Sunday, July 25, 2021

"photography poisons the world"

Philosophy by way of character(less) assassination - David Thomson,  delicious, on Madonna cinematic uuuurv

He concedes that perhaps a case can be made for M as a singer and dancer...  perhaps implicitly admitting this is not his critical province especially.

Well, okay, let me barge in here Dave... 

In my non-humble opinion, they are two undeniably great M songs - which doesn't mean I would ever actively seek them out (do people actually listen to Madonna albums at home? all the way through?) but I wouldn't switch the channel if they came on the radio, or better, the TV

Those two songs are "Into the Groove" (pure dance-happiness - "only when I'm dancing do I feel this free" - for 3 minutes I believe her) and "Vogue". The latter being her manifesto (and in fact, a crystallisation into a couplet of Thompson's argument above - "strike a pose / there's nothing to it" - the "nothing" here to be understood as the Void,  rather than "nothing to it" as "it was easy, now it's your turn" - a glammed-up mass-culture version of Desperate Bicycles exhortation to DIY). Which it's clearly not - not easy at all, expensive and strenuous rather. Think of the (wo)man-hours that went into the dazzle and razzle of the "Vogue" video. The teamwork involved, the might of money behind it. 

After those two there's the smatter of decent tunes - "Justify My Love", "Ray of Light", some of the  husky-voiced teenage-joyburst early tunes like "Holiday" and "Lucky Star" (which Stubbs played as a deejay in the early '80s as import 12-inches, and which I taped off him, with zero intimation on our parts that this NYC postdisco ingenue was destined for anything more than a Vicky D or Shirley Lites level of name-recognition / fond memory going forward)

The rest though....  first and foremost on the level of pure sound, so labored and effortful (c.f Michael Jackson and Prince, those unnatural naturals). Then this unappeal is aggravated by the aspiration / affectation to Seriousness and Big Ideas - Signs of the Times to be read. "Prayer", "Papa", "Material", "Virgin", "Bonita", "Live to Tell" ...  A voice practised enough that through the down payment of  immense exertion it's become proficident, able to  hit the right notes and make the appropriate expressive gestures (singing as a subset of the dramatic arts rather than incantation)... but never ever gives off that sensation of aerial ascent that marks the true singer - those who are born to sing and for whom there is actually precious little else they can do on this earth 

The dancing - similarly sinewy with rehearsal

Madonna abolished glamour as aura, the haze of strange allure that made certain figures inherently magnetic - something in the eyes, the smile - the Bolan X factor -  and replaced it with this  hard-won / hard-working mechanically-achieved glamour where you can see the undergirding, the pinions and the straining pulleys -   

glamour without illusion: we know what it cost....  

we also understand the audio-visual end product as a collation of references, back to an earlier age when people really believed, really worshipped, in the Stars...   an unfallen state of idolatry

That's why there is only the most passing reference to M in S+A, in the Aftershocks section, on her one true tour de force, "Vogue" - a prototype for "Faceshopping"?

1990, March -- Madonna’s B&W retro-glamour video for “Vogue” either pays tribute to  or coopts New York’s gay subculture of balls and costumed competition, to create an anthem of escape-through-fantasy and magical masquerade. Learn from the screen gods and goddesses who “gave good face”, advises Madge;   “strike a pose, there’s nothing to it.” 



  1. Pardon my ignorance, but what does Void mean here?

  2. like the Void of Meaninglessness - just pure nihilistic self-celebration / self-advertising. fame for fame's sake. exhibitionism.


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