The Madonna tour easily remembered as her most controversial started in Japan during the rain season.
While the Who’s That Girl Tour established Madonna as the leading female artist of the Eighties, the Blond Ambition made her enter stardom in the most complete way, with that mix of adoration and extreme criticism that only true Idols deserve.
Even hardcore Madonna fans show mixed feelings considering the Blond Ambition Tour either a pinnacle in her live performance career, or a concentrate of excess and useless eroticims anticipating the Sex book experience that followed two years later.
The main reason for controversy came from the way religion and sexuality were mixed in the show that Madonna herself described as a theathrical presentation of her music.
Madonna lying on a red velvet bed with two male dancers – Jose and Luis – on her left and right, wearing long conical bras, sings her classic “Like a Virgin” in a Middle Eastern arrangement while she simulates masturbation, is indeed very theatrical and a quite strong image in itself.
When the climax arrives, the word “God” is heard and it’s suddently time for “Like a Prayer” and spirituality.
Votive candles and black robed dancers come on stage for this part of the show.
Some of the problems happened in Toronto, Canada, where the police checked if the show was really obscene as some complaining people were stating.
Madonna refused to alter the show and luckily no charges were made.
The “Like a Virgin”/masturbation scene was the main problem there but the whole second section was the problem in Italy, where a private association of Roman Catholics tried to boycott the show in Rome and Turin in July 1990. Many times it has been reported that the Pope himself called for a boycott of the Blond Ambition show, but it wasn’t exactly like that.
The boycott was an initiave of “Famiglia Domani” (the same association that protested in 1989 for the “Like a Prayer” video) even if the Vatican’s newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano” agreed that the show was a “complete disgrace”.
Madonna responded to the criticism with the now-famous speech she addressed the press with when she had just landed in Rome’s Ciampino airport:
My show is not a conventional rock show, but a theatrical presentation of my music.
And like theater, it asks questions, provokes thoughts and takes you on an emotional journey, portraying good and bad, light and dark, joy and sorrow, redemption and salvation.
I do not endorse a way of life, but describe one, and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments.
This is what I consider freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought.
Every night, before I go on stage, I say a prayer, not only that my show will go well, but that the audience will watch it with an open heart and an open mind, and see it as a celebration of love, life and humanity.
The Blond Ambition Tour presents a variety of incredible costumes by French designer Jean Paul Gaultier who initially prepared almost fifteen hundred sketches to help Madonna defining the various looks of the show, but Madonna knew exactly what she wanted.
“When I proposed my designs”, said Gaultier in an interview, “it was, that no, that yes, no, yes, no”.
Gaultier, who admired Madonna since the early days of her career, admitted that working with her on the Blond Ambition show was definitely one of the highlights of his career. “I love Madonna. That was one of the best times of my career,” he told the Observer.
But the chance to work with her for the first time on this tour came up quite as a surprise, as he recalled in an interview to the New York Times:
When Madonna first called me in 1989, it was two days before my ready-to-wear show, and I thought my assistant was joking. I was a big fan. She asked me if I would do the tour. She knew what she wanted: a pinstripe suit, the feminine corsetry. Madonna likes my clothes because they combine the masculine and the feminine.
But how did Gaultier came up with the idea of the gold conical bra? Surpisingly it has somehow something to do with his grandmother.
When I was a child, my grandmother took me to an exhibition, and they had a corset on display. I loved the flesh color, the salmon satin, the lace. She explained that a corset was meant to help you, to make you stand up.
It was a solution that I thought was beautiful. The gold conical bra was just an extension of that idea.
While staging his retrospective in London at the V&A museum in 2003 Gaultier also added:
Madonna is fabulous.
She is a fashion freak, un monstre de mode. I remember the first time I saw her on the TV singing Holiday, and I was thinking she was English.
I couldn’t think she was American to dress like that. And when I met her in the flesh I was not disappointed.
She is not false.
She is like a little girl, truly enjoying, truly spontaneous with her different looks.
The TV broadcast of the Blond Ambition Tour was again co-produced by RAI, the Italian national network that already worked with Madonna on the previous tour’s live broadcast.
One of the shows from Barcelona, Spain, was the one produced by RAI that went live on tv in many parts of Europe.
Another live broadcast from the last date of the tour in Nice, in the South of France, was the one produced by the HBO network to be shown in the United States.
The latter became the concert that was released exclusively on Laserdisc by Pioneer Entertainment, the tour’s sponsor, that had an exclusive contract with Warner and Madonna for an initial release of the Blond Ambition only on the new format, on which the company had invested a lot to help establishing it on the market.
A different show from the beginning of the tour recorded in Yokohama, Japan, became the Pioneer Laserdisc released in that country followed by a limited edition release on VHS.
The Blond Ambition Tour is also the first Madonna’s tour that has been featured on the big screen. “Truth or Dare: On the Road, Behind the Scenes, and In Bed With Madonna“: this was the original full lenght title of this engaging behind the scenes look at Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour which became Truth or Dare in the US and In Bed With Madonna in Europe and Japan.
The film, two hours of black and white footage interrupted from time to time by live song segments in colour from one the Blond Ambition dates filmed in Paris Bercy, was directed by Alec Keshishian and was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1991.
Critic Roger Ebert called the film “an authorized invasion of privacy.” because sometimes it’s hard to see what Madonna chooses to reveal about herself and what she actually reveals in the process.
The film became one of the most successful documentaries in film history and it was Australia’s highest-grossing documentary for several years, until when “Bowling for Columbine” by Michael Moore became the new highest grossing one.
Talking about the movie few years later, in March 1998, in an interview by Danny Eccleston fron Q Magazine, Madonna was still proud of this film.
What’s the point of making a documentary if you’re not going to show those sides? Then it wouldn’t be a documentary, right? Let’s face it, the life of a… of whatever-you-wanna-call-me… on the road, you’ve got to see all of that. It’s a real slice of life. It’s of an era, of a time, and it’s true of the insanity of performing and the insanity of performing and the insanity of travelling with this bunch of dysfunctional people. Even in a movie, how can you be sympathetic towards a fictional character if you don’t see their warts?
I look at that movie and I think, My God how petulant was I? And, Oh God, What a brat! But I’m not horrified by it. That’s where I was and I’ve grown up a lot since.
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from the MadonnaTribe Vaults.