Monday, 27 February 2012

Madonna at the Superbowl

OK, I know that I am waaaay behind on this one. It's all about the Oscars now and this is old, old news. In my defense, I'm a British person; to me, the Superbowl is that thing those episodes of Friends with Julia Roberts and the monkey were named after. Also, sometimes there are nipples (it sounds a bit like Spartacus). Unlike the Oscars, which I unwisely stayed up to watch last night (so glad The Artist won, though I'd have loved to see Gary Oldman recognised for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the Superbowl really has no relevance outside America, except for American football fans (it's American football, right?!). So I didn't see it.

Anyway, Liz Gloyn and Tony Keen both alerted me to Madonna's Classically inspired performance, but I didn't get the chance to sit down and watch it till today (busy trying to keep up with Spartacus!). First of all, I loved it - Madonna is such a great performer (even when her heels are too high and she can't quite make it up the step). She and Robbie Williams were the highlights of Live 8 (apparently I was totally entranced by Freddie Mercury back during the original Live Aid - I was two, so I don't really remember this, but it may explain my enduring love of Queen).

Madonna appears as Cleopatra-as-Isis from Cleopatra. The first song, 'Vogue', features the most Classical material and I am convinced that this is all about Elizabeth Taylor. Madonna has looked to earlier divas for inspiration throughout her career, particularly, of course, Marilyn Monroe in 'Material Girl' and Marlene Dietrich in 'Vogue' - the music video for 'Vogue' uses the same shot of Dietrich that inspired one of the first really creative music videos, Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' video, and the song is all about high fashion (obviously), celebrity and art, all together.

The Marlene Dietrich image that reappears in the music videos for 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'Vogue'

As I'm sure you know, Elizabeth Taylor died last year, and she's been being commemorated throughout awards season (as it happens, she's the biggest name in entertainment to have passed away in the last twelve months, together with perhaps Whitney Houston and Steve Jobs - unpleasant as it seems to rank one deceased human being over another, it's true). Every obituary list I've seen has used that gorgeous clip from Cleopatra of her winking at Caesar, following her ridiculously over-blown entrance, and the Oscar ceremony last night capped off their obituary list with it. It's a lovely memorial to Taylor, and it demonstrates how much that performance, and that scene, stand for her and her place at the top of the Hollywood tree in the cultural imagination (that's a phrase from my thesis. I'm hoping to bring it in to everyday use!).

So Madonna's use of the Classical world, to me, is not about Classics, but about Taylor. Just look at those high '60s boots and that miniskirt! Sure, there are small Classical references throughout the rest of the performance - including the most bizarre Apollo I've ever seen (I assume it's Apollo since the song is an ode to music itself), some cheerleaders with Isis headdresses and some soldiers, with a guy wearing a 'C' that presumably stands for 'Centurion'. And the finish, drifting into Christianity and Gospel choirs with 'Like a Prayer', could be said to represent a re-telling of the end of the Classical world in miniature (sort of. If you squint!). But these are leftovers from that first number, bits of design inspired by the Cleopatra vibe chosen for the opener. 'Vogue' is about celebrity, and female celebrity in particular, and this theme was chosen to honour an icon of female celebrity.

Apollo. He's creepy.

I feel like I should finish with a word of warning to the Superbowl. As I said, I know nothing about it, but it seems to me that its half-time show (much like the Olympic Games opening ceremony - goodness knows what sort of mess we're going to make of that...) has fallen victim to the trap of getting bigger and bigger and bigger every year. Cleopatra was the film that (along with The 300 Spartans and Fall of the Roman Empire) killed the ancient world epic for decades, because it was simply too big (it was the highest grossing film of the year, and still didn't make its money back). Using such a film for inspiration doesn't seem like a very positive sign for the producers of the Superbowl and its half-time show - perhaps they should tone it down a bit next year.

I did a really good job of looking like I might know something about music there, didn't I?!


  1. Well, Madonna -- meh. Marlene Dietrich & Liz Taylor -- huzzah!

    And that Apollo guy -- what?

    It's become increasingly clear to me that missing the Superbowl has been no great loss to me over the years. I did at one time, long ago, watch it mostly for the commercials, and also for the same reason that I watch the World Cup now -- and I definitely prefer the World Cup.

    Not much to add other than that! And -- cool new layout, and great new photo!

  2. Thanks! Blogger ate my old one so I had to do some rearranging!

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