Express Yourself: The Making of Madonna’s 20 Greatest Music Videos
Since first storming MTV in 1983 with the poetic, lo-fi “Burning Up,” Madonna’s music videos have spent more than 20 years sparking conversations about fashion, feminism, sex, religion and what you could and could not show on television. To help her realize these 67 clips — one of the most rapidly changing visions in pop history — she teamed up with some video and photography’s most celebrated artists, including David Fincher, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Herb Ritts, Mark Romanek, Chris Cunningham, Stéphane Sednaoui, Jonas Åkerlund, Luc Besson and more.
“Madonna was the one you had to get,” says Michael Hausmann, director of her mid-Nineties clips for “Take a Bow” and “You’ll See.” “That was the video that would be the most airtime. It was, in some ways, kind of more important than having a movie out. More people were watching it, that’s for damn sure.”
To celebrate our cover star, we caught up with many of the directors behind some of the most iconic (and controversial) images in music history.
Remembers director Michael Haussman about this love story filmed in Spain, “She said, ‘OK, Here’s the song: It’s about a girl in love with a public figure. Write something, but just don’t make it dark.’ So, of course I went and wrote something really dark.” Madonna and the director met at the Ritz in Paris, tabled the discussion about his dark idea until dinner and started making small talk. “She says, ‘Well, what have you been doing?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve been really into filming bullfights and stuff.’ And I just saw this sparkle in her eye and suddenly I just kind of went with it. Pretty sure the while thing was written [that] night.” The sepia tinged video mixes shots of real life bullfighter Emilio Muñoz with Madonna for a clip that’s sensual, majestic and features steamy footage of the pop star writhing in front of a TV. “I thought it was going to be [difficult to direct] but then it was one of the sexiest things that I’ve ever seen,” says Haussman. “She would just play the song through and go for it.”
Michael Haussman, director: It became epic in proportions to try and actually do that video because it was such a taboo subject. There were several times when it was gonna be cancelled because of PETA getting involved, saying, “We understand you’re going to film a bullfight?” And originally I was. I was gonna try to film a bullfight where the bull gets killed and everything, and that was kind of the idea to stay true to it. And [it] became kind of obvious…we can’t stage a bullfight for a Madonna video, that’s not going to go across too well….And sure enough, it was such a fiery topic that we had to have to have the police in my office in London opening our mail because a lot of animal rights groups send letterbombs to scientists and things. The producer had a rose taped to his door and it said, “Hasta la vista, baby!” All kinds of really scary shit. I had to check under hotel under different names, which I’ve never had to do, when I was in Spain.
The bullfighting world didn’t want anything to do with someone that’s gonna come in and [try to be] commercializing them. What helped was that I had a super passion about it…I knew enough that I could say, “Listen: I want Emilio Muñoz and I can tell you about every fight he had last year, every outfit he wore and where he fought.” It was kind of funny because everyone said, “Well, he’ll never do it, Emilio Muñoz — why don’t you look at these other guys that are seeking publicity. And those are the guys you didn’t want! So that was a whole trip in itself — literally sitting in hotels in Seville, waiting to meet this guy. Waiting for four days passing — and it’s only his guys coming to scope you out and see if it’s real and it wasn’t some television show where they do pranks on people.
One thing we had to promise was that we’d never harm the bull in any way. And that became a real touchy subject because a bullfighter can’t really fight a bull unless he’s been harmed in some way. Usually they do a pick to his shoulder and that makes his head go down so that he could go use the smaller, red cloth called a muleta. So, if suddenly, we were not able to pick him or have any trace of blood on the bull, so how is he supposed to use this red cloth? She was set to fly out in two days and he was set to come the following day — it was right down to the wire. So I posed him the problem and he didn’t really say anything except, “OK, let me think about this.” And he just kind of of disappeared for two days. No one could get him on the phone. She gets on an airplane to come out. So, the drama was just fantastic! So he finally arrives and says, to the Spanish press, “I’m going to fight this bull, I’m not going to pick or bandeira him. it’s going to be the first time it’s ever done and I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it for my friend Michael.”
I don’t think [the bullfighting community] ever really wanted it to get out because he was able to fight that bull fine and it was beautiful and the bull never got hurt…at all. But you have to understand the reason that can’t happen is, unfortunately, [bullfighting is] about the celebration about killing of a bull. So it kind of took away the reason it why it exists for the Spanish. And also, when you’re looking at the footage, it’s pretty outstanding what he does. He’s not just fighting it — he’s fighting it beautifully. It’s gorgeous. It was all cloaked in secrecy. He wouldn’t do it unless no one saw. It was just too weird that a bullfighter’s fighting a bull that’s not picked or bandeira’d