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!
...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?