Liz Smith: The Madonna Weeps! (It's Not a Miracle, but Pretty Rare)

And more from our Gossip Girl: New York turns out for “W.E.” … Ellen Kaye, Manhattan’s new chanteuse

“I’m REALLY not the sentimental type,” said Madonna, before bursting into tears, while introducing her directorial movie effort, “W.E.”

The star, who was encased in a tight, gorgeous black lace number that reduced her to taking tiny, timorous steps, held up pretty well during her remarks at the Ziegfeld Theater. She thanked everybody connected to the movie: her actors who were present — Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac and David Harbour. (Mr. Harbour plays the rather doltish Ernest Simpson in the film, but in real life he is quite sexy.) Kudos also went to her producer Harvey Weinstein, known forevermore as “the Punisher,” thanks to M … to the editors, costume designers, cameraman. She even thanked her press rep of thirty years, Liz Rosenberg (“Think about that. I mean think about it! Imagine what she’s seen and had to listen to and put up with?!”)

Madonna appeared to be getting a bit emotional. She said, “I’ve been working my ass off for the Super Bowl. And everybody who knows me, knows when I’m tired, I cry.” Then, at the end, she dedicated the film to her mother, who died when Madonna was six, “This movie is the story of a woman’s journey … ” she began and without warning, just broke down, much to the shock of the packed house.

In my almost thirty years of covering Madonna, I have seen her only once lose her controlled façade. Several years back, the star appeared with Oprah, defending her choice to adopt her son David. This was in the face of tremendous criticism and speculation that it was a publicity stunt, a “designer baby.” Madonna appeared red-eyed, agitated and genuinely hurt, but did not weep.

However, just hours later I was told that the instant the cameras went off, Madonna “completely lost it.”

Stars really are people, with real emotions. Madonna’s tears at her premiere were the most dramatic and memorable aspect of the night.

* * *

MADONNA had received a standing ovation when she slowly walked from the back of the theater to the stage (well, she really couldn’t walk swiftly, because of that dress.) and the movie was loudly applauded after it was over.

Then, Diane von FurstenbergMartha StewartCalvin KleinLou ReedJulia StilesIngrid SischyZac PosenSally MorrisonSusan Rosen Jacob BernsteinLucy LawlessRachel RoyIvanka TrumpGayle King and Liz Rosenberg’s incredible staff of vixens — Karen Moss, Nadia Ali, Alexandra Akins — converged at Top of the Standard on West 13th Street for the after party. This was hosted by The Cinema Society and the diamond company, Forevermark.

Madonna herself appeared, with her boyfriend, dancer Brahim Zaibat, and was instantly ensconced in one of the little enclaves that dot the room. It is a glam spot, but has rising and falling sections, treacherous steps almost certain to produce vertigo, especially the bathrooms (sheets of transparent glass, looking down 20 stories to the pavement.) Real food was almost nonexistent. The “sliders” disappeared within seconds, though the good-looking staff kept pressing little desserts on the crowd, most of whom were begging for meat.

Madonna had a fine time, but was still struggling to move. It is unlikely she ate a thing. One tiny brownie would have split a seam. She revealed that it was she who insisted on premiering the film at the Ziegfeld. In fact, she told “The Punisher” — “no Ziegfeld, no premiere!” Why? Because the great old movie palace is one of the last in the city, perhaps the country, to use a movie projector.

“It’s film!” she said. Everything else is a digital process now, and I wanted people at the premiere at least to see it with the warmth and depth that only film can transmit. That’s how I envisioned it in the first place.”

About an hour later, Madonna, and most of the crowd, moved to The Standard’s other big room, where everybody danced like mad, under a glittering disco ball. This included the star of the night herself. She had changed into jeans and a flimsy top. She sat for a while watching the dancers from her coming tour perform, but finally got up and “got down,” with the boyfriend. From a slight distance, in the smoky room, there seemed to be no difference in their age. Even under the harsh lights at the theater, she looked remarkably fresh — younger, with her haired styled in a shorter 1940’s style.

