Lionsgate // 1991 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // April 2nd, 2012
"So what is considered masturbation?"
Although I grew up in the '80s, unless you're talking about cheesy cartoons and action figures, I missed out on most pop culture. I didn't wear shoulder pads. I didn't learn how to breakdance. And, apart from a certain "Weird" parody artist, I didn't listen to popular music. Not that my lack of patronage hurt Michael Jackson, Guns N' Roses, or Duran Duran. It certainly didn't hurt Madonna, whose blend of sex appeal and self expression took her to the top of the charts and around the world. The height of that early fame came with her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, and the accompanying documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare.
To document her life on the tour, Madonna hired music video director Alek Keshishian. The resulting combination of backstage footage and live performances was released in 1991 as Truth or Dare.
Music documentaries are, by their nature, not for everyone. It takes a special kind of fan to want to go beyond the music and spend time with the musician. As a U2 fan, I like U2: Rattle and Hum, but other people find it irritating. The documentary Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back is a classic look at a timeless performer, unless you couldn't care less about some nasal kid from Minnesota. The same goes for Truth or Dare. If you're one of Madonna's many fans, you probably like this documentary. If so, you should probably skip most of my disappointing review and head right for the tech specs and bonus features, where you can be disappointed for entirely different reasons.
Truth or Dare follows the Material Girl during her Blonde Ambition tour. Ambition is right. The grueling series of elaborate arena shows took their toll on the singer, as seen in the film. Whether it's dealing with technical problems or the stress of playing her hometown Detroit, Madonna is in the center of her own personal hurricane. Despite the work she puts into her music and stage show, behind the scenes she comes across as a whiny, petulant child. It's not entirely her fault. The film may be billed as an intimate look at a performer on the road, but Keshishian seems to select scenes more for shock value than because they tell us anything interesting about his subject. What do we learn about Madonna by seeing her mime fellatio on a beer bottle, or flashing her boobs (besides the fact that they aren't actually cone-shaped)?
In these kinds of movies, dramatic tension usually comes from the external pressures of fame. Madonna's problems seem to come more from her and the people she surrounds herself with. In one sequence, then-beau Warren Beatty snipes at Madonna for giving Keshishian too much access to her life. Cut to a media tempest-in-a-teapot when Madonna dumps Beatty for one of her dancers -- the only one, the movie feels it's important to tell us, who isn't gay. Cut to his fellow dancers bitching about the media coverage he's getting. All so Madonna can make an impassioned plea for group unity. As Madonna herself says in that speech, their problems are nothing compared to real pain in the world. She's right. Blown up on the big screen, they seem downright petty. It doesn't help that Madonna and her backup performers can't seem to help mugging for the camera. It doesn't really matter whether the events in the film are real, when everything feels staged.
The biggest problem with all the backstage drama and sexy banter is that it takes focus away from the music. The best parts of Truth or Dare are the glimpses we get of Madonna preparing and performing her stage show. There are a handful of full-length live songs, including "Express Yourself," "Vogue," and "Like a Virgin," whose racy staging nearly gets Madonna arrested for obscenity in Toronto. Whether you like her music or not, Madonna puts on a heckuva show -- packed with lavish sets, costumes, and complex choreography. It's just too bad the performances are so much more interesting than anything that happens off stage. The difference is mirrored in the way the black and white behind-the-scenes footage gives way to vivid color whenever the music starts.
After several video and DVD releases, Truth or Dare hits Blu-ray sporting a 1.85:1 AVC-encoded 1080p transfer that should satisfy fans. It's hard to praise it too highly when the bulk of the movie is in grainy black and white. The hi-def upgrade is more apparent in the color performances, but there's only so much detail to coax out of the source material. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is more impressive, although once again it saves the best for the stage. While dialogue-heavy scenes are clear, the sound kicks into high gear during the musical numbers. If you like these songs, chances are they've never sounded better. Again, I just wish there was more music to enjoy.
I wasn't crazy about Truth or Dare, but it certainly has its fans. The kicker is that those fans have no new bonus features to get excited about. In fact, they have less to be excited about than previous home video releases because the Blu-ray has fewer extras than even the special edition VHS tape. Gone are the bonus performances and cast bios, replaced by two standard-def, full frame theatrical trailers. That's it.
I've never much cared about Madonna, and Truth or Dare didn't give me any reason to start. Alek Keshishian's peek into the life of a pop star goes for shallow provocation over real insight, sidelining the music in favor of manufactured drama. Madonna's fans might find more to love in the movie, but they won't find anything else on this disappointing barebones release.
I've got to express myself. Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R