About Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone, Warren Beatty put it best — or was it Kierkegaard? ”She doesn’t want to live off camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off camera. Why would you say something if it’s off camera? What point is there in existing?”
He said this, Madonna’s former for-the-camera flame, in Truth or Dare, Madonna’s 1991 for-the-camera presentation of the off-camera life she and her entourage of dancers and hair-and-makeup people lived during her 1990 Blond Ambition tour. He said this, a middle-aged major Hollywood star treated like a toss-away boy toy, while watching the camera watch Madonna having her throat examined.
He spoke the truth but he missed the half of it.
The truth is, Madonna conducts a brisk off-camera life-business sessions, exercise sessions, photography sessions, recording sessions, perhaps even a little goofing around. But she has always known exactly what she wants from the camera: She wants control of life. She wants a documentation of life. As art. As goof. As dare. She’s master of the pose, mistress of the pretend. And in daring to transform herself year after year — from Like a Virgin to Material Girl to Who’s That Girl to Justify My Love, from brunet to blond to blondest, from female to male to take-your-pick, from richer to richest — the 33-year-old Catholic girl from Bay City, Mich., has proven this year once again that she justifies her ink.
And good Lord, the ink never stops flowing on That Girl. With Truth or Dare, she made news (and $15 million at the box office) by sticking her finger down her throat at the kind words of Kevin Costner and sticking a Vichy bottle down her throat at the dare of her jolly entourage egging her on to simulate oral sex. With combined 1990-91 earnings estimated at $63 million and a humongous deal in the works with Time Warner, she made news for being the fourth-highest-paid entertainer in the biz, according to Forbes. With nothing much to sell this year (The Immaculate Collection, her greatest-hits album, has sold only 2 million copies), she made news for selling herself. With reporters staked out near her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and her Hollywood Hills home, she makes news for jogging. Eating. Dyeing her hair. Showing up.
Madonna’s a girl driven to turn herself inside out — underwear on the outside, a public version of private life available for all to see. She likes challenge, shock, in-your-faceness. True, some find the Madonna act offensive at worst. Yet there’s a sweetness and down-to-earthness to her that makes teenage girls understand her and thirtysomething career women smile indulgently. She’s a smarty, and assumes the same of her audience — that they’re grown-up enough to accept androgyny and blasphemy and any kind of dirty bits she cares to throw their way.
To watch Madonna mutate so successfully year after year is to be reminded, in some odd way, that nothing’s too naughty or scary in this world. Sometimes, it’s just fun.