In his 2004 film The Raspberry Reich, Bruce LaBruce declares that “Madonna is counter-revolutionary.” Of course, it’s one of many parodies of political sloganeering in the film; in the real world, the impact of the pop-diva doyenne’s work, particularly in terms of post-feminist sexual agency, is unmistakable. Notably, Madonna’s American Life album—which dropped a year before The Raspberry Reich and finds the singer posing on the cover like a cross between Che Guevara and Patty Hearst, two revolutionary icons who figure prominently in the film—proved that Madonna’s politics are best delivered with tongue in cheek. When she’s ventured beyond sexual politics (or, say, the Catholic church, her qualms with which are ultimately about sex and gender anyway), she’s stumbled perilously close to the brand of radical chic LaBruce satirizes in his film.
This fact hangs over Madonna’s latest poli-art endeavor (don’t call it “artpop”), a “secret project” that she and frequent partner-in-crime Steven Klein have been hyping on Instagram and Twitter for months now. During a cheeky exchange with fans on Reddit last week, the superstar called the project “ambitious” and “more important to me than anything i [sic] have ever done before.” A short film co-directed by Madge and Klein, secretprojectrevolution marks the launch of Art for Freedom, an online global initiative curated by VICE and distributed by BitTorrent designed to, in Madonna’s words, “fight oppression, intolerance and complacency.” The public is encouraged to contribute original artwork and writings using the social media tag #artforfreedom, while the film, which premiered at pop-up screenings in select cities around the world last night, is being made available for download as a free BitTorrent Bundle starting today at 9 p.m. PST.
Presumably inspired, at least in part, by the Russian all-female punk band Pussy Riot’s arrest and conviction for “premeditated hooliganism” last year, which Madonna and others publicly condemned, as well as her experiences traveling the world for her MDNA Tour, during which she faced threats for speaking out on gay rights in Russia, secretprojectrevolution is an attempt to, according to Klein, “[question] our governments and our collective thought patterns.” There’s little in the way of narrative; instead, the 17-minute, black-and-white film is driven by Madonna’s musings on censorship and civil rights, accompanied by images of the singer wielding a pistol, metaphorically silencing her fellow artists with bullets to the head, and being thrown in prison (either for that act or for her creative expression—it’s unclear).
The film is beautifully shot, art-directed, and costumed, with shades of “Vogue,” “Die Another Day,” and X-STaTIC Pro=CeSS, her 2003 art installation with Klein, evident throughout. Madonna looks as svelte and as sexy as ever, donning a platinum wig with bangs coincidentally not unlike that of Susanne Sachsse’s über-militant in The Raspberry Reich. The entire project, at least aesthetically, recalls the artist’s peak of provocation in the early ’90s, a fact only reinforced by the scratchiness of her speaking voice, evocative of the raw vocals on her 1992 magnum opus, Erotica.
Unlike that Madonna, however, today’s Madonna tempers her revolution with vague, quasi-new-age platitudes about love. And like almost every Madonna project, contradictions abound, some likely intentional (“This revolution will not be…on the Internet…You won’t be able to download it,” she says at one point) and others not so much (she laments “corporate branding” despite her recent Material Girl clothing line, Hard Candy fitness centers, and Truth or Dare fragrances). She samples Martin Luther King not long after dubiously asking, “If I had black skin and an afro, would you take [my revolution] seriously? If I was an Arab waving a hand grenade, would you take me seriously?” Fortunately, or sadly, her post-feminist point is the still-salient one she’s been making for three decades now: “Instead, I’m a woman, I’m blond, I have tits and ass, and an insatiable desire to be noticed.” Thus, she should just shut up and show us her ass.
Like LaBruce, Madonna has often conflated the sexual and the political, and like the underground filmmaker, she’s always seemed to understand that humor goes a long way toward making one’s hard-to-swallow point. It’s been an essential, if not always apparent, component of her most effective works. So while, on the surface, secretprojectrevolution embodies every aspect of her career (film, dance, fashion, sex, politics, music), a sense of humor is lamentably, perhaps even fatally, the one element that’s missing from her latest (r)evolution.
Watch secretprojectrevolution below and download the BitTorrent Bundle here.