Madonna, From Sean Penn to Warren Beatty, Part 1 (YMRT #12) / by Karina Longworth

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The biggest female pop star of the last decades of the monoculture, Madonna was also perhaps the first and last contemporary pop star who was also a serious Classical Hollywood cinephile, to extent that, for awhile, she seemed to be using pop music as a vehicle for a kind of conceptual art about movies and movie stardom. When she kept her passion for Hollywood cinema in the realm of celebration, commentary and critique, Madonna was able to engineer a number of truly transcendent images and cultural moments; when she aimed for straight movie stardom, however, her efforts more often than not fell flat. Over the course of two episodes, we will explore the high-cinephile period of Madonna’s life and work, roughly bracketed by her relationship with Sean Penn (whom she met on the set of the “Material Girl” video, while dressed as Marilyn Monroe), and ending with the dissolution of her rebound affair with Warren Beatty, as documented in the self-consciously Felliniesque tour film Truth or Dare. Here in part one, we start with Madonna’s typecasting in Desperately Seeking Susan, trace her tumultuous and allegedly abusive relationship with Penn from “Material Girl” through Shanghai Surprise and beyond, and explore how processing her first divorce through the concept album Like a Prayer led to Madonna’s highly cinematic collaborations with David Fincher, including the zenith of her public cinephilia, the video for “Vogue.”

Welcome to the first episode of our second season! There will be new episodes every Tuesday for twelve weeks, then we’ll take a brief hiatus around Thanksgiving, and come back with season three. Each episode in this second season has some relationship to Hollywood Frame by Frame, a book I worked on which is being released in September. The book complies contact sheets from still photo sessions related to Hollywood movies from the early-50s through the mid-90s; I researched each individual image and wrote captions, and also wrote supporting essays about the history of Hollywood still photography and the use of contact sheets in the film industry during that time. Some of the episodes will be inspired by or related to images in the book (for instance, the book contains contact sheets from the set of Desperately Seeking Susan, which is the connection to this episode), while others will deal with other great moments in Hollywood still photography/promotional image making.

This episode in particular grew out of another book project I started working on, a proposal I wrote for the 33 1/3 imprint's lastcall forentries, in which I outlined a plan to write about Like a Prayer as a visual phenomenon, suggesting that all of the imagery created in relation to the album and its promotion — including music videos, paparazzi and red carpet photographs, TV appearances, Truth or Dare, and even the packaging of the album itself — were in a sense engineered by Madonna as a visual, pop artist. I made it to the semi-finals, but the proposal was not chosen, which was sort of a relief — just because I would have had to abandon a lot of other things (including this podcast) in order to get the book done. That said, when I decided to try to funnel some of the research that I had done for the proposal into an episode of You Must Remember This, it was challenging to find an appropriate structure. Hence, Madonna from Sean to Warren, which gave me a finite period of time to work within, and also seemed of a piece with a lot of our previous episodes, in which relationship between an artist’s personal life and their work is shown to be symbiotic. But I did have to cut out a lot of commentary about work itself, particularly the music videos produced forLike a Prayer. Maybe someday I will find a venue in which to do the full study of Madonna as a visual artist. Or maybe, after the second half of this episode (coming in four weeks), I will be pretty burnt out on Madonnaology and will be desperate to move on. Time will tell.


Eric Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 3,” performed by Kevin MacLeod

"Vogue," by Madonna

"Divider," by Chris Zabriskie

"Make it Drums," by Daedelus

"Contre le Sexisme," by Sonic Youth

"AAA" by DiSloCaTed

"Into the Groovey" by Ciccone Youth

"Into the Groove" by Madonna

"Fiction Romance" by The Buzzcocks

"Material Girl" by Madonna

"Readers, Do You Read?" by Chris Zabriskie

Ghost Dance performed by Kevin MacLeod

"The Simple Complex" by UncleBibby

"9 mile" by Naram

"Out of the Skies, Under the Earth" by Chris Zabriskie

"Papa Don’t Preach" by Madonna

"White Heat" by Madonna

"Calabash" by Co.fee

"She Ionizes and Atomizes" by Modest Mouse

"What True Self, Feels Bogus, Let’s Watch Jason X" by Chris Zabriskie

"Melancholy Aftersounds," by Kai Engel

"Undercover Vampire Policeman," by Chris Zabriskie

"Oh Father" by Madonna

"Like a Prayer" by Madonna

"Oceanic Dawn" by DJ Masque

"Love Song" by Madonna featuring Prince


Madonna on America Bandstand

Marilyn Monroe performing Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friends, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Clip from Fast Times at Ridgemont High

"Material Girl" music video, directed by Mary Lambert


Madonna: An Intimate Biography by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Madonna Illustrated by Tim Riley

Sean Penn: His Life and Times by Richard T. Kelly

Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism and Consumer Culture by E. Ann Kaplan

"Madonna’s Back" Harper’s Bazaar, October, 2013

"Is Madonna still in love with Sean Penn, the man who beat her up with a baseball bat?" Daily Mail, March 1, 2009