MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE - Living Life on Film
“Madonna: Truth or Dare” is a stylish time capsule of an era defining performer
Madonna: Truth or Dare
Realease Date: May 10th, 1991
Date of My First Viewing: June 25th, 2019
”She doesn’t want to live off camera.”
That is the line given by a flustered Warren Beatty as Madonna gets her throat examined while being filmed for her documentary, “Madonna: Truth or Dare”. Beatty, Madonna’s boyfriend at the time, seems uncomfortable in the situation and uncomfortable in all the scenes that feature him in the documentary. Chock it up to his own ego, his age, or something in the middle, Beatty can’t fathom why Madonna would want everything to be documented. Knowing Beatty’s personality, he’s probably trying to make some grandiose point, but he just comes across like an ass who can’t understand and accept the fact someone is doing something different than he would do it. Madonna’s decision to “live on camera” is her choice, and it makes for a fascinating time capsule of a documentary in “Truth or Dare”.
For those who don’t know, “Madonna: Truth or Dare” gives a behind the scenes look at Madonna’s iconic Blond Ambition World Tour, which took place in 1990. The documentary follows the tour from its start in a rainy and cold Japan to the end in Nice, France. Director Alek Keshishian’s cameras catch all points of this tour. They catch the standard production problems common in a stadium tour, the friendships and bickering between the dancers and road crew, and all the trappings of celebrity that surround a star like Madonna. All of this is captured in a gritty black and white visual style while concert footage is showcased in a lively and colorful presentation. “Madonna: Truth or Dare” is a story that deals with duality. The stylish world on stage that the public got the see, and the dirty world backstage that, until the documentary came into existence, only a select few got to see.
I decided on “Madonna: Truth or Dare” for a variety of reasons. It had been a while since I watched a good documentary, I knew this one is considered one of the best music documentaries ever done, and it focused on a period of popular culture that fascinates me. That entire period of time from about 1987 until 1992 is so interesting to me in retrospect. The 80’s were really into effect, but everyone had visions of what the 90’s would bring. The 90’s really didn’t start until about 1992 so that period between 1990 and 1991, when this documentary was done, remains a time without a time. Elements of the 80’s were still in effect, while elements of the 90’s began to take hold. An entertainer like Madonna understood this and was able to bridge both times. “Truth or Dare” is a representation of that ability.
It was the time where I really started to become aware of popular culture. Lots of moments and works still stick with me from that time, including the fact that Madonna was one of the biggest stars in the world. This documentary catches her at the height of her powers. I remember hearing about the controversy behind the album and single, “Like a Prayer”, while also remember seeing her on screen in “Dick Tracy” during the summer of 1990. A memory of the HBO broadcast of the Blond Ambition Tour playing at a cousin’s house also sticks with me. Even as a kid, I knew that HBO showing a concert must have meant it was a really big deal.
I really enjoyed what “Truth or Dare” put on screen and captured from the Blond Ambition Tour. As a concert photographer by trade, I LOVED seeing the performance footage in such a beautifully soft color palette. That show would have been a dream to photograph, even just for a song or two. The behind the scenes footage regarding the production and scope of such a large scale tour also captivated me. There were so many moving parts and elements to the Blond Ambition Tour, and it was great to see the documentary capture the good and bad parts of it. This definitely includes things like the police in Toronto threatening to arrest Madonna for indecency while her manager tries to stop it along with the scenes in Los Angeles where she has to deal with “industry” people and Kevin Costner’s patronizing comments about the show.
There really isn’t a surprise why “Truth or Dare” is held in such high regards when it comes to music and concert documentaries. It is a work that captures an entertainer at the height of her powers but also presents her vulnerabilities for all of us to see. Some could argue they might have been manufactured or manipulated by an entertainer that couldn’t live without the camera’s constant gaze. Even if that’s the case, “Truth or Dare” still remains a lasting document at a critical crossroads in popular culture. I get the sense Madonna knew that, and that is why she wanted to live on camera.