Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991)
Studio Line: Artisan - Like you've never seen her before.

This movie reveals her as she really is, on stage and off--den mother to her family of dancers, sex goddess to her millions of fans, businesswoman, singer, dancer. The biggest star in the world of music. Join her and experience an intimate backstage look at her "Blonde Ambition" tour.

From her hotel room to her dressing room, from her stage show to her boudoir, here is Madonna--outrageous, hilarious, uninhibited.

Director: Alek Keshishian
Cast: Madonna
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 27 chapters; rated R; 120 min.; $24.99; street date 8/19/97.
Supplements: Production Notes; Cast & Crew Bios; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD

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

you've read my review of Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, you'll know that I possess rather limited psychic abilities. Well, at least I'm in good company. Back in early 1985, Newsweek ran a cover story about the then-current popularity of "women in rock." Cyndi Lauper was pictured on the cover, and the article inside declared that Ms. Lauper would still be a major hit-making artiste well after we'd completely forgotten pop-trollop Madonna.

Whoops! Then again, maybe not! Say what you will about her - for Madonna seems to inspire extremes - but the woman has shown terrific staying power. Folks tend to either love her or loathe her. I acknowledge that I fall into the former camp. No matter where opinions may fall, now that she's almost 20 years into her musical career, it seems pointless for anyone to argue against the impact she's made on music and pop culture in general. Madonna is arguably the most influential artist of the last two decades and she very probably is the most successful and powerful female pop artist ever.

Her place in history wasn't quite as well established back when she launched her “Blonde Ambition” tour in 1990; in fact, this ground-breaking show definitely accelerated that process to a large degree. The tour showcased probably the best-realized and most confident Madonna we'd seen before or since. Oh, that's not to say that the era included her greatest work, though 1990's “Vogue” remains her biggest hit and 1989's Like a Prayer album may well have been her most artistically-successful release. No, what I mean to communicate is that Madonna was at her public zenith at this time. The “Blonde Ambition” tour preceded the firestorm of negativity that greeted the (lame) Sex book and the (terrific) Erotica album. The latter experiences seemed to humble Madonna to a degree, and it's doubtful she'll ever come across quite as strong and as cocky as she did during 1990.

In retrospect, 1991’s Truth or Dare was probably the first sign that the public felt Madonna was finally taking things too far. Many more people discussed the film than saw it; in the end, it seemed like everyone knew about it but almost no one actually witnessed it firsthand.

Truth or Dare ostensibly presented itself as a concert film, but that was only partially accurate. During the two hour movie, only eight live songs are shown, a total that comes to less than a third of the running time. The rest of the film is a behind the scenes look at the life of Madonna while on tour. The concert segments are in color, but the remainder of the movie is shot in grainy, documentary-style black and white.

I won't spend time detailing what the film shows - as I mentioned already, much of the content of the movie is generally known - but I do find it interesting to note how much of a Rorschach the film seems to be. Basically, your opinions of how Madonna presents herself in this film will tend to reflect your innate feelings toward her. Positive or negative, the movie offers ammunition for both sides.

The DVD:

Truth or Dare appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 andin a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed edition was watched for this review. Live Entertainment did a reasonably good job of bringing Truth or Dare to DVD, at least in regard to this fairly solid picture.

The black and white scenes look poor, but they're supposed to look that way; gotta go for that "true to life" documentary look! For the purposes of rating the picture of this DVD, I only considered the color concert segments. These came across reasonably well and generally possessed sharp focus, but the colors seemed oversaturated and the overall image appeared somewhat murky. Between the chaotic conditions of a live show, the wide variety of lighting situations, and all the fog effects, concerts tend to be extremely difficult to translate to TV screens. The picture on Truth or Dare makes a decent but not exceptional move to the little screen; it certainly can't compete with my Japanese import laserdisc of one of Madonna's 1990 performances there or with the recent Rolling Stones Bridges to Babylon DVD, which are the two sharpest video concert productions I've ever seen.

The sound on Truth or Dare is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. In a case of "be careful what you wish for," this mix features active rear surrounds. Very active. Way too active!!! The rear channels are mixed so loudly that they tend to dominate the image; at times I wasn't even sure that there was any sound coming out of the front speakers! Even worse, the mix is quite muddy; there seems to be very little differentiation between instruments among channels and the soundstage becomes very mushy. Also, the music displays a harsh high end and very little bass response. Switching off the Dolby and going with a normal stereo mix adds bass and some definition (and keeps the sound from dropping below a "C-" rating) but the music still comes across as somewhat harsh and grating.

The Truth or Dare DVD includes a few supplemental materials. We get two theatrical trailers for the film plus a “Coming Attractions” piece that’s just a general promo for Live’s DVDs. In “Cast and Crew”, we find basic biographies for Madonna and director Alex Keshishian. That area also includes “Production Notes” which offer some brief details about the scope of the production.

One serious annoyance about this DVD: an extended version of the film - one with additional concert footage - exists, but the DVD only offers the theatrical cut. Actually, this extended release more than exists; it's the version most commonly available on VHS. Why Live Entertainment didn't see fit to release that version on DVD is a mystery to me.

Ultimately, Truth or Dare limits its appeal to the Madonna die-hards. There's simply not enough performance footage to make its program more interesting to everyone, and what live songs we hear don't come across nearly as well as they should have. If you want a DVD representation of the “Blonde Ambition” show, hope that the full concert will make its DVD bow at some point. You're not missing much if you pass on Truth or Dare.

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