Sound And Vision: Guy Ritchie

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Guy Ritchie

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a look at Madonna's What It Feels Like For A Girl, directed by Guy Ritchie.

Ritchie started out his music video career with two very low budget, trashy and quintessentially British music videos, that show off his love for cars, chases, flash camerawork and saturated color correction. Both Westbam, Koon and Stephenson' Always Music and Nightcrawlers' Don't Let The Feeling Go are mere footnotes in the career of Ritchie, who might be our modern era's most influential director of crime movies. But even talking about only his music videos these two are overshadowed by a larger than life, immediately iconic piece of work, for better or worse. I'm talking off course about Madonna's What It Feels Like For A Girl.

Madonna's presence in Guy Ritchie's life is an entire chapter in his cinematic output. Madonna is such a big presence that it turned one of the hottest commodities among British directors into Mr. Madonna, not really a thing anymore in his own right. Even the films Guy Ritchie made when he was Madonna's husband have her fingerprints all over them. Revolver is a self-serious gangster movie that is drenched in Kabbalah symbolism. Given that Madonna at the time was the world's most famous follower of that strand of religious spirituality, it makes sense that Ritchie would share some of that interest. It makes for a muddled, hard to follow slog.

RocknRolla on the other hand bristles with some of Ritchies original energy, but also has a regrettable plotline about a gay gangster, that seems directly aimed at the critics at the time who called out Ritchie's history of (public) homophobia. Chief among those was Madonna's own brother, Christopher Ciccone. The plot in RocknRolla feels like Ritchie protesting a bit too much. His atoning for past homophobia comes across as tone-deaf at best, and accidentally way more homophobic at worst. With allies like this, who needs enemies?

The same can be said of the three pieces of media that Ritchie made actually starring Madonna: they seem deeply misogynist and actively antagonistic against Madonna. If anything ties the three pieces together it is that Madonna comes across as hateful and spiteful, and is treated herself in an equally hateful and spiteful way. It might be freeing for Madonna to play around with the stereotype of the boss bitch, the egotistical starlet she was long rumored to be. But if she wants to play around with star text she needs a better collaborator than Ritchie, who never had a good grasp on tone, subtext nor satire.

Their first joint adventure, a short film slash BMW commercial called The Hire- Star, might be the worst offender. In it, a Madonna-like celebrity played by Madonna, is cruel to everyone in her posse. She is then brutally and violently humiliated in turn, being shaken around a car without seatbelts like a ragdoll, in a high velocity car chase. In the denouement she is then launched out of the car onto a red carpet, where she pisses herself in front of hundreds of Paparazzi and fans. It's an undeniably cruel piece, so incredibly vile and sexist, it is surprising Madonna lent her star power to it. An egotistical man would never be portrayed this way for the ostensible enjoyment of the audience.

Swept Away portrays Madonna as an equally horrible rich snob from the get go, who once again gets her comeuppance by being put through the wringer, this time including sexual assault. It is a grave offense to the much better original by Lina Wërtmuller, which, warts and all, at least adds some nuances to the battle of the sexes of its central premise. This one just feels gross.

Now, the music video at hand today is by far the most successful co-creation by Madonna and her husband. What It Feels Like For a Girl (featured below) still was made to stir controversy, with a woman violently pushing back against the patriarchy by basically acting like a man. Violently moving through society without any fear, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. It is a blunt force piece, but undeniably powerful. It is, like the other pieces, a fantasy about cruel recklessness and violent humiliation. But by flipping the script, by empowering a woman to be rude and violent, instead of humiliating her for "being uppity", it leaves less of a sour taste.

Well, at least to me, because this was somehow the most controversial of the Ritchie-Madonna-joints, being considered too hot for MTV. It inspired outrage, and plenty of think pieces. Which is kinda surprising, as it is not one of Madonna's more risqué pieces. Before and after she made more volatile and interesting stuff. It is blunt, in a dull way, like being stabbed with a butter knife. Still, there is some poetry to Ritchie starting his music video career with car rides and chases, and ending it in an explosive crash. A perfect metaphor for the press around their whirlwind romance.

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