When I initially conceived this review, I planned to do so in preparation for Madonna’s current (as I write this) “Drowned World” tour. Her first concert trek in almost eight years, the prospect of the show excited me. As such, I thought it’d be fun to examine the songs found on The Immaculate Collection - Madonna’s first greatest hits compilation - and give “odds” on each tune’s inclusion in the show.
Boy, am I glad I skipped this concept! Now that the “Drowned World” concert is a reality, we know that it includes very few of Madonna’s older songs. From the period covered by Immaculate, only two tracks made the cut. One of them - “La Isla Bonita” - appears here, but the other - “Holiday” - never received the music video treatment, so it remains absent from this package.
Madonna chose to focus on her more recent work for the “Drowned World” concert; of the performance’s 20 songs, 15 are from 1998 or later; other than “Holiday” and “Bonita”, the remaining numbers all come from 1994 or 1995. Actually, that last factor depends on where you saw the show. Madonna started in Europe, and those crowds all heard “Gone” from 2000’s Music. However, once she came to the US, she replaced “Gone” with “You’ll See” from the 1995 romantic-song compilation Something to Remember.
Although I can’t say I mind the omission of most of the older tunes, I must admit this choice really surprised me. Prior to 2001, Madonna never left out “Like a Virgin”, and “Vogue” also felt like a given. Apparently she simply lacks much connection to these songs, so she chose to skip them.
As such, anyone who wants to re-experience the glories of older Madonna material must make do with her various video packages. While official releases exist of all four of her pre-“Drowned World” tours, only 1987’s “Who’s That Girl” and 1993’s “Girlie Show” currently appear on DVD in full renditions; these are represented by the Ciao Italia - Live From Italy and Girlie Show Live Down Under. One can find a few excerpts from 1990’s “Blonde Ambition” tour on 1991’s documentary Truth Or Dare, but no DVD exists that contains the whole show, and no signs of 1985’s “Virgin” tour have yet made it to the format.
Of all these packages, 1991’s The Immaculate Collection probably offers the strongest general appeal. As a greatest hits set, it includes most of the songs that made Madonna famous, and it features them via commonly-known renditions, not live versions, which may be altered. Personally, I don’t regard the latter possibility as a bad one, for many live cuts surpass the studio recordings; for example, the “Girlie Show” editions of tracks like “Vogue” and “Justify My Love” blew away the originals.
Nonetheless, many prefer to hear the versions that first became famous, and Immaculate is the place to find those. Also, many people first became acquainted with Madonna via her videos, so that makes this package more desirable.
Personally, I fall into the category of the die-hard fan, so most of the comments above don’t really apply to me. I like the variation heard during the live shows and often feel a little tired of the original tracks. That said, someone like me wouldn’t think of not owning all these videos, as they offer some of Madonna’s most famous and most vivid work. These videos are one of the main reasons she turned into such a big star, and they can be fascinating to see.
Immaculate includes 12 different songs from five albums. These start with her debut, 1983’s Madonna, which offers two tracks, “Lucky Star” and “Borderline”. Notable trivia fact: although he referred to the song “Like a Virgin” in 1991’s Reservoir Dogs, I believe that “Lucky Star” (directed by Arthur Pierson) was the only Madonna video mentioned in a Quentin Tarantino flick. During Pulp Fiction, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) mentions it to Butch (Bruce Willis) when she discusses her desire to have a pot belly, ala the little gut Madonna maintained in that clip.
Even without this reference, “Star” would remain an iconographic video, as it represents the first significant public appearance by Madonna. “Star” introduced her to a mass audience, and though the clip is quite basic, it still stands out to many people. Essentially, Maddy lip-synchs the song alongside two dancers. Though videos started to become more complicated during this era, “Star” shows very simplistic processes. Nonetheless, it works; though it seems dated, it still shows Madonna’s magnetic presence to good effect. For all her changes over the years, if you look carefully, you can see pretty much everything by which we’d come to know Madonna in this one video. Later pieces would be more complicated, but this one remains a classic.
