19 years ago today……Madonna in Berlin

I went to Berlin
I had a dream
I wanted to see Madonna
I didn’t know anybody
I wanted to dance
I wanted to sing
I wanted to do all those things
I wanted to be happy
I wanted to see a legend
I wanted to love her even more
I wanted to see a real star
I worked really hard
and my dream came true

19 years ago today I xperienced one of the greatest nights of my life. Seeing Madonna in person ‘for the very first time’ during her Drowned World Tour in the Max Schmeling Halle in Berlin (tiny tiny tiny venue!!) 

The excitement around the venue in the sunny weather was unparalleled. Do you know that feeling when you find yourself in a certain place at a certain time and you felt like ‘you just got home’? That’s the best way I can describe the feeling of running into the thousands of people who all came to see Madonna. The greatest living legend of our times. 

I hopped off the tube and found myself in pure Madonna heaven. There was Madonna music playing everywhere, people were wearing those cheap but cute replica cowboy hats and everyone was simply HAPPY. It was a feeling so special, that I will never ever forget it. 

Going inside the venue was nerve wracking, what if my ticket is fake? what if I don’t get in? Thankfully nothing like that happened and I walked in teary eyed. I was in such a state that I was almost in tears before the show had even started. Just the realization that my long cherished dream was about to come true…..I was finally going to see HER! 

Walking up to the front row on the left side of the stage coming eye to eye with both Gwyneth Paltrow and Ingrid Casaras nearly gave me a heart attack. Gosh, I was a mess. Just seeing Madonna’s pals in real life was more than enough to give me a nervous breakdown. I can’t even explain how I felt when only 15 minutes later (around the clock of 9pm) the lights went out and the show started. I couldn’t find my glasses and saw everything in a blur, but I recognized Donna and Niki……STRESSED OUT!

Then there she was.

Putting on my glasses my eyes finally adjusted to the fact that she was in fact real, and I was looking right at her. Tears of joy, screams of excitement and trying to get my head around the fact that it was happening! To make a long story short, I witnessed one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) shows I have ever seen there in that tiny venue.

I remember years later when I met Dutch TV host Eddy Zoey who’d also seen the show, that he said that no words, no picture, no footage could EVER capture the magic that was the Drowned World Tour. It was a case of ‘you had to have been there to actually feel it, to experience it’. 

I’ll leave it at that.

Kimberly

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BEHIND THE LENS WITH RANKIN, THE BAD BOY OF CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHY

MADONNA

Q magazine, 1998

“This was a really exciting one. I remember I was in Paris and I needed to get a motorbike taxi to the airport to fly to L.A. to shoot it. Madonna was on time. She came in and told me, ‘I chose you to photograph me because you make the people in your photos look like they’re having a laugh,’ which made me nervous because I felt like I had to be a stand-up comedian. I was more nervous meeting her than I was meeting the Queen. I had heard lots of things about her being quite tough, but I think it’s a testament to her that it’s her collaborators—stylists, make-up artists, producers—who are always her biggest allies.”

Full article at Interview Magazine

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The Biggest Pop Culture Milestones in Dsquared2’s History

Reaching the 25-year mark is a crowning achievement for any fashion brand these days, particularly one who remains privately owned and fiercely independent.

For twin brothers Dean and Dan Caten, who are celebrating their label Dsquared2’s 25th anniversary this year, much of that success can be attributed to the music world’s most iconic women who have supported them throughout their careers.

Legends like MadonnaBritney and Christina have all helped propel the Catens’ brand into the global mainstream, while supermodel Naomi Campbell’s famous opening walk for Fall 2004 cemented its place in fashion history.

It’s been a wild ride for the designer duo, who were raised in a small town in Ontario, Canada, went to New York to study at Parsons and moved to Italy where they remain and show today. From their menswear roots, Dsquared2 now encompasses an entire lifestyle offering including womenswear, beach/ underwear, children’s and fragrance.

To commemorate 25 years in business, PAPER caught up with Dean and Dan to reflect on some of their biggest pop culture/ celebrity moments and how they impacted their careers.

