members. Ironically – given Madonna’s onstage use of sacrilege as a prop – every show is preceded by a prayer session, everyone holding hands while Madonna asks God’s help and recites a daily list of problems. And when her dancers have personal problems, they come to her as a counselor and mother figure.

She seems to like it that way, and halfway through the film I was even wondering if she deliberately chose insecure dancers with dependent personalities because she enjoyed playing mother to them.

Madonna has kept her act fresh by adopting a long series of public star personas, yet, backstage, people don’t relate to her as a star, but as the boss. Her charisma comes not through glitter but through power, and there is never any doubt about exactly who is in charge.

We get the feeling that if show biz ever loses its appeal for her, she could be successful in business or even politics: She’s a hard-headed organizer, a taskmaster, disciplined and clear-headed.

The movie follows the Blond Ambition tour from its soggy beginnings in Japan’s rainy season through a series of appearances across the world. There’s the Los Angeles concerts with all of the celebrities backstage (Kevin Costner tells her the concert was “neat,” and once he leaves she sticks a finger down her throat).

Detroit, her hometown, where she assures her father that she can indeed get him tickets. Toronto, where the police threaten to arrest her for public masturbation (“What do they mean, masturbation?” “When you grab your crotch”). Then she tours Italy and Spain, inviting guys she has crushes on to parties, only to discover they’re married or gay.

At one point in the film, talking about how lonely it is at the top, she’s asked if she ever knew true love, and she answers sadly, “Sean. Sean.” But she never says another word about her former husband, Sean Penn. In the opening scenes she is glimpsed briefly with boyfriend Warren Beatty, but then he disappears, unmentioned, after making what sounded to me like fairly sensible observations (he complains that, for Madonna, if it doesn’t happen on camera it hardly happens at all).

The organizing subject of the whole film is work. We learn a lot about how hard Madonna works, about her methods for working with her dancers and her backstage support team, about how brutally hard it is to do a world concert tour. Unlike most rock documentaries, the real heart of this film is backstage, and the onstage musical segments, while effectively produced, seem obligatory – they’re not the reason she wanted to make this film.

Why is work so important to her? Maybe there’s a hint in the many scenes where she takes a motherly interest in the personal lives of her dancers, and even joins them between the sheets for innocent, bored, adolescent sex games. Madonna, who has had such success portraying a series of sexual roles and personalities, seems asexual on a personal level. A voyeur rather than a participant. Control and power are more interesting to her than intimacy. When she manipulates the minds of a stadium full of fans, that’s exciting. It’s not the same, working with one person at a time.

Today in Madonna History: May 10, 1991

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On May 10 1991, the documentary Truth Or Dare was given an initially limited cinematic release by Mirmax Films in various North American markets. It was given a wide release across North America several weeks later on May 24, 1991.

The documentary – which chronicled on-and-off stage activity of Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition Tour – was directed by Alek Keshishian, while Madonna served as Executive Producer. The live segments were filmed at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, France.

Today in Madonna History: May 9, 1991

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On May 9 1991, a new music video for Like A Virgin featuring live and behind-the-scenes footage was released exclusively to MTV in the U.S. to promote the film Truth Or Dare. Outside the U.S., video channels were instead serviced with a live video for Holiday (which was eventually issued within the U.S. as well).

The Truth Or Dare clip for Like A Virgin was nominated for two MTV Video Music Awards in 1991: Best Choreography and Best Female Video. It marked the third time that a video for Like A Virgin had been nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Choreography. The original video received three nominations in 1985 including a nod for best Choreography, and another live clip (which was also released exclusively to MTV) to promote the home video release of The Virgin Tour was also nominated in the category in 1986. Despite the numerous nominations, none of the three videos for Like A Virgin garnered any trophies from MTV.

Today in Madonna History: May 7, 1990

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On May 7 1990, Madonna graced the cover of People magazine.

The headline: Madonna’s new tour: her most outrageous act yet

A sample of the article by Montgomery Brower and Todd Gold:

After routinely violating almost every taboo about sex, sacrilege and the public display of underwear, what’s a girl to do for new material? Madonna revealed her answer in Japan, where she kicked off a four-month tour that will no doubt delight fans, fetishists, cross-dressers and topic-starved conservative columnists the world over. Mimed masturbation? Madonna’s got it, during “Like a Virgin.” Topless guys in foot-long pointy brassieres? They pop up a third of the way through the show. A hint of discipline? “You may not know the song, but you all know the pleasures of a good spanking,” Madonna cooed after “Hanky Panky,” an ode to the joy of the slap. Granted, there are quieter moments—Madonna as housewife in curlers, Madonna with fish-tailed mermen—but before you know it, there she goes again, confessing in song to a guy dressed as a priest. The 105-minute hullabaloo is amazing for its breadth of controversy. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that, so far as can be determined, not one of the show’s seven dancers has been sidelined with a groin injury.