For “Borderline” (directed by Mary Lambert), Madonna attempted a more ambitious, story-driven video. Essentially, she plays a local city girl who catches the eye of a handsome photographer, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend. Though she flirts with the former, she returns to the latter when the rich dude turns out to be an uptight schmuck.
At least I think that’s the story behind “Borderline”; many videos feature semi-incoherent plots, and this one wasn’t any different. Nonetheless, it was an interesting piece. “Borderline” never was one of her best tunes, and this wasn’t a great video, but I thought the clip maintained a certain level of charm and spark that allowed it to work.
Next we get two songs from Madonna’s true breakout album, 1984’s Like A Virgin. While Madonna sold quite well, its follow-up really flew off the shelves as it moved upwards of 10 million copies. To date, it remains her most successful album, and I seriously doubt that fact will ever change.
“Most successful” doesn’t mean “best”, of course; actually, one could argue that Virgin is one of her weakest efforts as a whole. Nonetheless, it remains her most famous work, largely because of its first two singles, “Like A Virgin” and “Material Girl”. Almost 17 years after the album first hit the shelves, those two still represent her best-known tunes.
While her later work would offer much greater complexity, these tracks provide a nice level of bouncy perkiness that allows them to work. Of the two videos, “Virgin” (directed by Mary Lambert) is easily the weaker one. A bizarre lip-synched performance, we see Maddy as she wafts through a variety of settings, including the canals of Venice. She’s semi-pursued by a hunky guy and a lion, and at one point, the dude takes on the look of the feline. Huh?
In any case, the combination of the catchy tune and the sexy video caught the public’s eye and helped propel the album to the top. I think the clip remains a semi-incoherent mess, but it’s moderately interesting at times.
Much better was the follow-up, “Material Girl” (also directed by Mary Lambert). This clip returns to the “Borderline” school of thought as it attempts a minor storyline. However, this one was much better accomplished. A movie executive sees Madonna in some film reels and decides he must have her. However, every other guy in town also pursues her, and his low-key approach pales by comparison; they give her diamonds while he simply brings posies. Until the finish of the video, he doesn’t even bother to try to connect with her, for he seems so sure that his attempts will fail. However, in the end his more earnest and romantic efforts succeed and the two embrace.
Okay, there are a lot of bewildering aspects of this story. Although one would assume this executive must have a lot of money, he seems totally intimidated by the jewels bestowed on Maddy by her other suitors. Is this because he can’t keep up with them - which makes no sense - or because he feels disappointed that she appears so materialistic? The latter also isn’t probable; for one, she rejects their gifts, and he also continues to pursue her, which must mean her possible materialism didn’t bother him too much.
Whatever the case may be, “Material” remains a very compelling and fun video. The storyline is combined with a lip-synched performance by Maddy that replicates that of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Marilyn Monroe’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The two mix together well and create one of Madonna’s all-time best videos.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note what a huge year 1984 was for some of the decade’s signature acts. Madonna, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen all released their all-time biggest selling albums that year, and Michael Jackson reunited with his brothers for one of the most hotly-anticipated tours to ever hit the road. It didn’t quite live up to expectations, but 1984 remains a big year nonetheless.
After this we move to three videos from 1986’s True Blue. Though not as successful as its predecessor, Blue marked a new level of maturity in Madonna’s work, something that would progress even more strongly in future albums. On the surface, Blue stayed with music that seemed fairly similar to the first two records, but at its heart, it showed a variety and a depth that were new.
Those attitudes come through clearly in “Papa Don’t Preach”. Both the song and the video deal with an unintentional pregnancy that affects a young woman, and although this isn’t the deepest treatment one could conjure, it still marks a step up from tracks like Virgin’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”. The video (directed by James Foley) provides a tenuous story. Mostly it focuses on a pictorial representation of Madonna as she meets her boyfriend, falls in love, and also has to deal with her clearly disapproving father (played by Danny Aiello). Solo lip-synch performances intermix with the plot-driven elements. Ultimately, it’s a fairly simple but effective and moderately touching piece.
