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Rebel Assignments: Film Directors + Madonna

David Fincher winning an MTV Movie Award for Se7en (1995) he was already an MTV darling at the Music Video AwardsA reader by the name of David recently asked which direct we wished would do a video from Madonna's "Rebel Heart". Given that David Fincher, now a reknowned auteur, came to fame via some of Madonna's best, it's a great question. More movie directors really ought to moonlight with music videos intead of just graduating from them. It's a unique form, basically both a musical and a short, that gives directors the chance to work faster and looser and play with ideas that they maybe couldn't risk in a feature without a test run.

Successful directors ought to donate their services at least once to either an upcoming band they want every to haer or a legendary artist whose work has meant a lot to them. So we're assigning a director to each Madonna song on her terrific new record "Rebel Heart" in order to pretend we've been gifted a video album specifically for Madonna fans and cinephiles alike.

It's a Venn Diagram niche, sure, but go with it.

Since the first track and first single "Living for Love" already got a fine toreador and minotaur themed music video -- and it's good if minimalist --  we should leave it be.

No no no. Scratch that.

Recreated by Gus Van Sant
We're completists. So we gotta try for the whole album. Gus Van Sant likes a good experiment and he can't just do a traditional "remake" so how about a shot-for-shot reinterpretation with a few inserts as he is prone to do. Madonna likes a good rolling cloud as much as the next Guy Gus (see Frozen/Ray of Light)

Assigned to Lee Daniels
This song sounds conservative but its lyrics are straight up messy mixing drowning metaphors, spiritual yearning, religiosity, the devil and a list of hallucinogenic drugs. So I think the only proper guide is the current king of absolutely fascinating messes, Lee Daniels. Look at the performances he got from Mo'Nique, Kidman, Oprah, and Taraji. Please get your hands on Madonna, you crazy beautiful man, and shake her up!

more assignments follow...

An instant classic from... Ang Lee?
"Rebel Heart's" second single is also its best. It's impossibly sweepingly romantic but not inauthentically so; it's blessed with real soul. While the video is already undoubtedly being filmed somewhere and many music video directors worth their salt can make BIG songs pop with glorious if empty visuals, Ang Lee can do just about anything, including huge imagery that resonates with soaring emotion but is anchored by tough love (think: Crouching Tiger, Brokeback Mountain, Lust Caution

Mandatory sentence for Guy Ritchie

Why would be so cruel as to force Madonna & Guy Ritchie together? Was Swept Away not punishment enough? Here's the thing. Madonna is best when she isn't taking herself too seriously and Ritchie is best when he doesn't feel soulless. He performed wonders poking fun at Madonna's persona (with Madonna as his co-conspirator) for the hilarious short film "Star" so why not bury the hatchet and have a laugh together?

What to even do with this name-dropping oddity? You decide in the comments

A funky gift for Ana Lily Armipour
"we get freaky if u want na-na-na-na-na" She's a secret Madonna fan... well, that's how we choose to interpret that Madonna (1983) poster and the Papa Don't Preach sweater for her vampire protagonist in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. She's already proved she can craft truly memorable unexpected images that you can't unsee around dangerous empowered women and this way she gets to visualize both Madonna & Nicki Minaj.

Co-Starring Cary Fukunaga
This song, which could be interpreted as romance or just solidarity doesn't immediately demand an easily identifiable point of view so it's the perfect excuse to beg the world's most strikingly handsome man-bunned director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective / Jane Eyre) who happens to be extremely versatile with genre to step in front of the camera with Madonna as well as behind it. How great would they look together?

Assigned to Sofia Coppola

Sofia knows from hermetically sealed celebrity bubbles and navel gazing, so she gets this one. It's not immediately accessible, thematically -- I mean who can relate to this but the very famous or very self-pitying or very paraonia. Anyway, Coppola's hazy intuitive feeling which can instantly conjure ultra specific moods should work well in music video form.

Assigned to Martin Scorsese
(Alternate Choice: Michael Mann). This song starts with a boxer's boasting and drifts over into a chorus about empowerment and the kind of fate reserved for the Greatest among us "Iconic!". It calls for Scorsese or Mann's masculinity obsession which would provide interesting friction or even compliment to Madonna's 'dreams come true' brand of feminine braggadacio.

In which an angry Madonna berates an ex boy-toy (but who?) for using her / keeping secrets. Who would you have direct this woman scorned?

