Monday, May 1, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Life in the fish bowl

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Ms. Ciccone Warns — Don't Challenge Her Blond Ambition.  Also — Truman Capote and Mick Jagger ... What Happens When "London Bridge is Down" and David Remnick's Brilliant New Yorker piece on The First One Hundred Days.

“EVERYONE who achieves public recognition is always at odds with it.  One minute you are so grateful that you have an audience and that people are paying attention. Then the next minute you are feeling over-analyzed and intruded upon — life in the fish bowl.

“But honestly, that part — being observed constantly — I’ve come to terms with.  I ask the rhetorical question now; ‘is it worth it?’  It’s not just me, ask anybody in any line of work, in any station of life — is it worth it, their individual struggle?”

That’s what Madonna told me not quite back in the day, but back in another day, for an interview with Out magazine.  Much has happened since then, but The Big M’s essential attitudes toward fame and its inevitable intrusions haven’t changed much, I don’t think. 

Still, it must have come as a rather bizarre belated April Fools' joke when last week news broke that a feature film bio pic of the pop icon, unimaginatively titled “Blond Ambition” is in the works.

Madonna saw the Elyse Hollander script and flipped. “Lies have no legs” she semi-cryptically remarked.

(Actually, lies can have legs, but I think M intends to shatter a femur or two before she’s done.)
What makes the intended film so foolish is that it purports to chronicle Madonna’s life only up until 1984, the night of the infamous MTV Awards.  There she sang (and writhed) her “Like a Virgin” song.  But that’s exactly the territory covered in a terrible (but wonderful/terrible) 1994 TV movie called “Madonna: Innocence Lost.” The title alone was enough to ensure its tacky immortality.  That one ended with Madonna, all alone in her dressing room, either just before or just after performing at the MTV event, rather gloomily pondering her fate, her intention to “conquer the world” as she had impudently told Dick Clark she surely would.  
The fallacy of that scene was Madonna alone, or at all depressed.  Even if she had been unsure of how her floor-rolling, thigh-exposing rendition of the song had gone over, she was most assuredly surrounded by people saying those immortal four words, “Darling, you were fabulous!”

What new ground does “Blonde Ambition” hope to plow? And why? She’ll never allow her early hits to be used — what what is a Madonna movie without those classics?   And her greatest fame and impact was yet to come.  Since Madonna’s private life has seemingly been an open book (emphasis on seemingly) what is there to tell, that won’t get the producers sued? 
At only 58, now the mother of six children (she adopted twin girls from Malawi early this year) and with something always cooking professionally, “looking back” on Madonna doesn’t seem to be a concept anybody’s ready for.  Certainly not the lady herself. She is resistant to nostalgia, and — like most human beings — resistant to “alternative facts.”  We all want to steer our own schooner, or — as in Madonna’s case — a heavily weaponized luxury cruiser. 

My take?  Don’t dress, as the old expression goes, for “Blonde Ambition.”  Maybe the producer, Brett Ratner, was just sitting around and decided, “Slow day. Let’s make Madonna crazy for no good reason.”
P.S. I just caught the 2016 Dutch documentary “Strike a Pose,” which tells the story of what happened to the seven men who became — briefly — famous, as Madonna’s backup dancers during her epic “Blonde Ambition” tour in 1990. 

None of the men — Luis Camacho, Oliver Crumes, Salim Gauwloos, Jose Gutierrez, Kevin Stea, Carlton Wilborn and the late Gabriel Trupin — overcame the initial blast of fame and the unprecedented attentions of Madonna, who claimed to see all these young and somewhat damaged men, as “my children.” 

(The world came to know all the dancers even better when Madonna and Alek Keshishian’s brilliant “Truth or Dare” documentary was released the next year.  At the forefront of so many things, Madonna’s mix of real and staged events might have actually ushered in the ugly “reality” programming that today gluts our small screens and has made Andy Cohen rich.  Unintended but sad.) 

I recall when “Strike a Pose” was released, some critics found it “manipulative.”  And in certain aspects, it is but then again, all documentaries tend to have a point of view and are therefore manipulative in some way.  I thought “Strike a Pose” was pensively uplifting, often deeply emotional. (Gabriel Trupin died of AIDS at the age of 26, and several of the other dancers reveal their HIV status, which, with a horrible, tragic irony, they felt forced to conceal during the tour; a tour which was very much a pro-gay, pro-safe sex, liberated exercise in sexual freedom and freedom from fear.)

Several of the dancers later sued Madonna, for various reasons, but no harsh words are expressed here, and by the end, you are aching for Madonna to make an appearance at the tear-drenched dinner reunion that closes the movie.  Surely, she would have approved of Luis Camacho’s words on their collective experience:  “You know, she really doesn’t owe us anything.  We were chosen and we had our chance and our great experiences and what we did after — that was our lives, our choices.”  Pretty wise words and mostly true for a lot of people who are plucked from some obscurity and given a chance. 

Still, I was hoping Madonna was gonna come walking in! With a check.

... In Rolling Stone magazine’s “The 50 Greatest Concerts of All Time” take-out, I loved Mick Jagger’s recollection that Truman Capote was hired by RS to do a cover story on the Stones 1972 tour.  Capote was not thrilled with the assignment, “for him it was a social occasion.”  Tru was also mortally offended that Jagger wore the same outfit every night.  “He would like it better now.  I have a much bigger wardrobe!” Mick says. 
Mick and Truman. © 1973 Annie Leibovitz
... MY favorite magazine, The Week, printed in its April 28th issue, an article picked up from Britain’s The Guardian. It is titled “The Grandest Farewell” and it’s all about what will occur when ... Queen Elizabeth II dies.  I don’t know, the Queen is 91 and appears in ripping good health.  A step-by-step of all the arrangements and official mourning, etc, seemed to me a bit on the ghoulish side.  Even if it is very well-written and informative. On the other hand, the Queen herself has likely had these conversations and thoughts for years.  Protocol is all, to British royals. And just so you know, “London Bridge is Down” is the code phrase to be used when the longest-reigning monarch leaves her earthly throne.
ENDQUOTE:  For everyone in the U.S. (and the world!) who is distressed, disturbed, depressed or hysterical on a daily basis because of who inhabits our White House, I urge you to read David Remnick’s brilliant “One Hundred Days” in the May 1st issue of the New Yorker. Read. Every.Word.

I will give you a taste, in this, Remnick’s final graph:

“The clownish veneer of Trumpism conceals the true danger. Trump’s way of lying is not a joke; it’s a strategy, a way of clouding our capacity to think, to live in a realm of truth. It is said that each epoch dreams of one to follow.  The task now is not to merely recognize this presidency for the emergency it is, and to resist its assault on the principles of reality and the values of liberal democracy, but to devise a future, to debate, to hear one another, to organize, to preserve and revive precious things.”
Illustrations by Tom Bachtell

Contact Liz here.