The next video sticks with more basic fun, though it marks some of Madonna’s most lurid images to date. “Open Your Heart” (directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino) shows our heroine as a stripper in a cheap peep show. She performs for a freakish mix of admirers while a pre-pubescent boy (Angel Ferreira, who would also work on the subsequent “Who’s That Girl” tour) struts and fantasizes about her outside of the club. The video ends ambiguously, as Madonna and the boy leave happily - but apparently innocently - together, much to the dismay of the club’s manager, who bemoans their interaction.
It’s 14 years after I first saw the video, and I still have no idea what that conclusion means. Is she his sister? His mother? His friend? A perv? I don’t know, and I doubt anyone else has a conclusive answer. In any case, “Heart” was a very interesting video, with or without the confusing ending. The vivid and clever visuals provide consistently interesting material, and the song is a fun dance number.
The Collection’s final Blue track has always been one of my least favorites. “La Isla Bonita” continues to strike me as a wan, blah song, and the video (directed by Mary Lambert) doesn’t do much for me either. In this clip, Madonna appears to rehearse for her role as Evita nine years later; she does some Spanish dancing and interacts with a few Mexican performers. Really, that’s about it, and this makes it a bland and uninteresting video, especially compared with the gems that preceded it. By the way, the “Girlie Show” finally provided a version of “Bonita” that I liked, but I continue to maintain unenthusiastic feelings about the tune, and I definitely don’t care for the rendition Madonna’s doing on the “Drowned World” tour.
Now we move on to what I might argue is Madonna’s best album, 1989’s Like A Prayer. She continued to pursue more complex themes, as Prayer discussed issues like religion, familial concerns, and abuse. It also varied more significantly from the usual dance pop and offered a surprisingly successful mix of musical styles.
The title track demonstrates this well, as it melds rock, dance, and gospel into one highly-effective package. The video (directed by Mary Lambert) is another that goes for a storyline, but it’s one of the less coherent. Frankly, I won’t even bother to try to explain it, but we see violence, deceit, stigmata and a tubby kid all crammed into this short piece.
Although prior videos inspired controversy, all those concerns paled next to the furor created by “Prayer”. Madonna’s liberal use of religious imagery didn’t sit well in many circles, and protests ensued. This scared PepsiCo, which promptly dropped Maddy from a huge advertising campaign that had just started. As usual, Madonna ended up on top. None of this affected her reputation at all, and she got to pocket all of the Pepsi cash without much effort. Only the soft drink giant looked silly when all was said and done.
Though “Prayer” doesn’t make a lot of sense as a story, it remains a compelling and intriguing visual piece. Madonna seems more spirited than usual, and the mix of unusual themes creates an interesting program. And hey, it’s the first video in which Madonna sports her natural hair color!
After this provocative video, one might expect the follow-up to be less daring. However, since this is Madonna involved, that wasn’t the case, as the clip for “Express Yourself” showed no signs of temerity. Directed by David Fincher, the video left out religious imagery, but it proved to be quite controversial nonetheless, mainly due to some bondage considerations. Feminists attacked Maddy this time, as she appeared in chains during some shots.
“Express” was Madonna’s most sexual video to date, and it might still merit that title except for 1990’s “Justify My Love” and 1992’s “Erotica”. Set in some sort of futuristic environment, the visuals are both lush and stark at the same time, as Maddy gets it on with a hunky slave boy. Or something like that. As usual, the minor storyline doesn’t make much sense, but the clip still seems vivid and engaging. It’s definitely one of this package’s most accomplished and intriguing videos.
After two controversial clips, Madonna toned things down for Prayer’s third video, “Cherish”. Directed by famous fashion still photographer Herb Ritts, the program showcases his signature style with lavish black and white images. Madonna romps in the surf with some mermen. No story appears, as “Cherish” is all about the visuals, and in that regard, it succeeds; the charming video fits well with the perky song.
More somber material appears with the final video from Prayer. “Oh Father” (directed by David Fincher) explores the strained relationship between Madonna and her dad, and underneath the surface, it also relates to her problematic interactions with then-husband Sean Penn. (Another Prayer track, “Til Death Do Us Part”, took on that topic more bluntly.) The black and white video partially features shots of a very young representation of Madonna and her father; we also see the child’s experiences at her mother’s funeral and around her grave. These are intercut with clips of adult Madonna and her apparently-abusive significant other. Fincher’s visual flair combines with the emotional impact of the song to create another memorable video.