When They Dressed Madonna Early in Their Careers

Dan: Working with Madonna was an honor and an essential moment for our career. Still overwhelmed by that emotion. We weren’t that well known at that time. Jamie King, her creative director and a friend of ours, called asking for some of our men’s collection. We selected some looks for her and sent everything right away. She started by wearing our jeans and ended up customizing some items for her 2000 “Don’t Tell Me” music video and for a segment of her Drowned World Tour. That drove us to start designing our womenswear line.

Full article at Papermag

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Kunsthal x Operator: Online! Live opening: Black Album / White Cube 19 – 21 JUN 18:00 – 20:00

Kunsthal Rotterdam is opening its new exhibition ‘Black Album / White Cube’ online! In collaboration with the Rotterdam online radio station Operator, for three nights in a row the focus will be on art and music. To what extent are these worlds connected to each other? What concepts are exchanged between visual artists and musicians? Why is everybody playing vinyl again these days? And what was it like when the first gabber techno tracks started to shake Rotterdam to its foundations in the 1980s and 1990s?

The exhibition ‘Black Album / White Cube’ will be the inspiring setting for three live broadcasts. Hosts Samira Ben Messaoud, Femke Dekker, and Thomas Fonville will talk to some high-profile guests from the worlds of art and music. After the talk, the DJ will take over for a ninety-minute set. Follow the special online opening programme live via this page.

PROGRAMME 18.00 – 20.00 HRS
 

FRIDAY 19 JUNE

18.00 – 18.30 hrs:
Host Samira Ben Messaoud will talk to the artist duo Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek. Inspired by the emerge of gabber culture in Rotterdam in the 1990s, they portrayed numerous individuals from various subcultures over the past 26 years. Their ongoing art project Exactitudes® is part of the exhibition Black Album / White Cube.
18.30 – 20.00 hrs: Set with DJ mad miran.

SATURDAY 20 JUNE

18.00 – 18.30 hrs: Host Femke Dekker will talk to George Ruseler, frontman of the Rotterdam Terror Corps, and guest curator Max Dax, former editor in chief of the famous German rock and pop culture magazine Spex, and of Electronic Beats magazine. 
18.30 – 20.00 hrs: Set with DJ Marcelle.

SUNDAY 21 JUNE

18.00 – 18.30 hrs: Host Thomas Fonville in conversation with DJ and artist Natasja Alers, organiser of the Grauzone Festival.
18.30 – 20.00 hrs: Set with DJ Max Dax

BLACK ALBUM / WHITE CUBE. A JOURNEY INTO ART AND MUSIC

The exhibition ‘Black Album / White Cube’ combines the worlds of visual art and pop music. Thirty five internationally known artists are showing work that is influenced by music: from A$AP Rocky, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears to Joy Division, Euromasters and The Beatles. Over two hundred contemporary artworks have been brought together in the exhibition, including photography by Wolfgang Tillmans and Anton Corbijn, video installations by Cyprien Gaillard and Arthur Jafa, and paintings by Albert Oehlen and Emil Schult. Within themes such as ‘remixing and sampling’ or ‘original and copy’, countless exciting cross-overs are created.

SEE ALSO

 
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BLACK ALBUM / WHITE CUBE – A JOURNEY INTO ART AND MUSIC

Image: Radenko Milak, Madonna Kisses Britney, 2019 © Radenko Milak. Courtesy PRISKA PASQUER, Cologne

JUNE 20, 2020 – JAN. 10, 2021
 
Music rules! In the exhibition ‘Black Album / White Cube’ at Kunsthal Rotterdam 35 internationally renowned artists and musicians present almost 200 works of contemporary art – multimedia installations, sculptures, videos and paintings. The exhibition reveals what happens when the worlds of art and pop music meet. Modern classics – including the seminal painting by Emil Schult that became the cover of Kraftwerk’s groundbreaking album ‘Autobahn’ in 1974 – will be exhibited alongside photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans and Anton Corbijn, paintings by Kim Gordon and Albert Oehlen, as well as video installations by Arthur Jafa and Cyprien Gaillard. ‘Black Album / White Cube’ is a surprising journey beyond art from the 1990s until now, inspired and fueled by music from The Beatles and Joy Division to Britney Spears and Rotterdam’s own gabber techno.