It will be up to the public to have the final say on “W.E.” But the premiere was a hit, that’s for sure.

* * *

“What is it about this middle-aged, double divorcee from Baltimore, square-jawed with a mole on her chin and hair scraped back into airplane wings, that suddenly we can’t get enough of?”

This is writer Anne Sebba of London’s Daily Telegraph registering the revival of the Wallis Simpson question on which Madonna has made her new movie. The reporter discusses the advent of Madonna’s movie on the woman who cost King Edward VIII his British throne. She notes that Mrs. Simpson appeared briefly, but as a villain, in last year’s Oscar-winning movie “The King’s Speech.”

Madonna’s film, released this week in the U.S., adds to the fact that, as Sebba says, “She (The Duchess) has never been understood.”

Such a positive point of view accounts for the fact that Wallis “has been on almost as many front pages in the last year as she was at the height of her infamy in 1936, the period known as the Abdication Crisis, which perhaps should now be renamed the Abdication Solution, considering how well it all turned out.” Whatever … Madonna has tried to understand Wallis Simpson, who seems to have trapped herself in the circumstances in which she won a king. Wallis then became the Duchess of Windsor and lived a pretty boring inconsequential life after her lover, King Edward, abdicated.

Madonna as historian. She already made history herself when she won a Golden Globe for enacting another forceful female, Evita Peron of Argentina.

* * *

SINGER ELLEN KAYE, whose mother Faith Stewart Gordon owned and operated The Russian Tea Room for 49 years, has branched out, into an unexpected venue. Now, Ellen is an elegant chanteuse. She has been working small spots in Manhattan, but comes into the bigtime, and will perform songs from her coming album, “Ellen Kaye: Ice Wine, Songs for Christmas and Dark Winter Nights” at New York City’s Metropolitan Room. (The songs of Annie Lennox, Rickie Lee Jones and Bruce Springsteen, among others, make up her repertoire.) Ellen will give three concerts, January 26, Feb. 2nd and Feb 29. Call 212-206-0440 for tickets.

21 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Briana Baran says:

    All right then. Madonna. Enough. I have never been terribly impressed by her…in the beginning quite possibly because her musical efforts fall far short of any of the extremely varied…I could even say eclectic and have it be absolutely true…musical styles and forms I listen to at any given time. There are only two Madonna songs that I like, “Material Girl” and “Like a Prayer”, and the reason I enjoy them has a lot to do with irony. “Material Girl” is possibly the only song she has ever written in which she has been both honest, and able to poke a bit of self-deprecating fun at herself.

    As for “Like a Prayer”, I know the lyrics, and I believe, unlike most, that Madonna is playing with her audience. Most women I know find them romantic, in the classical sense of Romance. Angels. Heavenly hosts and choirs. O, bosh. I can think of two songs that mention “getting down on one’s knees” (the other being “I Touch Myself”) and both are talking about the same thing. Submission. And, mmm, fellatio. It is so very fascinating that she’s performing “Like a Prayer” at the Super Bowl. Curious statement. Does it refer to how women ought feel about the players? Or football widows? Or is she amused (does Madonna HAVE a real sense of humor?) by the common misunderstanding? After the disastrous performances of The Who (one’s least favorite drunken uncles staggering woodenly around stage) and the Black-Eyed Peas (no surprise that they broke up immediately afterward) why Madonna? Errr…no…I have no objection to a female artist at all (there are many in my collection), but not Madonna.

    Anyway, while Madonna has done admirable charitable work for AIDs, I have never felt any sincerity or reality in Madonna’s personas (or persona singular, as she really has not changed herself…just her costumes). She does not LIVE her persona at all, she isn’t terribly interesting as a person (adopting exotic children does not count, sorry, nor does scheduling, to the minute, when you’ll have sex with your spouse. All of the time…no spontaneity allowed. That is controlling to a fault), her interviews are bland, and much of what she does has always seemed calculated and/or manufactured to promote and make money. Period. She’s never struck me as sexy, sensuous, curious, or evolving…just sort of there…relying on her manufactured iconic presence.