The final song in this package came from 1990’s I’m Breathless, a collection of songs created for and “inspired by” Dick Tracy, the film in which Madonna appeared. “Vogue” had virtually nothing to do with the movie, but that didn’t really matter, as it quickly became the biggest hit of the year, and it remains arguably Madonna’s most successful song.
Another David Fincher production, the video helped make the tune such a smash. It marked Madonna’s third straight black and white clip, and this one may have used the monochromatic tones to the best effect. Actually, “Vogue” seems like the most simplistic video we’d encountered in a while; in a way, it hearkens back to the basic pleasures of “Lucky Star”, though it was a great deal more complex than that clip.
Nonetheless, “Vogue” attempts no story or anything particularly flashy. Instead, we simply watch various clips of Madonna and the dance roster she’d assembled for the “Blonde Ambition” tour as they romp through the song. Fincher’s gorgeous cinematography complements the action beautifully as once again we see that a video doesn’t need a complicated plot or flashy effects to succeed. “Vogue” finishes The Immaculate Collection on a very high note.
Except this video doesn’t actually complete the package. Instead, a reprise of “Vogue” fills the DVD’s final spot. Here we find a performance of the tune from the 1990 MTV Music Video Awards. Madonna lip-synchs the song along with the same troupe that accompanied her during the tour. What makes the piece somewhat special is the interesting staging. Maddy and the others all don 18th century attire that would make them look comfortable at Versailles. The performance is racy and provocative, although the drab direction makes the rendition come across as less exciting than it could have been. This clip doesn’t fit in terribly well with the other videos, but it can be seen as a nice bonus track.
All of the videos in The Immaculate Collection are more than a decade old, and some aren’t far from the 20th birthdays. However, most of them hold up well, especially those from the mid to late Eighties. Even the more dated clips still seem fun, especially since it’s interesting to observe how much Madonna has changed over the years. Back in 1983, few - if any - predicted that we’d still be fascinated by her after all these years, but Madonna’s grip on the public imagination has yet to fade.
The Immaculate Collection appears in an aspect ratio of mainly 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. One video - “Oh Father” - uses an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1. Music video collections are almost always a very mixed bag in regard to picture quality, and Immaculate was no exception. Although the package remained consistently watchable, the quality level varied from clip to clip.
“Lucky Star” started the package reasonably well. As one of Madonna’s simplest clips, it showed stark but clear visuals that worked fine within the fairly monochromatic environment. Essentially we just watch Madonna as she and some dancers skip in front of a white background. Skin tones looked a little bland, but very little other colors appeared. The piece showed a mildly grainy appearance, but otherwise “Lucky Star” looked quite good.
“Borderline” was a more ambitious clip, and it showed more noticeable concerns. It maintained the grainy look of “Lucky Star” and added some blotches, speckles and grit. Skin tones appeared somewhat pinkish, and reds looked too heavy. Sharpness seemed to be generally acceptable, but some softness interfered at times.
“Like A Virgin” may be one of Madonna’s most famous videos, but it wasn’t one of her most attractive. The piece always displayed a gauzy quality, and that cropped up during the DVD’s rendition. Whites seemed to be oversaturated and too bright, and the general filmy look could be annoying. Some grain and other flaws appeared, most significant of which was a big old hair that periodically interfered with the picture’s lower left corner. While the gauzy look may have been intentional, the overall ugliness of “LAV” wasn’t.
Much better was “Material Girl”, though it also suffered from some concerns. Focus improved over the softness of “LAV”, but “MG” also showed a mildly filmy look at times. This was one of Madonna’s more colorful videos, and the reds dominated. They seemed decent, though they came across as rather heavy and runny at times, especially through the set’s background. Although flawed, “MG” stood as the best of the bunch so far; “Lucky Star” had fewer flaws, but it lacked the visual ambition that made “MG” more fun to watch.