 

NO ART WITHOUT MUSIC

The exhibition shows how artists and musicians are mutually influenced by each other. Visual artists like Richard Prince and Mark Leckey have taken up musical principles such as remixing or sampling to include them in their own works. The exhibition also features art made by musicians, including the ‘Band Name Paintings’ by Kim Gordon, one of the founding members of Sonic Youth. The tension between the dogma of the original in the art world and the popularity musicians achieve by selling or streaming as many copies of their art as possible provides dynamic mutual interaction. The monumental installation ‘We Buy White Albums’ by Rutherford Chang plays with this contradistinction: Chang collected 3,000+ vinyl copies of The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ and sorted them by serial number in a re-enactment of a record shop. Antiquated, stained or written on, each album turns out to be unique and special – like works of art in their own right. Peter Saville, the graphic designer behind Joy Division’s record covers, contributes to the exhibition with a new video installation featuring homages and rip-offs of his iconic ‘Unknown Pleasures’ motif.  

FROM FANS TO CLUBS

Extreme forms of worship and adoration of pop idols and nightlife are also themes in the exhibition. Since the early 1990s, Wolfgang Tillmans portrayed stars like Grace Jones, Wu-Tang Clan, Björk and A$AP Rocky. The artists Phil Collins (no, not the singer) and Henning Strassburger are intrigued by how the phenomenon of extreme fandom – from Beliebers to the Army of the K-pop band BTS – has emerged since the age of The Beatles. The Bosnian artist Radenko Milak immortalised Madonna and Britney Spears’ iconic kiss during the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards in a photorealistic watercolour. Also shown are ten larger-than-life portraits of the Berghain bouncers by the German photographer Sven Marquardt — he is also the first doorman of the world renowned nightclub, the Berghain in Berlin. And in their series ‘Exactitudes’, the Rotterdam photographers Ellie Uyttenbroek and Ari Versluis captured the looks of ‘gabbers’, as the fans of gabber techno are called.  

SYNAESTHESIA

Music can blow you away when you turn up the volume, or it can transport you back in time. But how can we recreate a listening experience as an image? The German painter Bettina Scholz says: “When I am listening to music, I see colours”. Scholz translated her perception into behind-glass paintings in which clouds of ink are spread out on brightly coloured sheets of glass. Other artists in the exhibition are playing with synaesthesia, a phenomenon where one sensory experience subconsciously evokes another. The French photographer Julien Lescoeur is inspired by the music of Joy Division. His haunting grey-scale photographs show his attempt to translate a feeling of isolation that he clearly feels in the band’s music.

COLLABORATION

The exhibition is realised in collaboration with the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. Guest curator is the author and curator Max Dax, who became known for being editor-in-chief to both ‘Spex’ and ‘Electronic Beats’ — two German magazines for pop culture that changed the way we look at music and art.

ARTISTS

In ‘Black Album / White Cube’ you will find works by Daniel Blumberg, Rutherford Chang, Phil Collins, Anton Corbijn, Cyprien Gaillard, Kim Gordon, Juro Grau, Arthur Jafa, K Foundation, Scott King, Peter Knoch, Mark Leckey, Julien Lescoeur, Luci Lux, Sven Marquardt, Michaela Melián, Radenko Milak, Olaf Nicolai, Albert Oehlen, Richard Prince, Thomas Ruff, Peter Saville, Thomas Scheibitz, Michael Schirner, Bettina Scholz, Emil Schult, Andrea Stappert, Henning Strassburger, Wolfgang Tillmans, Philip Topolovac, Rosemarie Trockel / Thea Djordjadze, Ari Versluis & Ellie Uyttenbroek, Wolfgang Voigt, Cosima von Bonin and Mason  Williams.

More at the Kunsthal

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Dick Tracy: 22 Easter Eggs, Facts, And References To Celebrate The 30th Anniversary

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Pride 50: Here are the Top 25 Pride Anthems of All Time

6. “Express Yourself,” Madonna (1989)

“Madonna’s Pride anthem about expressing your real and true self, ready or not. Along with its homoerotic video, this song has gone on to be an LGBTQ+ anthem with lyrics about not settling for second best and getting what you deserve in life. You can be the queen on a throne. Madonna has been a queen on a throne to the LGBTQ+ community for 35 years.”