How about Peyton Reed?

Sorry but I've been rooting for him since Bring it On! This song, heavy on the car as body (get it?) metaphor might be suited for David Cronenberg if it were spooky. But it's not. Instead it features a jaunty retro lightness and it opts for a little bit silly and a little sexy? So let's give Peyton Reed, who might be on a career upswing after Ant-Man (we'll see) a chance to show that super fun visual sexy/silly panache he got just right in Down With Love again.

Reserved for Quentin Tarantino

I assign this one to QT because it's filthy  ("jesus loves my pussy best" - really, Madge?) and I'm sorry but Tarantino owes Madonna or at least her pussy considering how much press and pop culture mileage and critical goodwill he got with that "Like a Virgin" monologue that opened his debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992).  In fact he owes her so much that she deserves a cameo in one of his movies, too. If anyone can help her with acting it's QT who can bring out unexpected beats from just about any performer. 

For Xavier Dolan if he'll have it.

One suspects Monsieur Dolan isn't good with being "assigned". Is he a Madonna fan? Who knows but this French-Canadian prodigy has a way with complicated diva women and can dramatize messy passionate romantic liaisons well. All of which makes him a fine fit for this love song that is continuously willing the relationship into deeper and more transgressive territory. "Let's cross the line, so far we won't come back..." 


This remarkably non-depressive elegy, which has Madonna contemplating her future in a changing cultural landscape is a tough call. Can you think of a director who can approach all of this 'is it over?' doom in a perfectly zen way? I'm stumped.

if this is the end, then let it come |  let it rain, rain all over me | . like the tide let it flow, let it wash all over me.

Assigned to Baz Luhrmann

"You can call me 'M' ...tonight. The city is our playground... tonight. We gonna be like gangsters... tonight." This song, like Ghost Town, requires an iconographer's gift if its to be in music video form. And who better than Baz Luhrmann to handle the self-aggrandizing pleasure promises from this one? She'll give you the best night of your life! Think Baz's glorious commercials and mix Madonna in as the diva. For even more meta goodness how about Moulin Rouge!'s Ewan McGregor as her lover?

A David Fincher Reunion

For this, the most self-referential track on an extremely self-referential record, we demand nothing less than the reunion of these two artists who made some of the greatest music videos of all time in tandem: "Express Yourself," "Vogue," "Oh Father," and "Bad Girl". Perfection. If Fincher is willing to do "Suit & Tie" for Justin Timberlake, surely he can carve out a few days with the the woman whose iconography he helped invent and from whom he got such an invaluable career boost.

Rescued by Guy Maddin

Well someone needs to rescue this song from itself. This seemingly straitfaced catalogue of sexual come ons, dares, pillow talk and boasting 'back and forth till we break our bed' needs some abstraction or counterintuitive imagery. Calling Guy Maddin for retro collage, supercut rhythms, and inspired comic juxtapositions.  

For Jonathan Glazer

The metaphors in this song are romantic and earthy if sometimes boldly obvious, So we call on a director who can perform his own 'sorcery down in the deep'. Glazer, who proved with a trio of great films (Sexy Beast, Under the Skin, and Birth) that he can deliver riveting imagery fused to hypnotic performers and haunted by a psychologically sinewy verve seems like exactly the right call.

Wrapping up with the one & only Pedro Almodóvar

Madonna professed her love for and shared an embrace with Pedro Almodóvar way back in 1991's Truth or Dare, so why not a reunion? This perfect finale to Madonna's new song collection, all about a woman who just can't blend in with shout outs to masochism and love of provocations, ought to appeal to the world's most actressexual director. Finales deserve the very best and Pedro is it.

'Why can't you be like the other girls?' 
I said 'Oh no. That's not me.'
And I don't think it'll ever be."


 Your turn. Finish what we started with the three songs we didn't assign ("Wash All Over Me" "Heatbreak City" "Illuminati") or songs from the Extra Deluxe even longer CD or just shake up the contracts in the comments. 


with love to the Queen...

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Reader Comments (31)

What a Great POST! Well done Nathaniel!

My Favorite Song is INSIDE OUT und I want it to be happen with Xavier Dolan directing it! ;-)))

Hope Madonna reads your inspiring post, so the Queen is not only back, she will be unbeatable again!

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

I could picture Julie Taymor doing something really crazy/amazing looking for "Illuminati".

