Today in Madonna History: August 21, 1993

On August 21 1993, Billboard magazine interviewed director Mark Romanek for a feature article about Madonna’s music video for Rain:

One rarely finds the use for such adjectives as “Zen-like,” spare, and sentimental in describing an outrageous, outspoken, and extreme performer like Madonna. Yet the artist’s new Maverick -Sire-Warner Bros. video “Rain,” directed by Mark Romanek for Satellite Films, conjures those very images against the understated elegance of a tenderly soothing ballad. The result is a Madonna who is chic yet vulnerable, glamorous yet sweet.

“The contradiction you face in shooting a Madonna video is that people expect something rather grand from her, and yet the feeling of the times is that things need to be simplified and stripped away,” says Romanek. The director admits he was a bit intimidated by the prospect of shooting a video that would mark a departure from Madonna’s ostentatious antics of the past. “The song is a bit sentimental, and you just can’t do something psychosexual and subversive with it,” he notes. “My challenge was to come up with something that seems glamorous and expensive, yet is spare and Zen-like at the same time.” Romanek chose to interpret “Rain” as an exercise in media manipulation and image-making. The clip is reeled as a video-within-a-video, as Madonna, the doe-eyed ingenue, performs for a Japanese film crew.

Music buffs may recognize the “director” in the clip as the photogenic composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. “By making it a Japanese thing, we made Madonna more vulnerable; she’s away from home, more out-of-place,” says Romanek. “It creates a nice subtext and makes her more sympathetic.” And by shooting a “crew” shooting a clip, Romanek created the kind of prefab, artificial scenario that would underscore the true emotion of “Rain.”

“We knew we needed some rain, but we didn’t want the clip to be too clichéd or too literal,” he notes. “So we figured if we have to have rain, let’s have fake rain.” That fake rain was contained in two tall “walls” that stand on either side of a simply clad Madonna. One shot looks deceptively plain, but as Romanek explains, “the amount of equipment, pipes, and lights that are hidden in that image, so that the walls appear to stand as simply as possible and look aesthetically correct, was huge.”

To further capture the crystalline essence of the song, Romanek and cinematographer Harris Savides chose to lens a number of rare, color closeups of Madonna’s face and features. But they were faced with the technical challenge of updating the traditional “Garbo lighting” used since film’s earliest days to flatter a star’s most arresting features. Madonna agreed to undergo a half day of camera tests, after which a new German lighting fixture was chosen to achieve a thoroughly modern, yet classic, effect. Icy blue eyes stare directly into the camera as full, lush lips sing the lyrics into an old-fashioned microphone. Of all the sequences in the “Rain” video, Romanek says he is proudest of these close-ups. It’s one of the hardest things to make something as simple as that possible,” the director says. “You need that kind of icon, like Madonna, to make a shot like that work.”

The Satellite crew spent four days making sure such aesthetically correct shots would work, including a windswept storm sequence on a stage, and an overhead shot of Madonna surrounded by a bed of open, black umbrellas. In nearly every shot, the graphic image is so compelling that the camera need never move.

Romanek, a founding director of Satellite, shares credit for “Rain” with producer Krista Montagna, stylist David Bradshaw, and editors John Murray and Jim Haygood. The clip’s cinematographer Savides and art director Jan Peter Flack have been nominated for an MTV Video Music Award.

Today in Madonna History: July 5, 1987

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On July 5 1987,  Madonna was interviewed by Jane Pauley on NBC-TV’s Today and caused a controversy when she referred to her hometown of Bay City, Michigan as “a smelly little town” – a comment that enraged the citizens of Bay City.

Today in Madonna History: June 9, 1987

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On June 9 1987, Madonna made her first TV talk-show appearance on NBC-TV’s The Tonight Show (hosted by Johnny Carson).

Today in Madonna History: February 13, 1995

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On February 13 1995, Madonna made a surprise appearance on CBS-TV’s Late Show with David Letterman.

In her first visit back to the Ed Sullivan Theater after her controversial 1994 appearance, Madonna presented Letterman with a Valentines Day gift.

And no, it was not her underpants…

Today in Madonna History: January 19, 2017

On January 19 2017, Madonna participated in a discussion about feminism with Elizabeth Alexander, Marilyn Minter and the director of the Brooklyn Museum (where the discussion was held), Anne Pasternak, in New York City.

Here’s how the New York Times reported on the discussion:

At the talk Thursday night — which was introduced by Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, and moderated by the poet and essayist Elizabeth Alexander — one of the most interesting discussions surrounded the topic of sexuality and aging.

Ms. Minter — who collaborated with Madonna on a video piece for the singer’s 2008 “Sticky and Sweet Tour” — said that it is considered acceptable for women artists to talk about their sexuality as they get older, so long as they make themselves the brunt of a joke, like “Phyllis Diller.”

Madonna replied that she has no interest in approaching it this way. “I want to take it very seriously,” she said, wearing a biker cap and a black T-shirt reading “Feminist.”

Both Madonna and Ms. Minter frequently cited the virtue of resilience, saying it had been central to their successes.

For example, Ms. Minter said, it was often the “white heat” and praise that got her into trouble as an artist and made her complacent about pushing forward.

Madonna said, “I think what’s been key to my survival, strangely enough, is the constant rejection and criticism.”

Even so, she said that if she had learned one thing from the election, it was that women needed to get better at supporting each other. She noted the robust support for Mr. Trump by white women and the fact that the sharpest criticism she’s faced over the years has been from other women.

“And I find that astounding,” Madonna said. “Men naturally bond together and support each other.”

Ms. Minter agreed: “I’ve seen that too. They work as a team until they get to the top. Then they try to kill each other!”

Unsurprisingly, both Madonna and Ms. Minter were headed south to take part in the Women’s March on Washington.

How were they getting there, Ms. Pasternak asked.

“I’m taking the bus,” said Madonna.

“Me too,” said Ms. Minter.

 

Today in Madonna History: October 11, 1992

On October 11 1992, Madonna was interviewed at The Ritz Hotel in Paris for Swedish TV (7 Till 9). The interview was part of the European Erotica promotional tour. During the interview she calls Abba “boring” and Elvis “sexy”.

Today in Madonna History: March 21, 2012

On March 21 2012, a William Orbit interview by Larry Flick to promote the release of MDNA aired on Sirius radio.

Madonna was also interviewed by Flick, although her spot aired a few days earlier.

 

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