Full article at East Bay Times

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Madonna: where to start in her back catalogue

The album to start with

Like a Prayer (1989)

Madonna: Like a Prayer – video

Madonna’s 1980s hits such as Holiday, Into the Groove and Like a Virgin are brilliantly captured on The Immaculate Collection (1990). If you want a deeper exploration of her musical psyche and kinetic songwriting though, I’d advise listening to the post-True Blue albums. In the late 80s, having conquered the charts with 19 hit singles, she was ready to challenge herself with more personal lyrics and a richly collaborative approach with her producers and musicians. Dubbed her “divorce album”, 1989’s Like a Prayer was recorded at the worst point in Madonna’s marriage to Sean Penn, as the giddy pace and crashing glass of Till Death Do Us Part testifies.

As well as capturing the emotional chaos of her marriage, Madonna delved into her Catholic girlhood and family dynamics with some Freudian pop songwriting. Producer Pat Leonard was the yang to Madonna’s yin, his deeply melodic music providing the ballast for her vivid lyrics. The standout song here is easily the iconic title track, with its fiery gospel choir, Guy Pratt’s runaway bass line and the lyrical celebration of the sacred and profane. Also lovely is the tender piano ballad Promise to Try (in memory of her mother), and Express Yourself – a funky, feminist call to arms that she wrote with Stephen Bray, stepping out, as he put it “like Daenerys in Game of Thrones, emerging from the fire”.

The three to check out next

Ray of Light (1998)

Madonna: Ray of Light – video

Recorded in her late 30s, after the birth of her daughter Lourdes, 1998’s Ray of Light marks out Madonna’s maturity as an artist. Study of Kabbalah and yogic philosophy had taken her down an experimental path, and William Orbit’s trippy, electronic production created the space for questing lyrics about the death of the ego and personal transformation. Singing a set of robust, theatrical songs for the Evita movie soundtrack two years earlier had made Madonna’s voice stronger and more expressive – especially for the techno-driven title track, in which Orbit made her sing a semitone above her comfort zone.

This record is a triumph, more of a concept album than a collection of songs. It’s not just Orbit’s icy production that makes it so rewarding, but Pat Leonard’s dramatic arrangements for tracks like Frozen and Nothing Really Matters (the latter featuring glorious backing vocals by Donna De Lory and Niki Haris). There is a sense of personal revelation in the chilling final track Mer Girl, where Madonna creates a poetic, nightmarish vision of her dead mother buried beneath the earth.

The album won her four Grammys, and conclusively proved her worth as a musician and executive producer, willing to take artistic risks. On the track Nothing Really Matters, for instance, Orbit wanted to get rid of co-producer Marius De Vries’ strange, strangled intro. “Sounds like a broken DAT,” he protested. Madonna, who had the casting vote, kept the noise in, adding another layer to the album’s futuristic, otherworldly sound.

Music (2000)

Madonna: Music – video

Driven by producer Mirwais Ahmadzaï’s fractured disco and acid bass, the opening track is classic party Madonna. “Music makes the people come together / Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel.” What a fantastic line – and, sung in that choppy, insouciant way, one of most memorable in 2000s pop. On this album, Madonna explores what love and music mean to her, moving easily from the sinuous country grooves of Don’t Tell Me to the space age ambience of What It Feels Like For a Girl (complete with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s soft spoken-word intro). What’s most striking now is the track Paradise (Not for Me). Somewhat overlooked at the time of the album’s release, with its pitch-shifting chanson, trip-hop bedroom pop and melting strings, it’s very of this pop moment.

Madame X (2019)

Madonna: Medellín ft Maluma – video

Madonna went a little off the boil after 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor with a few albums (Hard CandyMDNARebel Heart) where she seemed less engaged, less excited. With last year’s Madame X, she rediscovered her mojo. Reflecting on her new life in Lisbon, this album is about exile and liberation, incorporating everything from reggaeton, mournful Portuguese fado and devotional Moroccan Ganawa to trap-inspired hip-hop. Dark Ballet (produced by Mirwais) has a rococo brilliance, while I Don’t Search I Find is an almost mystical return to the dancefloor. And Batuka, performed with the mighty Orquestra Batukadeiras, has a dark, percussive female power. When you think about where Madonna began, with the heady New York beat box sound of 1982’s Everybody, hers has been an amazing journey. 

