In his 1890 novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, Oscar Wilde tells the story of a young man who sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth. A creepy and frightening painting ages in his place and exposes the man’s sick soul. Dorian is vain, mean, self-centered, and lives a life of debauchery. So what does that have to do with Madonna? Well, I see a strong parallel. The youthful version of Madonna was blessed with stunning beauty when she came to fame in the ‘80s. Now in middle age, she’s still unapologetically vain and will do anything to continue looking young and hot, and if that means going under the scalpel, so be it. Sure, that doesn’t make Madonna very different from other aging stars, but the Material Girl, er, Lady, is also known to be an ultra-bitch when interviewed, and debauchery remains her middle name, or so that’s what she’d like us to believe.
As she’s gets older, Madonna reminds me of the raunchy 1930s movie star Mae West who, by the time she was 80, surrounded herself with young muscular boy-toys in diapers. West was desperate to stay in the spotlight without being regarded as an ageing has-been. Fifty-five year old Madonna not only kind of looks like her, she also has a potty mouth like Mae, although West was way wittier. And as she holds on to her sex symbol crown for dear life, she even acts like her. All Madonna needs to do now is promote the joy of enemas to seal the deal!
But before mimicking Mae West, Madonna was very much trying to follow in the high-heeled footsteps of Marlene Dietrich who was the sex goddess of the Silver Screen in the Dirty Thirties. Dietrich, as Madonna did decades later, got involved with a famous filmmaker. Both very dominant women and iconic spotlight grabbers, the similarities between them gave me the devious idea for a symbolically funny story for my book, Sinemania!
In my story, “Love at First Bark”, Madonna and Marlene compete to win first prize at a… dog show! The two divas bitch and brag non-stop about who’s ‘best in show’ while recalling their experiences with their magnificent pets’ prowess. I won’t tell you more, except to say that the competition is fierce!
The eccentric Josef von Sternberg, or ‘Joe the Great Dane’ as I drew him in “Love at First Bark”, was one of the finest filmmakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. His over- budget extravaganzas with their over-the-top sets were often compared to the movies of his fellow Viennese Jew, Erich von Stroheim, who by the way, was his hero. Von Sternberg did six movies with Marlene Dietrich and they’ll forever be linked as lovers and cinematic legends.
He discovered Dietrich, a young -married mother of a little girl, and made her a huge star when he cast her as Lola Lola in his 1930 film ‘The Blue Angel’. They became romantically involved and moved to the U.S. where they made five other flicks together. Dietrich had an open marriage, staying with her husband during her liaison with von Sternberg. She enjoyed having rumors of bisexuality follow her around, just for the fun of spicing things up. (Wait, didn’t Madonna do that, too?) Strangely enough, Dietrich had the reputation of seeing other women as rivals, even claiming that she despised being in their company because “what all women do is count your wrinkles!” Maybe she had never heard of the psychological term ‘projection’, but let me get back to von Sternberg’s work…
His 1934 film, ‘The Scarlet Empress’, was very far-out and scandalous for its time. The cinematography and décor in it are just mind blowing! Check out this trailer featuring grotesque sculptures in the background, and enjoy some delirious Russian decadence while you’re at it.
By the following year, the relationship between Dietrich and von Sternberg began to deteriorate. Marlene loved to seduce everything that moved. The scandal around ‘The Scarlet Empress’ and the studio favoring her stardom over his didn’t help matters. It was like something out of ‘A Star is Born’: a bad tango of inflated egos was about to finish in blood and tears…
The last movie the director and his sexy star did together was ‘The Devil is a Woman’. That title symbolized their toxic relationship perfectly and the film was the final nail in their coffin. The atmosphere on the set was like a bullfight, with von Sternberg the dead matador who saw his own career disappearing into dust, miserably witnessing his muse Marlene reach the top and stay there without him.
But the story of two super egos’ destructively combusting like oil on fire is an eternal one. Which brings me to Madonna and filmmaker Guy Ritchie A.K.A. ‘Guy the English Bulldog’ in my “Love at First Bark” story. She was introduced to him by some mutual friends and like Madonna, Ritchie was cocky, elitist, successful, good-looking, attention-seeking, and very ambitious.
His excellent and acclaimed 1998 film, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ put him on the map as a new talent to watch for and sure enough, Madonna took note of him.
They teamed up for a few projects, the most enjoyable of which by far was Ritchie’s BMW commercial in which Madonna plays herself (although I’m not sure if she’s spoofing herself or not). If you’ve never seen this ad, here it is for your entertainment.
Ritchie also directed one of her music videos and unfortunately gave her the starring role in his poorly inspired remake of a 1974 Italian film, ‘Swept Away’. But after a lavish wedding, a son, an adopted kid, and the co-ownership of a London pub serving overpriced beers, the superstar couple’s honeymoon was over. Ritchie would complain that he’d have to make an appointment to have sex with her. Madonna, in turn, lamented that he was insensitive towards her after she broke many bones in a horse riding accident, brushing it off by telling her, “You’re a tough girl, you can handle it!”
Guy Ritchie was right: Lady Madonna is a tough cookie. After a very costly divorce, she went back to her old ways by adopting interchangeable ‘puppy dancers’ as boy-toys and becoming a movie director herself. Her first filmmaking attempt was 2008’s ‘Filth and Wisdom’, a dark comedy about struggling youngsters in London. The critics trashed the movie and it was poorly distributed. I’ve never actually seen it, but you can watch this trailer for a little glimpse.
If you’re not impressed with the contents of that trailer, here’s how I’d imagine Madonna might respond…
The critics consider her to be a dreadful director and actress. Like Frank Sinatra (who, mind you, could be a hell of an actor), Madonna insists on doing only one take in front of the cameras. Convinced that she’s always right and cocksure of her talents, she has the reputation of being an ultra-perfectionist, but that doesn’t apply to her acting, bizarrely enough.
Madonna’s also known to be a very strict control freak mom and her extravagant demands to hotels when she travels around the world with her crew are insane!
On top of that, she’s also been accused of plagiarism and has seen her share of lip-syncing controversy: http://www.listal.com/list/lady-gaga-did-not-steal
The media and gossip websites take immense perverse pleasure in reflecting Madonna’s nasty aging image back to her. The fact that the world is watching must be a sore spot for the superstar since it regularly focuses on her veiny arms and hands (she wears gloves now), swollen plastic surgery-ridden face, and extremely narcissistic behavior. Until she does a Greta Garbo-style vanishing act, that’s the price Madonna’s got to pay for her ongoing fame.
Well, it’s obvious by now that I don’t admire the woman. Then why did I bother writing and illustrating a story on her? Frankly, I found her impossible to resist! Thanks to her huge ego and ‘my shit don’t stink’ attitude’, Madonna’s painfully colorful and irrationally strange to me. Yes, the ‘woman I love to hate’ makes me cringe and reminds me of everything bad about the ’80s: superficiality, the ‘greed is good’ philosophy, the obsession with having a perfect body (thanks to you too, Jane Fonda!), hyper-materialism, and the growing division between rich and poor that’s reached epidemic proportions nowadays. To me, she symbolizes all that.
This is my picture of Madonna Gray and I hope it won’t you give nightmares. So, sweet dreams and goodnight for now!