From Our Archives: Madonna
August 2, 1987
Welcome to show business. Your first album has gone triple platinum. Your first movie has passed the $100 million mark and has the legs to crack another half that again.
Happy? Secure? Don't be. The whole world is lining up for your encore, and they had better like it or it is back to the Boom Boom Room and breath-mint ads. If your follow-up is too similar to the debut, you will be reviled as unimaginative and repetitive. If it dares to be different, you will be rejected for abandoning what you do best and for snubbing the fans who got you there in the first place.
In the music business they call it the "sophomore jinx," and Madonna beat it with Like a Virgin, that sold 14 million copies, more than doubling the sales of her debut disc, Madonna. But, alas, Mrs. Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone Penn, acknowledged by all to be in control of her career as early as Grade Two in Bay City, Michigan, was not as lucky with her second movie. Shanghai Surprise was dumped on by critics and public alike. Then the studio gave up and dumped it, too.
Her movie debut was sensational, though. Playing the corseted and blood-red-lipped bimbo of her videos in Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna teamed with Rosanna Arquette's housewife "wanna-be." The film scampered out of its New York bo-ho environs to snag a large, diverse audience. NYC director Susan Seidelman was suddenly wooed by Hollywood. Cameraman Ed Lachman was compared to West German lensmeister Michael Ballhaus, and Madonna to Harlow, Monroe and Judy Holliday.
Comedies can cut across predicted demographics to expand an audience. Make someone famous all over. But Shanghai Surprise was a disappearing act. No one warmed to Madonna's scheming, opium-trade missionary, or to new husband Sean Penn's mince around the Bogart flagpole. True, she and Penn were an item, a low-rent reminder of the halcyon Burton-Taylor gossip days, and Madonna probably needed some rest from the greedy archaeologists who had unearthed nude photos done when she was living on Kraft Dinner. Penn's knuckles needed healin, too, after a season of paparazzi bashing. But Shanghai Surprise, financed in England in a big hurry, shot on distant locations almost as quickly, was a slack, lifeless affair; an excuse to get away rather than to alter film history.
Madonna's third film, Who's That Girl? is due this month. Boosters see it as her "second" movie, detractors as a career-critical comeback. Either way, with a devastating live show that has already rolled through Japan and Eastern Canada using the movie's title, Madonna is again eagerly anticipated.
So, who is that girl? She is a tough-but-good Nikki Finn, who, having done time for a crime she did not commit, leaves jail unrepentant, unreformed and pissed off; determined to find the sleaze who set her up. Who is assigned to move her from her jug to bus station to freedom? None other than Griffin Dunne, playing straight-arrow lawyer Loudon Trott.
Troutt is busy on this particular day. He is scheduled to marry is boss's socialite daughter, played by Haviland Morris, in the p.m., and to deliver a rare wild cat to prestige client Sir John Mills in the a.m.
Hint: The wedding does not happen, nor does the cat arrive on time. "It's the first script I've read that doesn't parody or mimic the old comedies," says cat-with-many-hates co-star Dunne.
As a producer (Chilly Scenes of Winter) and actor (After Hours), Dunne should know better. A scant six months ago, Jonathan Demme cast a buttoned-down Jeff Daniels against the free-spirited sociopath Melanie Griffiths in what could only be called a new-wave screwball: Something Wild. Should we reach further, to the musty early 1970s, we would discover Whats Up, Doc? another revisionist screw-baller that — you guessed it — featured a brassy gal, a classy guy and another fiancee left at the altar. In that one, Ryan O'Neal was the handsome actor who wore horn-rims and acted like a nerd. Barbra Streisand played the free-spirited catalyst of chaos.
"This gal has control over her own destiny that Monroe never did," photographer Arnold Newman said of Madonna to Vancouver. "She reminds me more of Streisand in her determination." Newman was not referring to a similarity in comedic film roles. He was speaking of a master plan to break into movies — into "legitimate" showbiz.
"I really see myself as a comedian," Madonna told Vancouver in 1985 when thriftshop Technicolor and bare midriff was her image. "In 20 years I know I will be an actress. I aspire to be a great actress."
There are question marks with the new film. Director James Foley is known for lavish languish, not levity, and Dunne, rat-toothed and normally neutral, must act as well as react. But for Madonna there are precedents galore. The grande dame of modern American showbiz, Streisand, made the move. She seldom sings now. Ditto Cher. Ditto Bette Midler. All were once known for song. Now they are known as movie stars.Digitized by Ayden Fabien Férdeline