One for the heads

Sorry (Pet Shop Boys Maxi Mix, 2006)

Pinterest
Madonna: Sorry (Pet Shop Boys Maxi Mix) – video

Sorry is the best song on Madonna’s disco-inspired Confessions on a Dance Floor. The radio version is throwaway, flippant and arch, but this eight-minute Pet Shop Boys remix brings out a whole new layer of meaning, emphasising the drama behind Madonna’s words. Just after an enticing build-up comes Madonna’s quietly menacing vocal, and the PSB’s plaintively apologetic: “I’m sorry … so sorry.” Thunderous – and my favourite remix ever.

The primer playlist

Spotify users, use the playlist below or click here. Apple Music users, click here.

Further reading

Madonna’s Private Diaries, by Madonna, Vanity Fair
One of the few extended pieces of writing by Madonna. It’s a fascinating journal, written while she was filming Evita in Argentina, pregnant with Lourdes. “I wonder if I could ever have been the kind of sweet, submissive, feminine girl that the entire world idealises,” she muses.

Power is an Aphrodisiac, by Danny Eccleston, Q magazine
Eccleston’s down-to-earth humour brought out a different, less guarded Madonna in this free-ranging interview.

Madonna at Sixty, by Vanessa Grigoriadis, New York Times
A thoughtful, analytical study, in which Madonna discusses Trump, Time’s Up and being a feminist heroine. She also quotes the American poet Mary Oliver: “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride / married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

Lucy O’Brien is the author of Madonna: Like an Icon (Corgi), available now.

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Read more at The Guardian

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Gigi Goode of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Breaks Down Her Madonna Performance

Gigi Goode of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ Breaks Down Her Madonna Performance

Because let’s be honest, “Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical” was one of the best parts of Season 12.

If anyone could do a backflip in heels, it’s Gigi Goode, one of the top contestants from season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But that actually wasn’t the hardest part of channeling Madonna in her rendition of “Papa Don’t Preach,” Gigi tells Women’s Health in the latest episode of “Performance Review.” (As it turns out, mastering the iconic chug in the number was much harder for Gigi.)

In the video, Gigi shares tons of behind-the-scenes stories from “Madonna: The Unauthorized Rusical,” one of the highlights of the season.

“Being in drag is working out,” Gigi says. “You’re constantly in heels, your legs hurt, your waist is cinched, you have to be standing up straight the entire time. There’s a heavy wig on your head, heavy costumes.”

While planning out the Rusical, contestants had to figure out who would play each version of Madonna. Though at first Gigi wanted to play “cone-bra Madonna,” she ultimately landed on “Papa Don’t Preach” Madonna, in part because of the outfit. “You don’t want to be swallowed up by the look,” when you’re doing a Rusical, she says, so she thought to herself, “I’m going to be able to be Madonna, Madonna is not going to take over me.”

For Gigi, the choreography in the Rusical experience proved challenging since it normally isn’t a part of her drag performance. In order to nail the musical number, she worked with choreographer Jamal Sims — who she now DMs almost every day, lol — who helped her master the classic “Papa Don’t Preach” chug.

“They say drag is a contact sport,” Gigi says, “and they are so right about that.”

Fans can catch all new episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars followed by Untucked, every Friday, starting at 8/7c on VH1.

Click HERE for the video and more at Women’s Health

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1 Year Of Madonna’s Visionary ‘Madame X’ Era

A year has passed since Madonna released Madame X on June 14, 2019 and the world is a very different place. We’ve had a global pandemic, UFOs and a righteous uprising of citizens demanding change and justice. It’s noteworthy then, that the Queen of Pop’s 14th album feels more timely now than it did upon release. Madame X is essentially a protest album that simmers with fury and frustration about the state of the world. For every fluffy bop, there are two or three hard-hitting tracks about racism, gun violence and LGBTQ+ rights.

To celebrate Madonna’s prescient album, I’ve rounded up some pics from the utterly chaotic Madame X era. It was triumphant (her performance at the Billboard Music Awards), infuriating (we need to have a long conversation about the Madame X Tour one of these days) and controversial (toe-gate and many other mini-scandals). But that’s what makes it special. With all due respect to other legendary divas of a certain age, their new releases come and go without making a ripple. Madonna still has the girls seeing red and that’s what makes her legendary.

Revisit some of the highlights of the Madame X era in our gallery up top. You also might want to revisit my album review here and watch the mind-melting “Medellín” video for the umpteenth time below.