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFernando Moss

I love this post!

Also, a sad reminder that Oprah and Kidman's great work in Lee Daniels films wasn't Oscar nominated. He sure knows how to get great performances from his actresses.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRami

On your three question marks:

Illuminati: Darren Arronofsky.
Wash All Over Me: Thomas Vinterberg.
Heartbreak City: Edgar Wright. The hook of the video would be Madonna encountering Gary King in the post apocalypse.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Nathaniel, I love you.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

You are very talented with Photoshop, Nathaniel!

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Amazing, Nate. I love this! For 'HeartBreakCity' I'd love to see Gillian Robespierre take it and for 'Illuminati' I want Kanye West to direct it just for the spectacular mess it would be.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterErik Anderson

This post is brilliant.

For "Illuminati," what about Lars von Trier?

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

"For Xavier Dolan if he'll have it."

I cackled.

I love this! Been a Madonna fan for years, and this is one of my favorite albums.

Wash All Over Me -- Apichatpong Weerasethakul
HeartBreakCity -- John Carney
Illuminati -- Gaspar Noe

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

Great post. Don't know who I would assign for each video but for sure I would love a Fincher reunion and an M + Almodovar collaboration (this has to happen btw). Madonna said that she wanted Tarantino to do Bang Bang from MDNA, so she has that in mind. Another director who has done some amazing music videos, has become a movie director also and could make magic with M is Floria Sigismondi.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterV.

Nathaniel, she says 'Yeezus loves my pussy best' and not 'Jesus'. Yeezus is what Kanye West calls himself (eye-rolling).

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDi_B

I would submit Anand Tucker to direct "Beautiful Scars" from the Super Deluxe album. He brought such romantic, whimsical melancholy to Shopgirl and hasn't really returned to form in the last decade.

By the way, listen to "Beautiful Scars." It's literally a perfect pop song.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

Joseph: I'm not sure an ANGRY break-up song like that really makes sense for John Carney. The difference between Carney and the other two suggestions (one that I made) is that people like Edgar and Gillian Robespierre are able to FOCUS on romantic relationships with characters where the separation has the possibility of winding up bitter. John Carney might have bitter relationships as an ASPECT (like in Begin Again), but definitely not as the primary focus.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

But what about "Beautiful Scars," "Borrowed Time," "Addicted" and "Graffiti Heart"?

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

You are so great

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

French Auteur/Provocatrice Catherine Breillat would be perfect for "Heartbreak City" & would make quite an interesting team with The Queen.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterstjean

stjean: Ooh, another choice that's at least better than John Carney, though I'm not sure that song's video doesn't need some sort of comic director pushing against the otherwise choking bitterness.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

WOW! Thanks for giving my reader question an ENTIRE post!! That's mad cool!! I'd kill to see Quentin Tarantino direct Madonna in a video!

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

For "Borrowed Time" I'd suggest Jason Reitman. It has his humanist, sociopolitical approach about it, like when he tries to say things about the recession or social media or abortion through human stories.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W.

LARS VON TRIER for any of the above. haha. Could you imagine that team-up??!! Hee!

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGarth

David -- you're welcome. make sure to share it with all your friends. Traffic is our friend.

March 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'd like to see Madonna show Tarantino and Von Trier who's boss. Knock some sense into them.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

stjean -- ooh. good unexpected call

March 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Joseph: Your other two choice sound like decent fits, though.

March 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia-- I like that Carney's films have a sense of place, but I see what you mean.

I feel like Julian Schnabel should do Graffiti Heart, given his history with Basquat, and that song's reference to that whole world.

March 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

How about Mark Romanek for "Wash All Over Me"?? He knew what to do with "Rain". Maybe a futuristic sequel...

March 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick

Nick -- ooh, i like where that is going. Really any previous director could do a sequel since there are so many songs!

March 27, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I've only heard a few songs in their entirety, but this post makes me want to get the whole album! Madonna needs to hire you.

If QT isn't available, might I suggest Nicolas Winding Refn or Harmony Korine for "Holy Water"?

March 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Also, are these directors using their own cinematographers or does Bradford Young get every gig by default? Because I'm cool wit that.

March 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

thefilmjunkie -- yes on Madonna hiring me. I have IDEAS.
also: i think their own cinematographers except for the ones who don't have a steady and they all get Bradford :)

March 28, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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