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: April 15, 1991

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On April 15 1991, Madonna and Michael Jackson were featured on the cover of People magazine as The Oddest Couple.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

It may have been just a one-night stand, but when Pop’s Billion Dollar Boy and the Queen of Steam strutted their stuff at the Oscars, they were, for one brief moment, the brightest star couple of all.

As anyone burdened with stardom knows, finding a date for the Oscars can be an enormo pain. After all, really famous folk simply can’t be seen with some sweet nobody who waves “Hi Mom” at the camera and spends the evening worrying about credit-card approval at Spago.

And so it was, when Madonna and Michael Jackson, Earth’s top pop stars, faced the who-is-famous-enough-to-be-seen-with-me quandary, they hit on the perfect solution. Since they were already planning a duet for Michael’s upcoming album, Dangerous, and since they both happened to be on all Hollywood’s collagen-enhanced lips anyway—he for his ballyhooed “billion-dollar” contract with Sony, she for her upcoming, already controversial self-ploitation film, Truth or Dare-why not date…each other?

Big dates can also become big disasters, however. So a week before the Oscars, the couple met at L.A.’s Ivy restaurant to plan and, perhaps, trade makeup tips. By Oscar night, all was ready. Michael looked positively legendary in gold-tipped cowboy boots, a blinding diamond brooch and—in a dramatic sartorial departure—two gloves. Madonna, awash in peroxide and pluck, diverted at least some of the attention from her low-cut, pearl-encrusted Bob Mackie gown with $20 million in diamonds, on loan from jeweler Harry Winston. They entered L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium and promptly collected their well-deserved Best Seat honors—front row, two on the aisle.

Today in Madonna History: January 21, 1992

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On January 21 1992, a lawsuit was filed against Madonna by 3 ex-dancers: Oliver Crumes, Kevin Stea and Gabriel Trupin – they charged her with invasion of privacy, fraud and deceit, intentional misrepresentation, suppression of fact, and intentional infliction of emotional distress for exposing their private lives in her 1991 film documentary Truth or Dare.

In a commercial for MTV’s Rock the Vote campaign later that year, Madonna joked about the lawsuit, saying, “You’re probably thinking that’s not a very good reason to vote… So sue me! Everybody else does.”

In October 1994, after more than two years of litigation, the suit was withdrawn and an undisclosed settlement was reached.