    And she wasn’t really that much of a trail blazer in her performances and music. She “borrowed” (I’ll be gentle now) from so many others…not just singers, but the burlesque, the clubs of Berlin, cabarets, actresses…so very many. She beeped and booped her way through her music, butchered the score of “Evita” (I was totally turned off by her version of “Don;t Cry for Me, Argentina”…so sad when someone knows their limits and uses electronics and enhancement to get by) and presented herself as fearless and sexual…and left me cold.

    I’m almost exactly her age, and this has nothing to do with “ageism”. The women of that time who impressed? Cyndi Lauper. Annie Lennox. Debbie Harry (you want truly pushing the envelope, there she is). Chrissie Hynde. Belinda Carlyle. The B-52’s. All better voices than Madonna, all a greater variety of music. All fearless. Just not as good at selling themselves. Or selling out as a one-woman corporation…but the latter, and the huge fame, glory and money seem to be what truly impresses so many people. Many of these other women are still touring, still fabulous, still absolutely flying their true colors. They just aren’t monster power players.

    I’d rather have their integrity. And I surely do miss Koko Taylor. She was past 80 when she left this world. I heard her sing, unplugged, when she was 63, and that woman could have blown Madonna into a different universe. Her voice made all of Miller Outdoor Theater’s venue ring with the blues. O my, o my…

    • avatar rick gould says:

      I’m with you on this one, Briana.

      It’s funny, on the one hand, Madonna is one of the media’s favorite targets. On the other, they genuflect when she deigns to make public appearances. In this case, “W.E.”: a movie that’s gotten poor reviews, essentially ignored by the G.G. and Oscars, and will mostly likely not be seen by the general public. Yet…incessant publicity.

      And Madonna is one of those subjects here that gets people going.
      I think from now on, when I see Madonna as the header for this column, I’m just going to skip it.

  2. avatar Barbara says:

    Wow Briana, tough audience. I have a totally different view of Madonna. A girl who grew up in a very midwestern US town, without a mother, no one pushing her or guiding her. Someone who believed in her own capabilities, who has been very creative in her music, casting and recasting herself. She has great musical talent, has acted, has given back (though you might discount her efforts), is raising her family pretty much out of the public eye. Along the way she has made a ton of money.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      @Barbara: Poor Madonna: She may have “grown up without a mother”, but she had an extremely loving family. The Midwest is not exactly the armpit of the country, and Madonna did *not* reach her majority in Northern Michigan, as she said (to quote the diva, “…smelly little town in Northern Michigan…”)…which is how Midwesterners refer to the Upper Peninsula of that state…and which is very poverty stricken, empty and an extremely difficult place to find a way out of for a creative, intelligent person (I’ve been there frequently, as I was married…formerly…to a Yooper…and it’s one of the most beautiful and hopeless places I’ve ever been). Madonna was born in Northeast/Central part of Lower Michigan, in Bay City, which is a *city*, not a small town…and was largely raised in Rochester Hills, one of more affluent areas of Michigan (again, a smallish city, not a podunk, quaint little village). I have to ask what you mean by “very midwestern”…Chicago is Midwestern, darlin’, and one of the most sophisticated urban centers in our country, with outstanding universities, art museums, galleries and learning centers (The Original Art Institute…not the one that advertises on cable?), museums, science (Fermi Lab, just outside of the city), performing arts centers and theaters…Midwestern does not mean what you *think* it means, I think. Ms. Ciccone has some what exaggerated the provincial nature of her origins, I think. Possibly because she was denied a key to the city, because of her early nude photos being revealed. She can be a petty creature. And a bit hypocritical. If she was really so edgy, so independent, so cynical…why would a key to stinky, podunk, nowhere “Northern Michigan” town mean a thing to her? She’d have given a concert there anyway, and done the dirty boogie on stage just to give them something to remember her by, key or no key. But she flew her true colors, and her childish, spoiled petulance by refusing to give a show. No Key, No Me. The Mayor was totally unphased, despite the thousands of letters (mostly from teenage fans and wannabes). I’d say that was somewhat telling.

