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Shanghai Surprise?

Last night while Lady Gaga was living through an entire MTV VMA evening as "Jo Calderone" her male alter ego, I began to wonder if she could ever transfer to the big screen? In the past I'd always dismissed the notion but I think she pulled off that bit of theater last night. At the very least she sure is committed. And doesn't it seem that every major pop star eventually tries the silver screen. Britney Spears, who was also honored last night, did. Remember Crossroads? She didn't. For every Cher or Justin Timberlake who make a real honest go of it, there are dozens and dozens of musicians that fail at it or do okay but move on any way and their efforts are, generally speaking, quickly forgotten.

Which got me to thinking about Shanghai Surprise, which opened 25 years ago on this very day. No joke!

Madonna and Sean Penn, the early years

...though many thought the movie was.

Shanghai Surprise was Sean Penn and Madonna's first and last film together and it premiered just a year after the media explosion that was their wedding and subsequent volatile marriage. I haven't seen Shanghai Surprise since the 80s and the only thing I remembered about it before I took a wee peek today was that Madonna played a missionary who at one point just stripped into a white slip and seduced Sean Penn.

As missionaries do.

The reason Madonna was never much of an actress is that she was always too aware of the camera. It's a bit of an irony, since great film acting is all about an actor's relationship with the camera, but they really can't show that they're aware of it unless they're wildly talented and doing so on purpose. Otherwise, the audience just gets uncomfortable. 

God Nathaniel, why are you reminding people of a rare failure?!

Still, for all of Shanghai Surprise's badness, whenever two colossal careers meet in some disastrous way that's recorded for posterity, it's kind of fun to witness / remember. Take the moment Madonna first sees Sean Penn above. She is prim and proper and he is a totally drunk, half naked man who's screaming at people in Chinese.

Madonna's only had a couple of lines before this, all of them entirely wooden. But when she stares at him in disgust and confusion, it's hard not to feel a bit sympathy as soon as you are also staring at him. Penn was already, by 1986, an acclaimed and wildly confident actor.  

And he's ACTING enough for both of them, trust.

Look at that. [Displaying tattoo] He didn't even finish the nipples on my little sweetheart!"


Have you ever seen Shanghai Surprise? Do you ever think about which pop stars could make it as actors?

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Reader Comments (19)

Crossroads. That was the Britney picture. Coincidentally, it also starred Zoe Saldana. That's almost as bad as Anika Noni Rose in the American Idol film From Justin to Kelly.

Gaga could play a certain kind of role really well. I don't think she'll be starring in a remake of Victor, Victoria anytime soon.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

After that performance last night at the VMAs, I'd love to see Lady Gaga and Quentin Tarantino working together. Nothing too fancy, just a small part or even a cameo role on 'Django Unchained'.

How cool would be Gaga on a western and in man-drag?

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

Really Nathaniel, was she too aware of the camera when she showed her p*ssy? I mean, come on :p

I think she just doesn't have it and that means there's some justice in the world because she has star quality like we've never seen before. That's more than enough for a human being.

Just saw some moments from the VMA's and yes, I thought Gaga was cool.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I really enjoy Mandy Moore as an actress

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFernando Moss

James -- OH AGREED. Madonna has star quality like no one else. But acting is a different skill with the camera than stardom.

Jorge -- nothing to fancy is right. that's usually the best way to go for the pop stars. but they usually get leads due to their stardom.

Robert -- exactly. that's what i meant. lol. CROSSROADS with the crossing over.

August 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The "Telephone" video and SNL appearances kind of show Gaga to be a pretty terrible actress, at least when called upon to deliver a line. Like, worse than early Madonna, though in the same way: too self-conscious.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeRightBack

BerightBack -- i totally agree. But she seemed very comfortable "acting" as Jo Calderone so who knows.

August 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The other problem with Madonna is she's Madonna. She just can't be anyone but who she is. She's a personality, an entertainer, not an actor. Her best roles--Susan, League, Evita--were variations on the Madonna persona. Her best film is Truth or Dare where she's actually playing herself.

August 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlejandro

Her accent during the monologue actually reminded me a bit of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny.... She had said she'd want Tomei to play her in a film...