Full article at IDOLATOR

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THE MAN IN THE YELLOW JACKET: ‘DICK TRACY’ AT 30

Revisiting Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy

In 1990, Warren Beatty came out with yet another of his wildly ambitious projects in which he himself served as director, producer, and star. That was Dick Tracy, which arrived a year after Tim Burton’s Batman, at a time before comic book adaptations were nearly the cultural force that they would eventually become. 

Beatty’s Dick Tracy marks its 30th anniversary this week, and despite having been a Disney/Touchstone release, it’s currently available to stream not on Disney+ or Hulu, but rather HBO Max. 

Nine years after Reds, and eight before Bulworth, Dick Tracy was a very different kind of Beatty auteur project: An adaptation of a comic strip serial dating back to the 1930s, made into a movie deeply rooted in the film noir tradition, with major actors playing all the criminal roles and Madonna, at the height of her superstardom, portraying the femme fatale. It even featured, in a rarity for the movies, original music by master Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, most of it performed by Madonna herself. 

A triumph of gorgeous and elaborate visuals, thanks to production designer  Richard Sylbert and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Dick Tracy starred Beatty as the titular hero, a police detective known for his Technicolor yellow hat and jacket. Beatty’s Tracy goes toe-to-toe with a rogue’s gallery of cartoonish gangland figures, led by Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice, and also featuring the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, and James Caan. 

Tracy’s love is Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headley)- none of the names in this movie are particularly subtle- and he soon becomes a father figure to a street urchin known only as “The Kid” (Charlie Korsmo.) But that’s all threatened by singing femme fatale Breathless Mahoney (Madonna, with whom Beatty famously, had a romance around this time, which can be glimpsed in the 1991 documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare. This was not long before the legendary Hollywood lothario finally got married, to Annette Bening.) 

Watching Dick Tracy for the first time probably since its release, I was taken by just how beautiful, creatively rendered, and high-effort it was, compared to most of the comic book movies that would follow in the ensuing years. Sure, the plot is a bit thin, but it gave plenty of chances for over-the-top criminal performances, especially by Pacino, at the start of the overacting phase that comprised the bulk of his output in the 1990s. The Sondheim-written, Madonna-sung songs- collected on a soundtrack album called I’m Breathless – was fine, if not quite up there with the greatest music produced by either. 

Did you remember that Dick Tracy was a cop? I think I misremembered him as a private eye, largely because he doesn’t dress anything like even any plainclothes detective I’ve ever seen. We even get a scene where a crooked district attorney questions why such a “maverick detective who keeps making false arrests of private citizens.” 

Perhaps the strangest story that came out of the movie’s all-star cast was that of Charlie Korsmo, who played “The Kid.” He was a child actor, in this film and many others. Then he became a lawyer, law professor, and occasional political commentator, although he returned to acting last year, in as a Werner Herzog-like German filmmaker in the indie film Chained For Life. 

Dick Tracy was a big hit for Disney in the summer of 1990, although due to some legal wrangling that continued for years, there was never a sequel, nor was there ever a remake or reboot, or even talk of one. But 30 years on, Dick Tracy remains a winning, fun movie, with first-rate production design and a hell of a cast. 

More at Goombastomp

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HEAR US OUT: DICK TRACY DESERVES MORE LOVE IN THE COMIC BOOK MOVIE CANON

30 YEARS AFTER ITS RELEASE, WARREN BEATTY’S STAR-STUDDED, LOVINGLY FAITHFUL COMIC ADAPTATION IS STILL ONE OF THE MOST UNIQUE EXAMPLES OF ITS GENRE.

 
Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy

(Photo by Buena Vista Pictures)

In the summer of 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman took the box office by surprise, decades before movies based on comic books could be counted on to draw in the crowds. Hot on his heels the following summer came another movie based on a famous comic character, this one from the funny pages of the Tribune Company’s syndicate, Dick Tracy.

The 1990 adaptation of Chester Gould’s yellow hat-and-coat-wearing detective finds a man too over-committed to his endless quest to put the City’s big bad mob boss Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino) out-of-business. It’s a full-time job that leaves Tracy’s girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) feeling left out and worried about their future together. But their lives take a turn when Tracy rescues a wisecracking street kid (Charlie Korsmo) who wants to stay with the couple, a smooth-talking femme fatale named Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) enters the picture, and Big Boy escalates his turf war to wipe out Tracy. It’s a colorful fantasy world frozen in the early 1930s in a place where the good guys wear badges and the bad guys are noticeably grotesque figures with names like Pruneface, Flattop, and Mumbles.

