Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Madonna: The Girlie Show - Live Down Under (1993)
Studio Line: Warner Bros.

Featuring: 1. "Erotica", 2. "Fever", 3. "Vogue", 4. "Rain", 5. "Express Yourself", 6. "Deeper And Deeper", 7. "Why's It So Hard", 8. "In This Life", 9. "The Beast Within", 10. "Like a Virgin", 11. "Bye Bye Baby", 12 "I'm Going Bananas", 13. "La Isla Bonita", 14. "Holiday", 15. "Justify My Love", 16. "Everybody Is A Star".

Director: NA
Cast: Madonna
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; rated R; 120 min.; $24.95; street date 4/1/97.
Supplements: Lyrics.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/A-/D-

In the aftermath of the Erotica/Sex scandals of 1992, Madonna launched her last concert tour to date in the fall of 1993. “The Girlie Show” was a world tour, but a strangely limited one: while it hit five continents and Australia, it lasted less than three months and encompassed only 40 concerts, including a paltry nine in North America. Granted, it wasn't as bad as Pink Floyd's 1980 tour to support The Wall; that show played only in New York and Los Angeles. But considering that the US portion of the tour hit but three cities - New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit - it was close, at least as far as American fans were concerned.

Some consolation came from the 1994 release of the Girlie Show - Live Down Under video. For the first time since 1987's Who's That Girl tour, an entire Madonna concert was readily available for home viewing. (1991 saw the release of a “Blonde Ambition” laserdisc, but it never appeared on videotape, and as yet has not come out on DVD; 1985 produced The Virgin Tour, but it omitted a few songs so it did not include the entire show.)

As the title indicates, this concert was filmed while the “Girlie Show” tour played Australia in November, 1993. (Nine Australian dates versus five US shows - grrr! Granted, I probably shouldn’t complain, since at least I was able to take in the Philly performance - no Maddy shut-out for me!) The program was originally aired as an HBO special, and it bowed on home video about seven months later.

The Girlie Show performance lacks much of the sublime arrogance Madonna displayed during the “Blonde Ambition” performances, but it's nonetheless a sharp show. The weakest aspect of the concert is its unevenness; the first and last thirds of it are great, but it sags in the middle with songs such as “Why's It So Hard” and “In This Life”. The program's lowest point occurs with the mocking Dietrich-esque rendition of “Like a Virgin”. Over the years, it's become clear that Madonna loathes this tune. She's performed it straight on only one tour, her first in 1985. Since then it's been cast off as part of a medley (1987), subjugated to masturbatory background music (1990), and finally mocked into oblivion here.

Thankfully, that low-light is immediately followed by a highlight: a fantastic version of Erotica’s “Bye Bye Baby”. That song highlights what is surprisingly the best thing about this DVD: the terrific power the live band and the occasional rearrangements add to many of these songs. “Erotica”, “Vogue”, “Fever”, “Holiday”, “Justify My Love”, and “Everybody” - all these songs sound more muscular and better than ever in the versions played here. Madonna's voice falters at times, but the band never lets up. I love the music on this DVD so much I'd want to own this even if I didn't have a TV! (Of course, why I'd have a DVD player when I didn't own a TV is anyone's guess...)

Except for that problematic middle third, Madonna keeps the show moving at a snappy pace and enough visual variety is provided to keep the viewer entertained. The direction of this program is adequate but not exceptional. Thankfully, the director resisted the urge to "spice up" the content with multiple MTV-style quick cuts or any odd visual effects. (Anyone who's seen Paul McCartney's Paul Is Live video knows what the latter's like; it pours on the optical diversions and rarely presents a straight view of the concert.) Basically, the director keeps the focus on the stage and what's happening, but not a whole lot of style is evident.

The DVD:

The Girlie Show Live Down Under appears in its original televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Perhaps due to its origination as a TV special, the picture quality of the Girlie Show DVD is less than terrific, but it provides a fairly decent presentation.

Focus is the main problem. At times The Girlie Show is quite sharp, but too frequently the image is soft and fuzzy. One camera in particular seems to be unable to focus; watch the opening of “Fever” and you'll know which one I mean. The softness isn't horrific and it won't ruin the program, but it definitely detracts from the quality.

On the other hand, colors are bright and vivid. That aspect of the program easily overcomes the often-difficult nature of reproducing concerts on video; live lighting usually isn’t bright enough for solid film or video reproduction, but the balance seems positive here. In addition, the program demonstrates fairly deep black levels, and shadow detail seems adequate. The source material displays no noticeable flaws other than the erratic sharpness levels. Ultimately, the program should have looked better, but it remains quite watchable.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix for The Girlie Show is very good. Instruments and vocals are crisp and clear, and both high and low ends come across cleanly. The rear surrounds are used to some effect; mostly they attempt to provide ambiance, with a large amount of crowd noise and a smattering of music (usually percussion and background vocals) as well. A nice "you are there" soundstage is created; you might even start to worry the buffoon in the next seat's going to spill beer on you. If you don't care about ambiance, just turn off the surround effects and listen to it as a regular stereo mix - it sounds great!

As is the case with most music DVDs, The Girlie Show includes virtually no supplements. All we find are lyrics for the program’s songs. While an audio commentary from Madonna would have been a wonderful addition, its absence is no surprise, and I’m still pleased with the content on the DVD; it remains somewhat to find an entire, unedited concert on video, so I’m happy we get one here.

In the end, The Girlie Show remains the best Madonna DVD currently on the market. It's a no-brainer for die-hard fans, and also should be very appealing to those who have a more marginal interest in her music as it provides many of her biggest songs in one package. If you hate Madonna, don't bother; anybody else stands a great chance of really enjoying it.

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