Those who love Madonna will no doubt also love "Truth or Dare," her elaborate combination documentary and concert film, which is truly remarkable in its apparent openness. But the operative word there is apparent.
Whether the film will convert anyone who is not already a fan remains to be seen.Intercut with color concert sequences gleaned from shows performed all over the world last year during her "Blonde Ambition" tour - including Madonna's already well-documented extremely crude sexual gyrations on stage - there are black-and-white sequences documenting her life backstage and in her hotel rooms . . . doing just about every personal thing you can think of except going to the bathroom. (And according to interviews with the director even that private act was filmed, though it was excised from the final film during the editing process.)
In those backstage moments, Madonna is shown playing a number of roles in her "real" life, from condescending mother-confessor and chastising parent (primarily to gay dancers in her show), to the boss who makes screaming demands of everyone around her. She also holds a prayer circle of sorts before each show, takes cheap shots at other celebrities (including lover-of-the-moment Warren Beatty, whom she is no longer seeing) and plays a parlor game after which the film is named. The game requires participants to either tell the truth when asked a deeply intimate question or perform whatever outrageous dare is demanded.
In addition to the graphic, simulated masturbation Madonna performs on stage, we also see her baring her breasts, making fun of Kevin Costner for calling her show "neat," demonstrating on a bottle how she performs oral sex and even visiting her mother's grave during a tender, if staged, biographical sequence.
All of this is supposed to make us understand better the "real" Madonna, if indeed there is a real Madonna. But it's probably best summed up by a moment late in the film when she is having her throat examined by a doctor and Beatty looks on incredulously, expressing his amazement that she is such an exhibitionist that even an intimate doctor's visit is recorded by the camera.
As a whole, "Truth or Dare" is an amazing example of self-worship, with a "Who Cares?" factor that's off the chart.
What struck me as ironic in all of this was Madonna's repeated insistence that her show is a plea for tolerance, though the portrait painted here shows her to be most intolerant.
She also repeatedly protests that she is using artistic freedom to - as the first song says - "Express Yourself." These speeches come through most strongly during three specific moments - when she is threatened with arrest during a Toronto concert, when the Vatican condemns her show while she's in Italy and when her father suggests that a couple of the show's numbers "go a bit too far."
Call me a square, but I'm with him.
And even Costner.
The world may consider Madonna the current queen of self-promotion, but to me she seems more the queen of self-indulgence. And it's not a pretty picture.
"Truth or Dare" is rated R for considerable sex, profanity, vulgarity and nudity.