“She said, ‘Let’s break every rule we can,’ ” says choreographer Vince Paterson. “She wanted to make statements about sexuality, cross-sexuality, the church and the like. But the biggest thing we tried to do is change the shape of concerts. Instead of just presenting songs, we wanted to combine fashion, Broadway, rock and performance art.”

Today in Madonna History: February 2, 1991

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On February 2 1991, Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour Live hit #2 on the Top Laserdisc Sales chart in the USA.

The live concert was released only on Laserdisc by Pioneer Artists as part of the sponsorship deal of the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour and was released to promote the Laserdisc format. It contained the final tour date filmed at Stade de l’Ouest in Nice, France on August 5, 1990 which had previously been shown and produced by American network HBO as part of a television special Madonna – Live! Blond Ambition World Tour 90.

Track listing

Express Yourself
Open Your Heart
Causing a Commotion
Where’s the Party
Like a Virgin
Like a Prayer
Live to Tell
Oh Father
Papa Don’t Preach
Sooner or Later
Hanky Panky
Now I’m Following You
Material Girl
Cherish
Into the Groove
Vogue
Holiday
Family Affair/Keep It Together

Today in Madonna History: December 13, 1990

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On December 13 1990, Blond Ambition World Tour Live was released exclusively on laserdisc by Pioneer Artists. It featured the final tour date, recorded on August 5th in Nice, France, which had been previously broadcast live on HBO.

The release was part of a special arrangement with Blond Ambition Tour sponsors Pioneer Artists as a means of promoting their struggling laserdisc format. The laserdisc went on to win a Grammy for Best Music Video – Long Form at the 34th Grammy Awards, which is notable for being Madonna’s first-ever Grammy win.

With the eventual demise of the laserdisc format, this landmark tour has never received a proper release on DVD or Blu-ray. Although widely bootlegged (in varying degrees of quality), it is currently unavailable to purchase in its entirety in any official form, much to the disappointment and frustration of fans. A 2012 Blu-ray release of the accompanying tour documentary Truth or Dare – which features a select number of performances from the tour filmed in stunning technicolour during her shows in Paris – failed to offer up any additional performances not already included within the documentary (a previous VHS release of Truth or Dare had included bonus performances of Hanky Panky and Like A Prayer).

Madonna’s current manager, Guy Oseary, and even Madonna herself, have acknowledged fans’ very vocal requests that the tour be properly released on an accessible format. Guy confirmed through his Twitter account in 2011 that a recent meeting with Warner had taken place concerning the reissuing of Madonna’s tours on DVD and that the talks were “a start”, but he also noted that the process would take time, as they did not know what footage remained available for a potential release, nor its condition. During a 2013 fan chat on Reddit when Madonna was asked about the possibility of a Blond Ambition Tour DVD release, she offered the terse response: “when I can find the tapes in the archives.”

Meanwhile, seemingly remastered audio/video footage of the Nice show mysteriously turned up on YouTube in 2013, along with the caption “Master submitted to Reliance Mediaworks in 2011. Full digital remaster, error correction, frame by frame color grading (RELM.NS) DTS-HD master audio from original stems (Nasdaq:DTSI).” The user uploading the footage appears to have created a YouTube account for the sole purpose of streaming the tour and does not reply to comments requesting further information on the source of the footage, making it difficult to ascertain its legitimacy. While there are noticeable signs of improvement in the audio mix, the video quality is inconsistent, with some shots showing improved colour grading and others appearing excessively dark and overly filtered. Whether the quality issues are the result of a highly compressed upload file or if they are evidence of its possible inauthenticity as an officially commissioned remaster are a matter of speculation.

Incidentally, Reliance MediaWorks’ parent company, Indian conglomorate Reliance ADA Group, is the major shareholder of IM Global, which provided financial backing and acquired international distribution rights for Madonna’s film W.E. in 2011.

The saga continues…