Madonna’s 1986 studio album True Blue was a critical and commercial success, spawning five top-five singles, and selling over eight million copies worldwide, by the year-end. However, her film career was not as successful as she had hoped it would be.
Following the commercially successful Desperately Seeking Susan, her 1986 film Shanghai Surprise—where she starred with her then husband Sean Penn—was a critical and box-office failure, prompting Madonna to comment that she “struggled to come to terms with her character in Shanghai Surprise, because the innocence and repressed personality I was required to portray was so at variance with my own character.” Continuing to struggle with her film career, Madonna was unsure about of her ability to choose a good script, and film producers were less sure about backing her up.
Filming began in New York in October 1986. Madonna would ask for five minutes to study the script for the scene they were filming. For example, before a scene in which she needed to appear out of breath, she did a series of push-ups before going on set. Dunne observed that “[Madonna] likes her first take best. I think my best is around fourth. She always says, ‘You got it, you got it,’ and she was driving me crazy just like her character would. We had to make a compromise as to which take is the best.”
Madonna wanted Foley to give her proper direction on set, but he preferred her to be her real self, rather than the persona in her music videos. Regarding her acting abilities, Foley stressed on the fact that Madonna was very uptight and into every detail, determined to have the correct portrayal. “That’s probably why it wasn’t so good. In Desperately Seeking Susan, when she didn’t know what she was doing, she was being natural and at her best.”
As December arrived, production was halted for a few days due to snowfall in New York City. Madonna decided to utilize the time by working on the film’s soundtrack and her next concert tour. While recording the title track, Madonna decided to change the film’s name from Slammer to Who’s That Girl as she felt it to be a better title. Filming commenced in January 1987, where the scene involving a cougar was shot. But during the second take, the cougar accidentally escaped from the cage, resulting in filming being paused for a few hours.
By February 1987, Madonna’s scenes were already shot although she proceeded to linger on the set to watch Foley and his team work. Foley described her being around the set and not acting as a “pain-in-the-ass”, since she “wont skimp especially on cost and she should know that Warner had a tight schedule and constraints on the budget. They still did not trust Madonna when it came to acting. Hell they even gave a greater percentage of the budget to the soundtrack.” Filming ended in March 1987, with post-production continuing till July 1987. During the development of the starting credits, Madonna asked Foley if they could have a cartoon figure of her character introducing the film credits. Foley liked the idea, and Warner enlisted cartoonist April March to create the cartoon.
About the Soundtrack
The soundtrack from the film was released on July 21, 1987, by Sire Records, and contains four songs by Madonna, and others by her label mates Scritti Politti, Duncan Faure, Club Nouveau, Coati Mundi and Michael Davidson. It is considered a Madonna album by Warner Bros. Records since the majority of the songs are sung by her. Madonna began working on the soundtrack in December 1986, and contacted Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray, both producers of her third studio album True Blue (1986).
She needed uptempo and downtempo songs for the soundtrack. The uptempo song, composed by Leonard, ended up being the title track for the film; together, Madonna and Leonard also developed the downtempo ballad “The Look of Love”. Two more songs were composed for the film with Bray, the first being the dance-y tune “Causing a Commotion”, and the other being “Can’t Stop”, a track inspired by Sixties Motown and the group Martha and the Vandellas.
After its release, Who’s That Girl soundtrack received mostly negative reviews from critics, who called it plain and incomplete, although citing the title track and “The Look of Love” as its highlights. The soundtrack was a commercial success, reaching the top ten of the album charts of the United States, Austria, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom, while topping the charts of Germany, and Billboard’s European Album chart.
Worldwide, the album went on to sell six million copies. Three of the Madonna tracks were released as singles. The title track became her sixth number one single on the Billboard Hot 100, making her the first artist to accumulate six number-one singles in the 1980s, and the first female performer to get that many number-ones as a solo act. “Causing a Commotion” was the second single, and it reached number two on the Hot 100, and the top ten of the charts of other nations.[ “The Look of Love” was a European market-only release, reaching the top ten in United Kingdom. Another track, “Turn It Up” was a promotional release in United States, reaching the number 15 on the dance charts.
Who’s That Girl (1987)
Directed by: James Foley
Starring: Madonna, Griffin Dunne, Haviland Morris, John McMartin, Bibi Besch, John Mills, Robert Swan, Drew Pillsbury, Cecile Callan, Karen Elise Baldwin, Kimberlin Brown, Crystal Carson
Screenplay by: Andrew Smith
Production Design by: Ida Random
Cinematography by: Jan de Bont
Film Editing by: Pembroke J. Herring
Costume Design by: Deborah Lynn Scott
Set Decoration by: Cloudia Rebar
Art Direction by: Donald B. Woodruff
Music by: Stephen Bray
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: August 7, 1987