Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful

(USA 1991)

“Brooke Shields. Dawber, Pam. Personality of Spam. Christie Brinkley. Brosnan, Pierce. Bland and boring, something fierce. Wilson Philips love to sing and wreck the cover of a magazine. Daniel Quayle’s brain is gone. Debbie Gibson gives good yawn.”

—Medusa, “Vague”


“You don’t understand. If I use a smaller penis it would be compromising my artistic integrity.”

“Come on, suck my toes in my documentary. Nobody’s done that yet!”


Made for Showtime, Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful is comedian-turned-MTV “personality” (not the late ’80s hipster V.J. with the identical name) Julie Brown’s scathing spoof of Madonna’s Truth or Dare (—not to mention the icon herself. The whole thing is juvenile, mean, and absolutely hilarious. At just under an hour, it’s over right before the joke is.

Brown is Medusa, a bratty, self-obsessed, controversial, overhyped, oversexed, and very much untalented pop star. She’s making an explosive “no holds barred” documentary of her Blonde Leading the Blonde World Tour, a sordid affair that relies on sleaze and controversy to hide the fact that her work is so…well, vapid. Did I mention the tour takes place over five days?

Lifting sets, costumes—including conebras, that fluffy pink negligee, and the I Dream of Jeannie clipon ponytail—and dance routines right out of Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour, Brown doesn’t miss a beat; she nails the overdone hamminess Madonna exhibits throughout Truth or Dare. Masturbating on a red velvet bed? Check. Visiting a deceased family member at the cemetery? Check—although here, it’s a pet cemetery where a dog whose name she can’t remember is laid to rest. Totally ragging on a celebrity who compliments her performance after a show? Check—here, it’s Bobcat Goldthwait. Giving head to an inanimate object? Check—here, it’s a watermelon, not a bottle of Evian.

Gay dancers (Sergio Carbajal, Thomas Halstead, Stanley DeSantis) fawn all over her, she screams at her manager (Chris Elliott) and her crew, and ex-husband Shane Pencil (Donal Logue) can’t deal with her antics. Kathy Griffin plays a backup singer. Plus, Brown gives us dead-on song ripoffs like “Expose Yourself,” “Like a Video,” and “Vague.” Fucking brilliant!

According to Wikipedia, Madonna sent Brown a gift after she saw this—a half-finished bottle of warm champagne (

51 minutes
Not rated

(YouTube) B+

Paris Is Burning

(USA 1991)

“Opulence. O, P, U, L, E, N, C, E, opulence. You own everything. Everything is yours!”

—Junior LaBeija

Before The Crying Game and Transamerica, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, and Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki,” there was Paris Is Burning. I first saw it at a screening on my college campus, I think, when it was fairly new—I remember a double feature with Madonna’s Truth or Dare, so it had to be summer or fall 1991. I’ve since seen it countless times. It’s one of the films I quote most. I love it, even as it turns 25 years old. It is, in two words, fucking fabulous!

Shot in 1987 with a short check in three years later, Paris Is Burning is ostensibly a documentary about the Harlem nightlife ball culture (pronounced “boo-wall” by most here). The film takes its name from one said ball, a rather clandestine affair held in a shabby party hall somewhere near Lexington/125. A world unto itself, ball culture was loaded with costumes, wild dancing, attitude, hierarchy, and tons of rules. There was blood, sweat, tears, and fighting—but there was also community and (for some) glory. As one subject, Willie Ninja, informs us, the balls may have been long and drawn out, but they were never boring. Amen! This is clear.

Much to her credit, director Jennie Livingston goes—excuse how this sounds—beyond the balls, getting into the daily challenges not only gay men and drag queens faced, but also actual bona fide transgender women. This was probably the first exposure I had to that. I mean, being gay in the Reagan Era was bad enough: if you weren’t destined to live a long and lonely life in the closet, you were going to get AIDS. Either way, the only thing straight about you was your road to hell. Transgender was…something else altogether. America was not ready for it when Paris is Burning came out, which makes it all the more remarkable.

Paris Is Burning is a big middle finger to all that thinking. While not everyone subscribed to that view, Paris Is Burning was the first film to show a lifestyle like this in a positive light. It was effective; it showed how fun and liberating it could be to walk a ball, fake tits or not. Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side. Damned fun! No wonder Madonna co-opted vogueing and snagged two Xtravaganzas for her tour.

Although there are undertones of sadness throughout, every person in this film is a hero. They were courageous simply living their lives how they did, when they did. The key was a mix of self confidence and major guts. Dorian Corey gave me a crash course on reading and shade. Pepper LaBeija showed me that living the good life takes more than money. Venus Xtravaganza showed me that life is a negotiation. Whatever category you choose, you better work it!

Sadly, the era and the players of Paris Is Burning are long gone, but their spirit doesn’t just live on—it thrives. Paris Is Burning and its subjects are legendary.

Side note: everything has its dark side. This is a perfect example:

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed Paris Is Burning “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

71 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) A

Truth or Dare [In Bed with Madonna]

(USA 1991)

“I do not endorse a way of life but describe one, and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments.”

“Even when I feel like shit, they still love me.”

“Yeah. It ain’t all fucking hunky-dory.”

“I know I’m not the best singer and I know I’m not the best dancer, but I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in pushing people’s buttons, in being provocative and in being political.”


In Richard Linklater’s Slacker—released the same year—an Austin, Texas, townie (Teresa Taylor) hocks a jar she claims is a “Madonna pap smear,” talking it up as an item “closer to the rock god than just a poster.” Up close and personal, that’s essentially what Truth or Dare is: a Madonna pap smear, figuratively speaking.