”Papa Don’t Preach” was the first video that came after Madonna was the true superstar the success of the preceding songs made her. Directed by James Foley - who helmed At Close Range, a then-current film that starred her then-current husband Sean Penn and also included her song “Live to Tell” - the piece provided somewhat improved visuals, but “Papa” still suffered from some of the problems that affected the prior clips. Sharpness looked fairly crisp and distinct, though a number of shots that featured Danny Aiello came across as mildly bland and muddy. Black levels were nicely deep, but colors seemed a little erratic; they generally looked clear and accurate, but they occasionally appeared flat or drab. Madonna’s striped shirt caused some moiré effects, and a little grain also cropped up during the video. Ultimately, “Papa” was erratic but watchable.
“Open Your Heart” featured similar visuals. A little softness interfered at times, and some strobing appeared during a few shots. Colors seemed a little thick at times, though the sickly green tones of the nightclub looked well-delineated. Black levels came across as particularly deep and rich, and shadow detail appeared clear and accurate. To date, none of the videos have offered especially fine visuals, but “Heart” had some nice elements within the other issues.
During “La Isla Bonita” we returned to the gauzy look of “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl”, which should come as no surprise since Mary Lambert directed all three. However, the clip’s faded look made more sense here, as I think it was more clearly an artistic choice to go with the semi-period visuals. “LIB” presented a somewhat faded appearance, and it also showed some mild softness along with heavy reds during the dance sequence. Whether intentional or not, “Bonita” was not a terribly attractive video, though at least it seemed to lack some of the print flaws that marred other clips.
Lambert also directed “Like a Prayer”, so I wasn’t surprised to find more gauziness there. For the most part, “Prayer” replicated the look of “Bonita”. It was also somewhat pale, though a few heavy colors cropped up at times, mainly through the sunset. The image looked mildly soft during most of the video. It was watchable but it offered another fuzzy Lambert piece.
With “Express Yourself”, we left behind the work of Mary Lambert and started the collaboration between Madonna and David Fincher, who later became famous as the director of Se7en and Fight Club. Unfortunately, we didn’t progress past the flaws that marred some of the earlier videos, though many of the concerns seemed to relate to Fincher’s visual choices. “Express” looked rather fuzzy and gauzy for the most part, though some sections of the clip came across as very distinct and accurate. An oversaturated look appeared throughout the piece, and it often seemed to be too bright. Granted, Fincher likely did this on purpose, but I still wasn’t terribly enamored of the video’s look.
“Cherish” featured Madonna’s only video collaboration with fashion photographer Herb Ritts, who’d also go on to do the popular clip for Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”. This black and white video featured some mild grain, but otherwise it was quite attractive. Sharpness looked crisp and distinct, and black levels were nicely deep and rich. Contrast seemed to be clean and accurate, and “Cherish” definitely offered the best visuals encountered so far.
With “Oh Father”, Madonna again worked with Fincher, and although this clip was black and white, it resembled “Express Yourself”. This piece featured the same overblown whites and excessively bright look. This added a glowing effect that likely was intentional. However, “Father” seemed to offer better sharpness than “Express”, and it offered a generally pleasing experience.
“Vogue” finished Madonna’s work with Fincher - for this DVD, at least - with a clip that resembled “Father” in many ways. It was also black and white, and it showed the same modest glow found on the other Fincher videos. However, it also provided clean, distinct focus and very solid and rich blacks. Shadow detail looked clear and appropriately opaque, with no signs of excessive heaviness. “Vogue” was another satisfying video.
A second performance of “Vogue” finished Immaculate. This one came from the 1990 MTV Music Video Awards show, and it offered Madonna and dancers in garb that evoked the French in the 18th century. Of all this package’s clips, this was the most straightforward, as it appeared live during the show. It looked somewhat bland and fuzzy. Focus appeared adequate for close-ups but could become somewhat soft beyond that point. Colors were a bit drab and lifeless as well.