Although Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy didn’t quite win over audiences and critics as strongly as Batman did the previous year, here’s why it remains a movie worth revisiting 30 years later for its wild direction, astonishing production design, and catchy music.


WARREN BEATTY’S DEDICATION TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL IS CLEARLY EVIDENT

William Forsythe, Ed O'Ross, Madonna, Henry Silva, Al Pacino, and R.G. Armstrong in Dick Tracy

(Photo by (c)Touchstone courtesy Everett Collection)

Part of the appeal of 1990’s Dick Tracy is that it doesn’t remotely resemble reality. Beatty, a fan of the Dick Tracy comic strips from back in the day, chose to stick to the source’s two-dimensional layout, limited color palette, and cartoon-esque aesthetics. According to Vox, the actor turned director and producer had first tried to adapt Dick Tracy for the screen back in the 1970s. A number of notable directors were considered for the project, including Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Walter Hill, and Martin Scorsese, but ultimately, Beatty gave himself the job.

Introduced in 1931 at the tail-end of Prohibition, Dick Tracy quickly became a popular comic strip crimefighter who battled scary-looking mob bosses and shifty gangsters. Before Beatty’s movie, Dick Tracy enjoyed a brief run as the hero of serials and movies in the 1930s and 40s, as well as occasional TV appearances in the 1950s and 60s. Many of these adaptations jettisoned the character’s original backstory and supporting players, but Beatty wanted to do justice to his first big-budget adaptation.

For Beatty, that meant going all-in on Tracy’s original aesthetic, which mostly took its cues from how newspapers cheaply printed its comic pages; there would be limited colors and patterns on
Milena Canonero’s costumes. While Beatty already came to the starring role with his character’s square jaw, make-up artists John Caglione Jr. and Doug Drexler would create the monstrous features of the mobsters. The screenplay by writing duo Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. (Top GunThe Secret of My Success) includes many characters from the original comic strip series like Tess, the orphan who names himself after Dick Tracy, and the rogues’ gallery. Although the film didn’t become a roaring success at the box office, it still made its parent distributor Disney over $100 million at the domestic box office, and it went on to earn seven Academy Away nominations –– including nods to Pacino, Canonero, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro –– and win three Oscars for Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Song.


THE FILM’S EYE-POPPING PRODUCTION DESIGN IS A SIGHT TO BEHOLD

Set of Dick Tracy

(Photo by Buena Vista Pictures)

There’s a good reason Dick Tracy took home the Oscar for Best Art Direction: It’s truly stunning what Beatty, production designer Richard Sylbert, and art director Rick Simpson accomplished on an astonishing scale. Before computer technology could easily and cheaply create worlds beyond our reality, filmmakers had to rely on old school practical effects to make these made-up worlds appear on screen. That meant tricking out a lot of backlot space to look less like our world and more like Tracy’s, carefully set-decorating each room to look as they would in a comic strip and using matte paintings and other visual effects to bring the inky pages of a newspaper to life.

Under the lens of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse NowThe Last Emperor), the colors of the sets and costumes brightly pop off the screen, much in the same way that comic strips in a newspaper would appear after pages of black-and-white text. The lighting in the movie sometimes casts a red or green glow over the wet pavement, and sometimes the shadows on Tracy’s face make him appear more like the hand-drawn character on the movie poster than Beatty. Vanity Fair noted how Storaro’s shooting style on the film helped create the illusion that this was a panel-by-panel Dick Tracy adventure. Through careful composition, his still camera would frame each moment as if it were a panel in the comic strip, taking the idea of a comic adaptation to a whole new level years before movies like 300 or Sin City did the same.


AL PACINO’S UNHINGED PERFORMANCE IS BOTH SURPRISINGLY INTENSE AND FUNNY

Al Pacino in Dick Tracy

(Photo by Buena Vista Pictures)

As in the comic strips, Beatty’s Tracy is a pretty straightforward guy. He loves his girlfriend, he busts organized crime rings, and he’s unsure about settling down and adopting the orphan he rescued. That’s a bit of a meta-joke on Beatty’s longtime bachelor status, but it also works in the case of his workaholic detective. He doesn’t have the baggage of a lost home planet like Superman or the tragic death of his parents like Batman. He’s a straight man in need of a foil, a Joker to his Batman if you will.

