In 1985, after the discharge of her breakthrough album Like A Virgin, Madonna made her massive display screen debut in Desperately Looking for Susan, a film that, nearly 40 years on, is thought to be her best possible…
At the time Desperately Looking for Susan hit the flicks in March 1985, there was a thought in sure quarters that this was some form of cynical star automobile.
To be truthful, it actually appeared prefer it. Like A Virgin had exploded simply 5 months earlier than and all of the sudden right here was this grungy, indie-styled rom-com that not solely headlined the world’s latest pop sensation, but additionally included her newest tune, Into The Groove.
Hell, it even appeared like she was enjoying herself, so shut was her look within the movie to her boho-punk on-stage persona.
However truly, when director Susan Seidelman first floated the thought of the 26-year-old Madonna Louise Ciccone enjoying the a part of the uber-cool New York Metropolis scenester Susan Thomas to Orion Photos, they weren’t satisfied.
Madonna, on the time, had solely launched one album, which had peaked at No.8 on the Billboard. She had a modicum of fame, however was removed from being a bona fide star.
When Seidelman introduced the singer and a small crew to Union Sq. Park to movie a display screen check, barely anybody paid any consideration. Effectively, aside from one one that stopped and exclaimed, “Oh look, there’s Cyndi Lauper!”
It was in the course of Desperately Looking for Susan’s 9 and a half week shoot that Madonna’s star really blew up. Passers-by barely appeared to care that first week of filming, as Seidelman and Madonna shot scenes within the metropolis’s East Village.
By the ultimate week, after Rolling Stone put Madonna on their cowl, the singer had turn out to be so ubiquitous she wanted on-set safety.
Anybody watching Desperately Looking for Susan in 1985 might need speculated that, going ahead, Madonna may properly have had a parallel profession as an enormous league display screen star. Her performing work, nonetheless, has turn out to be one thing of a joke since then.
She essayed many roles within the following decade and a half, however most of these films have been both field workplace bombs or, within the few good ones, she was usually the weak hyperlink.
She even walked dwelling with a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress for 1986’s journey flick Shanghai Shock and the much less stated about 2002’s comedian romance Swept Away (often listed as one of many worst films ever made) the higher.
So what made Desperately Looking for Susan completely different? Effectively, in some ways it mirrored a world Madonna knew each nook and cranny of.
As a file of a pre-gentrified New York Metropolis, Susan Seidelman’s movie is priceless, up there with Imply Streets, Saturday Evening Fever, Canine Day Afternoon and Do The Proper Factor as a snapshot of the Large Apple in all its grungy, bohemian glory.
There’s little that’s lacquered about Desperately Looking for Susan. This wasn’t a significant studio image, made by a seasoned filmmaker and starring a rollcall of L.A. A-listers.
Seidelman had directed only one film earlier than this, a micro-budget indie titled Smithereens, and it was that film’s scuzzy, punk-rock sensibility that Orion Photos producer Barbara Boyle wanted for Desperately Looking for Susan.
Which is why Seidelman wished a sheen of authenticity to her second characteristic. Orion have been initially leaning in the direction of a longtime actress for the function of Susan, floating such names as Kim Cattrall, Ellen Barkin, Melanie Griffith and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
However Seidelman had stored listening to about this singer named Madonna (she was to later discover out they lived simply two blocks from one another) and ultimately caught one in all her movies on MTV.
“I may see the digital camera favored her,” the director advised The Hollywood Reporter’s It Occurred In Hollywood podcast. Seidelman floated Madonna’s identify to then-Orion Photos chief Mike Medavoy however he was reluctant to offer an unproven actor such a major function.
Happily for Seidelman, Medavoy’s teenage son backed the thought, telling his father he thought Madonna was ‘cute’.
But it surely’s not simply Madonna’s presence that helps give the film that slick of realness. Seidelman peppered the movie with hip, younger New York Metropolis faces, together with efficiency artist Ann Magnusson, musician and painter John Lurie, stand-up Rockets Redglare, Bold Lovers frontman Arto Lindsay, punk singer Richard Hell and even triplets Edward, David and Robert Shafran, later the topic of the award-winning documentary, Three An identical Strangers.