      One doesn’t need to be pushed and prodded to achieve greatness. Many do it without the benefit of any grace, let alone support, whatsoever. In my comment, I stated my opinion clearly, which is that her music lacks creativity (pop…plain and simple), and that she has never reinvented herself…just changed her costumes. She doesn’t really ever change…and her last tour was sad proof of this ( awful costuming, same attempts at playing the sexual dominitrix and controlling woman, and it all looked vaguely over-blown, been-there-done-that and desperate). She is not a great musical talent, or vocalist. Or even dancer. I in no way discounted her efforts concerning AIDs…I was an early supporter of LGBT rights, and believer in the desperate need for a cure/treatment for HIV/AIDs. She has a talent for self-promotion…and I gave her credit for this. And she does raise her children “out of the public eye”…but so do more more celebrities than you apparently realize or give credit to…and of late Lourdes has begun to seem more and more like a copy of her mother. How can I give this opinion? Her Frequent Public Appearances.

      And of course, she does make an enormous amount of money. Interesting that you made this reference in isolation. I have an idea that this, more than anything else, is what impresses so many women about Madonna. Her financial status. I won’t say that money means nothing to me…but wealth is inconsequential. I’ve known a lot of people who were just rolling in filthy lucre (sarcasm alert), from Old, Old Money to entrepreneurs, Nouveau Riche to Trust Fund Babies, people who busted ass to get there to a woman who actually won $17 million in the lottery…and those who simply got…”Lucky?”. Some were happy, some miserable, some decent, some despicable. All were just homo sapiens…and their money never *improved* them in any way. Nor does Madonna’s seem to have any positive affect on her.

      • avatar lizdcook says:

        Your distain for the woman is quite obvious. Why then, pray tell, do you know so much about her? “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

  3. avatar Jay Gentile says:

    I always sensed a deep sadness in Madonna. Even beneath her smile, her eyes always look cold, joyless and dead.

  4. avatar D C says:

    I don’t know anyone that doesn’t think she’s referring to fellatio when she sings Like A Prayer.  Romance?  Angels?  Really?  Nahhh… nobody thinks that.

    • avatar Mr. Wow says:

      Dear DC…

      You’re one up on me.  Blow jobs never occured to me in the “Like a Prayer” song/video.

      But…I am such an innocent.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      You’d be surprised…unless you’re being sarcastic (without italics, sarcasm is so difficult to indicate) and think my opinion is entirely off base.

      I have had the singularly amusing experience of detailing the lyrics to more people than I can remember who truly thought this song was…mmm…G-rated, squeaky-clean, Romantic, hearts and flowers. Cherubim. Putti.

      If she succeeds in bringing off a respectable, professional show at the Stupor Bowl ( I only watch for the commercials…though I do watch football with Rusty during the season. But only if I can commentate on gorgeous backsides in Spandex, and play announcer on occasion) that would be nice after the travesties of the last two years. But I am expecting an epic train wreck. Somehow, Madonna and American football don’t mix (and this has nothing to do with degrees of sophistication, education, etc.).

      I eagerly await the denouement.

      • avatar Mr. Wow says:

        Dear Briana..

        If you are responding to me…no, I never ever thought of “Like a Prayer” as  a song about fellatio.   Of course I understood all the controversey of the video, with M kissing the black Jesus and the burning crosses, but oral sex?   And believe me, I rarely miss oral sex references.  I’m that kind of guy.

        But look, all of this is subjective.  Madonna’s song, “Inside of Me” was  about Madonna recalling her mother.  Most others took it as…well, I don’t need to go there.

        I await the Stupor Bowl anxiously. 

        • avatar Briana Baran says:

          Mr. Wow: No, Mr. Wow, my answer was directed at D C…I doubt you’d be so sarcasm challenged. I do know that “Inside…” was in reference to Madonna’s mother. I am one of those people who is eternally fascinated by song lyrics…and I am very sensitive to deeper meanings. And those that haven’t any.

          I also have antennae exquisitely tuned to sexual references…especially those alluding to more…mmm…*interesting* ideologies, pursuits and deviations. And I am “that kind of girl” inasmuch as you are “that kind of guy”.