In the movie, it’s up to Al Pacino as Tracy’s nemesis Big Boy to serve the film its dose of chaotic energy. This is possibly the actor’s most scream-heavy role, which is pretty stiff competition in a filmography that includes Scarface and Any Given Sunday. Even under prosthetics, nothing stops the actor from barking commands at Tracy, his bumbling goons, and his reluctant new gangster moll, Breathless Mahoney. Flanking Pacino are a number of famous faces, some almost unrecognizable under layers of makeup, like Paul SorvinoDustin HoffmanDick Van DykeMandy Patinkin, and James Caan. But no one, not even the calm, cool-headed Tracy, can hold a candle to the fiery rage of Big Boy’s apoplectic tantrums.


DANNY ELFMAN AND STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S SCORE IS UNFORGETTABLE

Batman may have paired up composer Danny Elfman with Prince, but Dick Tracy brought Elfman’s bombastic orchestral superhero theme music together with Stephen Sondheim’s sensitive and catchy Broadway-esque tunes. Elfman’s opening theme captures the danger, romance and adventure the movie has to offer; though the score vaguely sounds like his theme for Batman, there are no ominous notes of doom and gloom. Instead, there’s a sense of mystery and grandiosity, as well as a frenetic feel, as if Tracy were searching for Big Boy in the sheet music. Then, it swells to the romantic ties between Tracy and Trueheart, a constant throughout the story.

Madonna and Sondheim round out the film’s music with a set of five show-stopping numbers, including “Sooner or Later” and “Back in Business.” The former is a bluesy number that explains Breathless’ insistence on seducing Tracy away from Trueheart because she “always gets” her man, while the latter is an upbeat jazz song that comes at an inopportune time for Tracy, and they make up two more reasons Dick Tracy is so fun to watch all these years later.


THE MOVIE IS FULL OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD REFERENCES

Madonna in Dick Tracy

(Photo by Buena Vista Pictures)

Matte paintings aren’t the only old Hollywood tricks up Beatty’s yellow sleeves. Beatty, who had come to Hollywood in the waning days of the studio era, incorporated a number of homages to classic movies, the most noticeable of which is Breathless Mahoney, a film noir-inspired femme fatale given a Marilyn Monroe-inspired ‘do. In one scene, she’s even wearing a two-piece white suit that looks a lot like one of the costumes Rita Hayworth wears in Gilda, in which she plays the new wife of a club owner who, like Breathless, also sings and flirts with the main character.

From its start, the comic series had always been criticized for its violence, and the movie version is no different. There are car explosions, shootouts, attempted (and successful) murders, and lots of gun pointing between cops and criminals. Since Dick Tracy’s comic strip debuted around the same time as gangster movies like The Public Enemy (1931), Little Caesar (1931), and Scarface (1932) hit theaters, it’s also probable that Beatty incorporated those influences into Dick Tracy decades later.

The two aforementioned Sondheim songs, “Sooner or Later” and “Back in Business,” play over musical montages, each tracing the rise and fall of our hero. In one set of the montages, it’s Tracy breaking up Big Boy’s racket at every turn, cut in-between shots of the increasingly exasperated mob boss and newspaper headlines and radio announcers regaling Tracy’s successes. In “Back in Business,” Tracy’s been framed and locked-up, leaving the gangsters to regain control of the city while he stares hopelessly at the ceiling. But when Elfman’s score swells again, it’s Tracy’s turn to get back to business.

In a way, Dick Tracy is a movie of its time and outside of it, a film about a 1930s hero remade with as much leniency towards violence and sex as a 1990s PG-movie would allow. It’s a pastiche of nostalgia boiled down to its bare elements: good and bad, love and lust. It might have been an otherwise forgettable entry in the early days of movies based on comic characters, but Beatty and his team made it a cult favorite. There are few other movies that work as hard to make the real world look hand-drawn, to recreate each minute detail down to its monochromatic costumes, set decor and matte paintings, to recreate Tracy’s world from the page to the screen, and it’s all the more unique for it.

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