Rising star Rosanna Arquette was forged as Roberta, the starry-eyed romantic who turns into infatuated by Susan after seeing a sequence of messages Susan and her boyfriend Jim (Robert Pleasure) go away one another within the private adverts part of the native newspaper.
Roberta turns into so obsessive about Susan that she follows her across the metropolis and even begins dressing like her, which ultimately leads – as these items so usually do – to Roberta being mistaken for Susan, not helped by an accident which leaves her with amnesia.
Throw in a mob killing and a set of earrings as soon as worn by Nefertiti and also you’ve obtained an excellent screwball comedy, a type of punk reimagining of the form of films Howard Hawks was making within the Nineteen Thirties.
“I used to be forged first,” Rosanna Arquette advised Vulture in 2020, “after which they advised me about this pop star that was simply blowing up whereas [the casting] was occurring. All of the sudden it was like, ‘Who’s this stunning lady singing this pop tune?’ I bear in mind watching her within the Fortunate Star video and simply going, ‘Oh my god.’ It was electrical.
“All people at the moment fell in love together with her. Together with me. I bear in mind her cool outfit — I’d simply obtained one too, and I wasn’t sporting it, however the Agnès B. pencil skirt. Her entire look, with the black rubber bracelets — she simply had this entire vibe.”
Few of the actors in Desperately Looking for Susan have been marquee names on the time. Although it has the look now of an costly studio manufacturing, in actuality the movie was a modest indie affair.
It had a finances of simply $5 million, small fry in comparison with a few of 1985’s different massive hitters ($19 million for Again To The Future, $25 million for Rambo: First Blood Half II and $28 million for Rocky VI).
Arquette had headlined a handful of movies earlier than Desperately Looking for Susan however none had been hits. And it was solely the second movie for Aidan Quinn, forged as Roberta’s love curiosity, Dez (Bruce Willis had additionally been thought-about) and the fifth for Will Patton because the murderous Wayne Nolan.
Then there are the varied soon-to-famous faces that crop in startlingly small roles, similar to John Turturro because the Magic Membership’s MC, humorist Steven Wright as one in all Roberta’s husband’s colleagues and Giancarlo Esposito (later Gus in Breaking Dangerous) as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Road Vendor.
Although by the point it arrived in cinemas Desperately Looking for Susan appeared like a significant occasion film, the reality is, it was all the time a small, impartial image, populated by largely unknown actors.
By the point Desperately Looking for Susan got here out it was Madonna, the least skilled actor on that set, that was its sole star attraction.
“[Rosanna Arquette and Madonna] obtained alongside fantastic through the making of the movie,” Susan Seidelman advised The Hollywood Reporter. “However Rosanna had been the star and the opposite character was going to be the unknown or the up-and-coming star. And all of the sudden the stress of the movie being all of the sudden referred to as ‘the Madonna film’ … that must be tough.”
It didn’t assist the image’s legitimacy that Desperately Looking for Susan appeared like an extension of the Madonna publicity machine.
It might need been completely different if Madonna had been enjoying an L.A. lawyer or an 18th century debutante, dolled up in an ivory-coloured court docket costume. However no, right here she was, seemingly enjoying a variation of herself. Even most of Susan’s garments have been Madonna’s.
Seidelman has stated that costume designer Santo Loquasto went to the singer’s residence and was allowed to tug out any merchandise of clothes he felt suited Susan. That included a pair of orange sweatpants with the initials ‘MC’ on them – for Madonna Ciccone.
One merchandise that didn’t come from Madonna’s wardrobe, nonetheless, was the enduring pyramid jacket that units the plot in movement (within the movie, Madonna exchanges it in a thrift store, after which Roberta then buys it, which ends up in her being mistaken for Susan).
“That was Santo’s invention,” Seidelman recalled. “Initially Madonna didn’t prefer it. It’s bizarre as a result of that pyramid jacket has turn out to be such an enormous a part of her persona of that point.”