Collections of music videos are a serious pain to evaluate as a whole. Usually their clips come from many different eras and directors, a fact shown repeatedly during the eight years of Immaculate. Overall, the DVD replicated the original works accurately. I watched all of these as they first appeared on the scene, and I saw little that showed problems that didn’t always exist. Nonetheless, my general impression was that the videos seemed to be drab and soft across the board. Could they look any better? Probably not, but I still felt most comfortable with a “C” grade in regard to the visuals.
Not surprisingly, the audio quality of The Immaculate Collection’s PCM stereo mix experienced greater success, though it didn’t lack concerns. For the most part, I felt the songs offered solid stereo renditions. Whatever variations I heard usually resulted from the original recordings. For instance, the two songs from Like a Virgin - “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” - always showed rather chilly production; they never offered very deep bass or strong dynamics, so we shouldn’t expect that to change here. The DVD represented most of the songs with CD-quality versions that sounded appropriately clear and rich; the variations reflected the source material for the most part.
Two notable exceptions occurred. The MTV awards version of “Vogue” came from a remix of the original tune, but the audio didn’t stem directly from that source. Instead, the production went with the sound as heard that night, which made the entire presentation sound something like a bootleg! The echo and crowd noise caused a feeling as though this was an audience recording, which it was, for all intents and purposes; the MTV folks just picked up the canned audio from a remote source. It was in stereo, but not very clear or lively stereo, and it sounded fairly weak.
At least that aberration made sense. On the other hand, I have no explanation for the poor audio heard during “Express Yourself”. Put bluntly, the song sounded terrible. The audio was muted and flat throughout the tune, and a distracting hum also accompanied the music. I have no idea why the song presented such miserably sound, but it stood out as the weakest experience in an otherwise solid package.
By the way, “Express Yourself” aired with two different versions of the song. Sometimes it offered the album track, but on others it went with a remix. Though I think the latter is superior, the DVD included the original album version along with the video.
As is usually the case with this sort of package, The Immaculate Collection provides virtually no extras. While that comes as no surprise, it seems especially disappointing in this case because quite a few videos from the era covered (1983-1990) didn’t make the cut. The most glaring omission was 1983’s “Burning Up” from Madonna. That one appeared on an old videotape and 8-inch laserdisc called The First Four Videos but was left off of Immaculate for no apparent reason.
Some of the other omissions made more sense. A number of videos also promoted films, so the videos may have been held up due to rights issues. This would cover songs like “Live to Tell” and “Into the Groove” plus a few others. On the other hand, I have no idea why “True Blue” failed to appear.
One video that could have made this package appears to have become an orphan. The album version of The Immaculate Collection included two new songs, “Rescue Me” and “Justify My Love”. The latter also received the video treatment, and it quickly became Maddy’s biggest controversy since “Like A Prayer”. The clip showed some provocative sexual material and it stirred up a big stink; Madonna actually appeared on Nightline to discuss the issues.
Although “Justify” was part of the Immaculate album, I doubt anyone ever thought to include it in the video compilation. Instead, the hot clip went on sale as a solo offering; even with a list price of $10, “Justify” moved a lot of copies since MTV wouldn’t broadcast the racy piece.
While it seemed logical for “Justify” to appear on Madonna’s second video compilation, 1999’s Video Collection 93:99, this didn’t occur. Perhaps this was because it was such a sexual clip, though I doubt it. Initially 1992’s “Erotica” was supposed to be part of 93:99, but it was omitted for mysterious reasons that seem to connect to its content. This alteration just dealt with “Erotica”; as far as I know, “Justify” was never a prospect for the video. It would have been nice to find it as a bonus clip on the DVD release of Immaculate, but I can’t say its omission surprises me.
In any case, those who want to check out the first half (or so) of Madonna’s career cannot do better than The Immaculate Collection. Through these clips, we see her early evolution and changes through a series of generally compelling and innovative videos. Most of the songs are top-notch as well, as they represent much of the best of Madonna’s older work. The DVD presents the videos faithfully, which means that they often don’t look terribly good. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change, for the concern relate from the source material. Happily, other than a couple of notable exceptions, audio quality sounds clear and vibrant. The lack of any extras provides a negative, but it isn’t a fatal flaw. Both casual and dedicated fans will want to check out Madonna’s Immaculate Collection.