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Visual Index ~ The Bold Giddy Pop Art of "Dick Tracy" 

Hit Me With Your Best Shot S6.E11: DICK TRACY (1990)
Director: Warren Beatty; Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro


Big Boy: YOU! How do you want it?

May I step on to the screen and interject and answer? Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) is at a very brief loss for words anyway since Big Boy Caprice (Oscar-nominated Al Pacino) just killed her gangster sugar daddy. I won't distract from the action. I'll wear something purple, designed by Oscar-nominated Milena Canonero, with a "Press" card sticking out my fedora so I fit right in to the six-color bluntly labelled production design schemes.

So how do I want my comic adaptations?

Nathaniel: [Excited... Breathless, really]. Want it Graphic. Want it Colorful

Breathless: ...Well I look good both ways. 

That you do, Madonna. That you do.

And as befitting your singular femme fatale position in the most absurdly colorful homage to the mostly black and white noir genre, you're the only person that the genius costume designer won't dress in colors.

Breathless: I'm wearing black underwear.

Dick Tracy, Warren Beatty's expensive primary-colored movie adaptation of the 1930s era Chester Gould comic strip celebrates its 25th Anniversary this month. Though the movie's loud blockbuster arrival in the summer of 1990 during the Blonde Ambition phase (and arguable peak) of Madonna's career, and its subsequent winning Oscar night (3 statues) guarantees that we'll always think of Madonna first and composer Stephen Sondheim second when thinking of this summer hit (you don't wanna know how often I listened to Madonna's "I'm Breathless" cassette tape that year!) I chose this image of Dick Tracy, solo, as the film's Best. 

Why this image?

best shot

In some ways, Dick Tracy is the quintessential Warren Beatty film. Or, rather, the quintessential idea of Beatty as a Star Filmmaker. In truth it's nothing like the movie star's other few directorial efforts (Heaven Can Wait, Bulworth, Reds)  but in its relentless adherence to its concept, color schemes, and acting register it fits to a "t" the idea of him as a precise, meticulous, inflexible, seductive Hollywood force, always great looking and prestigious without quite being entirely universally respected. Dick Tracy gets his man even if it means bending the law he so cherishes and Warren Beatty gets what he wants even if that means going way over budget or taking years and years to realize his vision or charming and seducing everyone in sight until his ideas become their own. 

Beatty's vision is obviously shared by his brilliant production team and as a result Dick Tracy is one of the most cohesive and distinctive of summer blockbusters. To a fault really. Though its eye-poppingly beautiful to look at its also a teensy bit exhausting in its precision and and adherence to its own rules. Other images in Dick Tracy provide a broader range of bold colors, or are more artful and humorous in their compositions, but this one... this image of Dick Tracy peering at criminals, is the movie. It's Warren Beatty staring intently into a comic strip he's coopted as hs own, and becoming his own self-contained panel in return. He's trapped within a bold green frame and with that trademark bright yellow hat, ever conscious of the power of his own potent iconography. 

Click on the photos for the corresponding articles
I've included a couple of comments about images I also screengrabbed 

Between this shot and all of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, my love of curly blonde, confident women was solidified...
-Movie MoJoe 

One of the great character intros. And what a song. The Oscar winning "Sooner or Later"

A clever moment ruled by the kind of cartoon logic Dick Tracy could’ve used more of.
-Coco Hits NY

There are only images that look like they were ripped directly from the garish four-color Sunday funnies...
-Antagony & Ecstacy 


Vivid colors pop out nicely but do add to the sense of detachment...
- Allison Tooey 

Sharp colors, cartoonish characters, and rigid camera placement. When these elements converge...
- The Entertainment Junkie

I didn't grab this image but it certainly is grabby, if you know what I mean. Storraro absolutely earned his Oscar nomination. The way the light just barely outlines these shadowy criminals is really remarkable. Even though they're pitch-black they each have their own signature color in razor thin outlines from the light hitting their backs.

Madonna's most interesting, most mysterious, most iconic performance to date...
- Paul Outlaw 

I also considered this image, a potent fusion or its two notorious superstars. I am not totally in love with Dick Tracy's preference for montages but this image always makes me think of the "I'm Breathless" duet where Warren Beatty sings "Now I'm Following You" with Madonna... and his subsequent hilariously put-out supporting role in her documentary Truth or Dare.

Yes, it's Madonna and Child... 
-Sorta That Guy 

 Despite its eye-catching cinematography, the film is curiously devoid of "money shots"... 
- Film Actually

Enough to make you wish the comic book movies of today would leave the "real world" behind completely...
- Dancin' Dan on Film

This is where all that color that the film has been thriving on begins to rust and decay...
-Movie Motorbreath *first entry*

 perfect comic strip 
-Jen Small  *first entry*

WED, JUNE 17th MAGIC MIKE (2012)
There are only nine more episodes left this season. If you've always wanted to join in the fun, now's the time. Watch the movies and post a shot somewhere that we can link to. We promise you'll have fun choosing. 

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Reader Comments (7)

I am not totally in love with Dick Tracy's preference for montages

The reliance on montages is a compromise to get the running time under two hours for theatrical release. Beatty's original cut runs under 140 minutes.

June 5, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I wanted to love this movie, As you say, it's visually grabbing, but overdoes it most of the time. And I can't help but think of the tackiness going on behind the scenes: Beatty was very much using Madonna to attract her fanbase to see the film (why else would he agree to be in her documentary? He's so private) and Madonna was very much using Beatty to break into film.

June 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

My shot would be Mandy Patinkin and Madonna at the piano singing "What Can You Lose", which is the perfect song.

June 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@ Peggy Sue: that was one of my runner-ups. Great song, great scene, great shot.

"Madonna and child" (my caption as well) was also a finalist.

I didn't love this movie on rematch, but I also remembered only loving the visuals, the music, Madonna and Hoffman the first time I saw it.

June 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul Outlaw: And by "the music" you mean the songs, not the score, right? The score makes the movie come off as a poseur Batman. Never mind that Burton's Gotham was a pretty Gothic place that fit that kind of consciously epic and fairly moody music where Joker was often the only loud splash of colour. Outside of the climax Beatty's adaptation of Dick Tracy Chicago, in comparison, is a constantly popping sideshow overloading with colour and the score could have been more interesting if it followed suit, taking more inspiration from the score for Pee-Wee than the score for Batman.

June 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Definitely the songs, Volvagia. Definitely.

June 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I loved this movie as a kid and relished reading all of these. The movie's greatest strength, visually, is how much it looks like a comic strip, and it was interesting to see that reflected in all the post. I also found interesting how many people compared it to Tim Burton's "Batman". I had never put in perspective that this film came out a year after that and would have been compared as such. "Batman" is much darker in its violence, but "Dick Tracy", while being PG, isn't exactly a bubble-gum kids' movie, either. You can see Madonna's nipples! Paul Sorvino dies of "the bath"!

Did anyone have the Nintendo game as a kid? It was RIDICULOUSLY hard. I even tried using a Game Genie and I couldn't. I wish someone would upload them defeating it on YouTube so I could feel vicariously victorious.

June 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

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