“I shared lots with Susan,” Madonna stated on set in 1984. “She charms her means into each state of affairs, will get guys to take her to dinner and girlfriends to let her keep of their residences. She borrows their garments and trades and swaps and barters. She’s a intelligent con artist and doesn’t let you understand once you’re being conned.”
Nevertheless subversive the film is mostly, it ends on a reasonably typical observe, with Roberta staying with Dez and Susan with Jim, a climax that wasn’t in Leora Barish’s unique script.
“The unique ending was that they didn’t go off with the fellows – they go off collectively on an journey, and also you see them on camels within the desert, within the Sahara. With out the fellows,” Arquette advised Vulture. “I feel that ending is such a greater ending and I want they’d’ve stored it. Particularly these days!
“That’s what Roberta was making an attempt to get away from – the stereotype. It wasn’t fortunately ever after within the unique script. I fell in love with that concept and I used to be very disenchanted after they reduce that out.”
Taking pictures completed shortly earlier than Thanksgiving in 1984 and with a locked-in launch date of 29 March (Orion have been eager to capitalise on Madonna’s new-found fame), there was little time to waste on post-production and advertising.
“Orion’s thought for posters included one with Madonna standing in entrance of a brick wall and Rosanna peeping over it,” producer Midge Sanford recalled to Yahoo. “One other had Madonna’s face mirrored on a toaster and Rosanna’s on a bit of toast coming out.
“‘We didn’t make Mr Mother,’ I stated. All of the individuals within the room have been middle-aged males who didn’t get the film. A advertising man appeared on the slide and stated, ‘If you happen to put two girls on a poster, individuals will suppose it’s a lesbian film.’”
In the long run, Orion did put two girls on the poster, in an iconic photograph by Herb Ritts. In it, a smoking Madonna has her arm spherical Rosanna Arquette, each dressed near-identically. “It’s a life so outrageous,” the tagline reads, “it takes two girls to dwell it.”
Desperately Looking for Susan would go on to gross $1,526,098 in its first weekend, making $27,398,584 within the US alone. Within the UK, the place it opened on 6 September, it grossed £1,175,133 in its first two days. Madonna-mania had arrived.
Even reviewers fell for this spunky, spirited rom-com. Pauline Kael, the doyen of movie reviewers within the States, raved about Madonna, calling her “an indolent, trampy goddess”, whereas The New York Instances included Desperately Looking for Susan of their record of the perfect movies of 1985. In 2022, Rolling Stone journal ranked it amongst their 100 Biggest Motion pictures Of The Nineteen Eighties, calling it “a basic of its explicit period”.
Thirty-eight years on from its launch, it’s nonetheless Madonna’s finest movie, and the perfect film from Susan Seidelman, too. The director adopted it up with a flop sci-fi rom-com titled Making Mr Proper, and acquired a essential pasting after her 1989 adaptation of Fay Weldon’s 1983 novel The Life And Loves Of A She-Satan.
She journeyed again to New York in 1998 to direct the pilot episode of HBO’s Intercourse And The Metropolis: “I feel Darren [Star, creator] was a fan of Desperately Looking for Susan, and this was a New York present with feminine tales so he wished what I may deliver to it,” Seidelman advised The Guardian in 2022. “However the present obtained rather less gritty and extra shiny in later seasons.”
Madonna adopted up Desperately Looking for Susan the next 12 months with Shanghai Shock, an journey comedy produced by George Harrison by which she co-starred together with her then-squeeze Sean Penn. It was a catastrophe, grossing simply $2.3 million towards a finances of $15 million.
It could be the primary of a sequence of big-screen calamities for the singer. She hasn’t acted on-screen since her cameo as a fencing teacher within the James Bond film, Die One other Day in 2002.
At this time, Desperately Looking for Susan acts as a valuable snapshot not simply of a long-lost New York Metropolis however of our largest and most provocative pop star, on the cusp of world stardom. By the point the film was launched in March ‘85, no person was mistaking Madonna for Cyndi Lauper anymore.