          I do think that these lyrics are telling:

          “When you call my name it’s like a little prayer
          I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there
          In the midnight hour I can feel your power
          Just like a prayer you know I’ll take you there”
          —-Madonna Ciccone

          If that *isn’t* about submission, and a certain form of oral worship…well…I’ll have to just turn in my posture collar and ballet boots.

          Onward to the Super Bowl! Do you suppose she’ll wear the Swarovski crystal encrusted football jersey from her last tour? I can hardly wait!

        • avatar TheTexasMom says:

          I thought I posted but let me try this again…..

          Mr. Wow, I am in complete agreement with you as the song never, ever made me think of oral sex. I guess I need to Google the lyrics and get with the program.

  5. avatar Paul Smith says:

    Enough PR on Madonna.  We get it, Miz Liz.  No one is going to knock ’em over to see this story on Wallis Simpson that has been told and told again.  But we never tire of the old tales of American pluck (which leads me to wonder why people don’t  ‘nut’ over Mitt Romney’s spectacular success). Moderately talented girl from Michigan, lots of T&A, gets good breaks, what’s not to love. She is an American Idol.

  6. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Poor Wallis Simpson. What’s left of her must be writhing in her grave. The saddest thing is the constant, repetitive description of her as “dumpy, masculine and unattractive”. I had seen only one or two extremely (deliberately?) unflattering photos of Wallis on this and other sites, so I bothered to do a Google Images search on her. She wasn’t thick, lumpy, masculine or dull. I found many of those photographs to depict a sometimes waif-like, sly (even wicked), highly sexual, occasionally enigmatic woman with a definite spark whom I found to be rather gamine at times, and at others, sensuously androgynous with a hint of debauched mystery and secrets yet to be revealed. In no way unattractive. How cruel people are. She was who she was, a very long time ago…and she must have had *something* to cause a King of England to abdicate.

  7. avatar TheTexasMom says:

    It seems I’m in the minority here and I’m quite OK with that, as I do like Madonna.  I was not an early fan but as she aged she has reinvented herself many times over without making herself look like a silly caricature of herself to keep relevant in the industry.  That in itself is admirable. 
    She has raised her children out of the limelight and at this point they seem quite grounded.  She appears is quite charitable and who’s to question the why of charitable acts?  I know I won’t sway anyone with my line of thinking because Madonna is like cilantro – either you like her or you don’t; no middle ground.

    • avatar rick gould says:

      Funny you should say that…I hate cilantro, too ; )
      To each their own!
      And Brianna, I was born a Yooper and most Yoopers would rather live there than say, Detroit!
      Go, Packers!

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        rick, the UP is absolutely stunning, and I loved visiting. The poverty and ignorance were gut wrenching…and in these things it was an extremely neglected area of our country. But that was 30 years ago, and perhaps things have changed for the better. And most of the people were warm and the soul of generosity and kindness.

        I don’t judge a whole area’s people by my wretched ex and his miserable mother.

        Detroit may be the sphincter of the Midwest…and, even though I was born, and spent my first 24 years in Chicago…I was rooting for the Packers both in 2010 and 2011. Aaron Rogers is my man…and I live in Houston. Awesome.

  8. avatar sheezcrazy says:

    I am really sick and tired of people saying how gifted Madonna is at “reinventing” herself. Singers with real talent, such as Aretha Franklin, don’t have to reinvent themselves. Period.

  9. avatar Aline says:

    I read somewhere that Madonna’s song “Borderline” is about orgasm. Whatever…

    The book that Madonna’s brother wrote about her portrays her as mean and selfish. And did anyone see that video of her at a table at some press conference when a fan went up and gave her some flowers? After the fan was gone, she told the person sitting next to her that she loathes that kind of flower. How rude and ungrateful.

    She has admitted in an interview that she knows she is not the best singer in the world. She just figured out a way to make mediocre singing talent into a money making machine.

    Actually, there are some Madonna songs that I like. I just don’t think I would like her as a person if I knew her and was around her for any length of time.