This film lays out the impressive staging of a dramatic tour but is intent on capturing its subject from only the best angles

‘Wilfully arty’ … Madonna performs on the Madame X tour in 2019.
‘Wilfully arty’ … Madonna performs on the Madame X tour in 2019. Photograph: Ricardo Gomes
 

This documentary opens with the old James Baldwin quotation about artists being here to disturb the peace, alongside a montage of the many controversies Madonna has sparked over the course of her career. There’s the quaint outrage she provoked in the Like a Virgin era; the Like a Prayer video with its flaming crosses, stigmata and snogging of a Black saint; the Sex book; the New York Post devoting its front page to an op-ed piece proclaiming her the “degenerate queen of sleaze” with the headline: “WHAT A TRAMP!”

Of course, the Madame X tour generated disquiet too, but not of Madonna’s traditional conservatives-clutching-their-pearls kind. The album it promoted was, by her standards at least, a commercial disaster – it entered the US charts at No 1, dropped 76 places the following week and vanished entirely the next. There were hotly denied claims that ticket sales for her series of theatre residencies were sluggish. Before Covid brought it to a premature end, the tour itself was pockmarked with cancelled dates, 16 in all, thanks to technical problems and injuries sustained by the singer, which underlined that the schedule was perhaps too punishing for its own good. In the US, there were reports of fans booing her for arriving on stage hours late: this being America, one enterprising audience member attempted to sue her. When a show at London’s Palladium ran over its allotted time, the venue dropped the curtain and turned the house lights up, prompting the singer to yell, “Fuck you motherfuckers! Censorship! Censorship!”

 

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