Truth or Dare is Madonna showing us all how cool she is. It encapsulates an exceptionally interesting time—the best time for her to do something like this, as proven by her later tour documentary, the painfully dull I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, in 2006. Certainly no run of the mill performer, it’s only fitting that Truth or Dare is no run of the mill concert film. Shot at the zenith of her career during the Blond Ambition Tour in 1990—a banner year for an artist with a long track record of controversy and success—Madonna allows director Alek Keshishian unprecedented (though not complete) access behind the scenes, and he in turn gives viewers a lot of juicy nuggets to feast on. For fans, Keshishian shows that Madonna really is—or was—all that, and more: she’s snappy, saucy, snide, mischievous, rebellious, witty, tough, and through it all ridiculosly entertaining (and I imagine a lot of fun if you’re on her good side).

The live stuff is superb. Keshishian picks all the showstoppers from Madonna’s most iconic tour: “Express Yourself,” “Holiday,” “Vogue,” a what-the-fuck version of “Like a Virgin” inspired by an ancient Egyptian orgy, and my favorite despite its unfortunate truncation, a Bob Fosse meets A Clockwork Orange take on “Keep it Together.” Views from both the floor and onstage present the show in all its over-the-top glory. Using color in an otherwise black and white film makes the live pieces all the more special.

The backstage shots on tour—the nightly prayers, the stress and snafus, the post show parties—are even better. The shade Madonna thows at other celebrities—Oprah Winfrey, Belinda Carlisle, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and of course Kevin Costner—is uncalled for but hilarious, sometimes uncomfortably so. Personal events like her spat with Warren Beatty before the Dick Tracy opening in Orlando (she calls him an “asshole”), a phone call with her father to arrange tickets for a show in Detroit, meeting a childhood friend, even attending Pedro Almodóvar’s party in Madrid all uncover multiple sides of Madonna.

But Keshishian goes deeper (and deeper): for every cringeworthy contrived scene that rings hollow—like visiting the cemetery to see her mother’s grave—is an honest one revealing the flawed and complicated person Madonna is. My favorite moments in Truth or Dare are the small events that show her human side. She’s generous with her dancers and her family—the scene where she sings “Happy Birthday” to her father onstage is precious. Her conversation with Sandra Bernhard where she admits she’s bored is illuminating and oddly relatable. I still find her comment that “everyone talks about how fame changes a person, but they never talk about how fame changes the people around them” her most poignant statement—and Keshishian demonstrates what she means. Often, Madonna doesn’t have it all under control: it rains on the Asian leg of her outdoor tour, her headset keeps shorting out during a concert, the police pop up to arrest her at her show in Toronto, her brother Martin doesn’t show up at her hotel suite when he’s supposed to, her throat gives out, a member of her entourage is drugged and assaulted, a dancer (Oliver Crumes) goes AWOL. These scenes stand out because they reveal a lot about how Madonna handles tough situations—and she’s not always good at it. Moreover, she doesn’t have everything she wants: phone messages, Antonio Banderas, Slam and Gabriel, to name a few.

Madonna has admitted she was shady and a horribe brat in Truth or Dare ( What makes it richer and more thorough, though, is that the focus is not solely on her. Madonna’s dancers are given ample space to show who they are and let some of their stories come out. Bringing out their homosexuality, especially during the age of AIDS, is a bold move that points to the topics and issues that clearly color(ed) her work. Truth or Dare got me to see Madonna more as a performance artist than a pop star.

There are loads of truly fun moments here. Plus, we get to see a flash of her boobs. In the end, Madonna shows us a good time but still leaves us asking, who’s that girl? It’s a strategy that’s served her well throughout her career.

120 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) A-

Boyz N the Hood

(USA 1991)

I’ve seen Boyz N the Hood a few times, but the last time had to be at least 15 years ago. I was curious to see it again when I noticed it playing on cable recently. It definitely shows its age, but it’s retained its impact and remains required viewing.

The boyz are three teens, Trey “Tre” Styles (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) and twin brothers Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and Darrin “Doughboy” Baker (Ice Cube). The hood is the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Central L.A. The boyz met when they were 10 and Tre moved in with his father, Furious (Laurence Fishburne), after his mother (Angela Bassett) decided it was time for a man to raise him. Now, Tre is getting ready to go to college, football recruiters are courting Ricky, and Doughboy is in a gang and making a half-assed attempt not to end up in jail again. It’s apparent that their choices have put them on different paths that already are removing them from each other. Furious is okay with that—especially when a senseless shooting rocks Tre’s world.

In his debut, writer/director John Singleton takes a powerful and realistic look at the problems that still plague American cities: racism (internalized racism, too), segregation, economics, education, parenting, violence, addiction. To his credit, he doesn’t glorify any of it. His characters are multidimensional, into the same things that all teenage boys are: sharp clothes (and, yes, they’re awful), chasing girls, playing games, driving cool cars. Even the not-so-good kids have dignity. When shit happens, Singleton pulls us into it along with his characters. For example, we feel the sting when the Baker boys’ mother (Tyra Ferrell) unleashes her attitude on Doughboy. We also experience a shot of adrenaline when an ominous car chases Tre and Ricky up and down back alleys. It helps that the cast is fantastic.

Nominated for an Academy Award for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay in 1992 (, Boyz N the Hood still resonates despite its tendency to lapse into short spells of preachiness. Perhaps it’s because things haven’t changed as much in 25 years as we’d like to believe.

In 2002, the United States Library of Congress deemed Boyz N the Hood “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

112 minutes
Rated R

(MoviePlex) A-