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmmanuel

Aghhh I missed the ask Nathaniel.... I had a GREAT question, at least imo...

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmmanuel

I watched SHANGHAI SURPRISE in 1986 and I remember thinking it was funny, even if the critics destroyed it...but I was very young then...


pop stars at the movies? not a great GaGa fan but who knows...I wonder if Beyonce could deliver something directed by Mr Clint but maybe not...what about Shania Twain? I can imagine she's not interested in this kind of career, but she looks hot in some of her videos

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

I hated Gaga at the VMA'S. It was the VMA'S, not the Jo Calderone show. Adele brought more humanity and entertainment to proceedings in her performance than Lady G with all her airtime.

I think Beyonce could be an amazing actress. I don't think she's a natural but I think with a good direction and a sutiable role, Beyonce would be brillz. Beyonce is THE legend of our times.

I also think Taylor Swift (she gave me lolz in Valentines Day) and I want another Eminem movie, I enjoyed 8 Mile and again like B, he is a legend of our times so make a movie Marshall!

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

I think I said it right here before (but maybe I thought about it and finally didn't) Gaga is here to stay. Imagine Blossom (ha! there's some physical resemblance) growing up into popular culture and learning every key element of it an then, applying them. I think she took Madonna as a reference and reinvented it adding a sense of humour about herself which is usually absent in divas. If Madonna was a smart entrepeneur, apart from an artist, Gaga has that too but has gone a step beyond and added the full time/medium entertainer (Madonna is somehow still the old fashioned diva) which is in the end what we want from our entertainers, entertain us.

That said, I find Gaga funny and amusing if she doesn't herself go by her ego and understands the way to acting is Timberlake's not Carey's, I think she can be good in supporting roles that require hiding behind the character and not playing her persona. I don't think the videos give any idea of her acting skills. if we jugded actors by the commercials they shoot, Thurman should be doing comedies and nobody would hire Malkovich if the Nespresso commercials were his business card.

Why have I written this laudatory defense of Gaga? Who knows, the one I really fell in love with for the last time, musically speaking is Amy Winehouse and I miss her.

(PS. All Apologies, grammar where art thou?)


August 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

You have to wonder if Lady Gaga will be around in 25 years the same way Madonna is still around now.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Dave -- you do have to wonder. Rare is the person who stays on or near the top of the cultural food chain for decades on end. Even though everyone always thinks today's giants will be the ones to do it. And nobody but the insta-Madonna fanatics (like myself) believed Madonna would last more than a couple of years.

August 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'm interested in seeing where Carrie Underwood takes her acting career...the girl is ambitious to say the least...I haven't seen Soul Surfer so I can't really assess if she has genuine acting talent...although I have seen a few of her videos (Just A Dream, Temporary Home) where she's had to bring some emotion to the table...and it's pretty convincing.

Gaga was interviewed with Kermit a couple of years ago at the VMA's...she had a Mae West vibe going on while she flirted and teased was absolutely charming...I can see her adopting a Mae West persona for the big screen and being quite successful with it.

And I'm sure Rihanna and Katy Perry are hell-bent on movie love love Katy Perry's Last Friday Night video...god I hope they make it into a movie. I wonder if she could be a real character actress. I'm sure we'll find out.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSoSueMe

Thank you so much for talking about awareness of the camera vis a vis acting talent. I can't tell you the number of times I've tried to explain what good acting entails - people often say, oh they're just being themselves or they're always the same. I always love it when you're watching something, usually a "Making Of" on the DVD and the doc camera pulls back and you no longer see an intimate scene between two people, but rather see that scene with the cameramen, the director, make-up & hair, several grips, the crafts service table, etc. It's very hard to be able to ignore all of that every time, at any time, over and over.

I am the first to admit that I do NOT have the Madonna gene. I DO have the Judy Garland gene, but just never got Madonna ever. ;-) But I can say that her problem isn't JUST that she is always looking for the camera, but that she is also unable to make her dialogue sound spontaneous. It always seems as though she's mentally commenting on the dialogue. It's no surprise to me that she is most successful when lip-synching on camera, or doing her own spontaneous dialogue.

August 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

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September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCrazy Entertainment

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September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFashion Guide
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