02 June 2011

Pointing Out The Obvious Pt. 1

Marlene Dietrich fans and film buffs already know all the trivia that I post, but I don't cater solely to them. I also post for the casual pop culture observer who can't tell Dietrich from Bette Davis and may pronounce Our Lady's name as if it rhymes with "Darlene, why, bitch?" Thus, it's time I finally recognize some of Madonna's nods to Marlene, which others have acknowledged more disparagingly. By the way, who supposedly had the pleasure of hearing Dietrich say about the Madonna comparisons, "I only acted vulgar; she is vulgar"?

Madonna Channels Amy Jolly Two Ways

 Many observers have astutely compared the above two photos, and I would only criticize whoever took Madonna's photo (by the way, who took it and when?) for barely emulating the "halo" effect of Dietrich's hair in this Morocco publicity shot. Nevertheless, I would compliment the photographer and Madonna for wryly capturing the "No Smoking" sign in the mirror's reflection and for incorporating Gary Cooper's lipstick message, as if to proclaim that they have seen the movie:

Madonna's Hot Voodoo

A little over a year after Dietrich's death, Madonna heavily referenced the Blonde Venus "Hot Voodoo" performance during her tour, The Girlie Show.

Naturally, we compare Madonna's blonde afro, bare legs, and sparking clothes to Dietrich's look, which uncannily exemplified a 1970s aesthetic that perfectly suited the revamped disco strains of "Deeper and Deeper." To misuse grammatical terms, it's the present (at least when 1993 was the present) referencing the past (the 1970s) by using the past perfect (Dietrich in 1932), which had shockingly predicted the past (the 1970s). Furthermore, Madonna reversed the staged shock and fear of the wild in Dietrich's number, substituting the performing gorilla that menaced the audience for a crazed fan who threatened the performer. Compare Madonna's Dietrich disco tribute with Amanda Lear's discofied "Lili Marleen," which is unadulterated trash:

Falling In Love Again With Too Many References

Finally, I cannot ignore Madonna's The Girlie Show performance of "Like a Virgin," in which she interpolated the melody of "Falling In Love Again," donned a tuxedo and top hat a la Amy Jolly, and butchered a German accent. What observers often forget when overwhelmed with this Dietrich pastiche is that Madonna also naughtily evoked Fred Astaire's 1946 Blue Skies cane choreography from "Puttin' On The Ritz":

I'm sure you know many more Madonna-Marlene comparisons, so feel free to add them in the comments section.


  1. [tangentially off topic]

    A scene that never fails to crack me up is in The Right Stuff where the German rocket scientists are drinking beer and singing Lili Marleen around the juke box in the bar in Florida.

  2. Off-topic is always welcome here! I haven't watched that movie and will have to do so now that you've mentioned it. Thanks!

  3. even though madonna in tux managed to hit the "marlene-button" for a few brief seconds, she reminds me more often of Joel grey as the master of ceremonies in cabaret

    1. The overwrought accent and buffonery are definitely more Joel Grey than Marlene Dietrich. No doubt. Also, I just watched the "Money" number on YouTube, and the cane and synchronized sound effects are quite prominent, as they are in this "Like a Virgin" rendition.

      The Marlene references are more than a few lines from "Falling in Love Again," though. Madonna imitates Marlene's diseuse vocal stylings, too, and I think she does best between 1:30-2:30, when she purrs and whispers lines. Madonna even flicks her top hat with her finger, one of Dietrich's few onstage moves. Plus, the melody of the "Falling in Love Again" refrain right as the curtain raises at the beginning of the performance screams, "You're about to see a Marlene Dietrich homage!"--which was timely given that Marlene died the year before.

    2. I totally agree with you! The 1:30-2:30 contains the strongest references. This is actually what I ment by "hitting the marlene button", not the falling in love part. The vocal styling are quite right on, the flick and also the hooded eye movement/gaze at the end of this particular part of the performance make it Marlene. I also like the fact that she used "und" instead of "and" at 4:42.

      Off topic: I love this blog! Today I finally participated in posting (had to start somewhere). Hope to join in for some more. I just got home and recieved "Sag mir, daß Du mich liebst...": Erich Maria Remarque - Marlene Dietrich Zeugnisse einer Leidenschaft.
      Looking forward to a night of reading remarque's loveletters to Marlene.

    3. I caught that "und," too! Madonna often rubs me the wrong way, yet I can't help but admire her breadth of cultural knowledge. I guess it goes all the way back to her acknowledging the bas(s)ic similarities between "Like a Virgin" and "Billie Jean" during The Virgin Tour. Surely, the other Jacksons must have felt snubbed when "Can You Feel It?" didn't get the same attention during her "Material Girl" performance, but she made reparations by giving them proper credit on "Sorry."

      I hope you continue commenting. It was an embarrassing oversight on my part not to mention Cabaret in this post, and folks like you make this blog worth writing when you add to the conversation. If you'd like to write an entry here about your thoughts on that book, please let me know! I don't know German and would have to read that book with a dictionary. Anyone who knows German would laugh at me if they saw the effort I expend trying to read something simple such as "Ick will wat Feinet": das Marlene Dietrich Kochbuch.

    4. To be honest, I'm also not a big madonna fan (I even had to look up what you where talking about...), but I have to say that I do take of my (top)hat for her. She knows damn well what she is doing :)

      I don't think I'm very good in writing, especially in English. But let's see, maybe I could give some thoughts after finishing reading "Sag mir, daß Du mich liebst...". I know the feeling that you love to read a book and expect that there are treasures revealed that you unfortunately can't read because of not knowing a language. I'm also not a native speaker, but since I grew up at the border of Germany, I'm quite familiar with the language and understand most of it.
      I'll tell you this, I read "Ick will wat Feinet" a few days ago and for someone with and extended knowledge/research on marlene as you have been doing, I think there is very little news to discover. There are ofcourse a few lovely and heartbreaking anecdotes about the chef of the german restaurant in Paris, where Marlene loved to order german dishes once she withdrawal from the public. Unfortunately I can't translate any of these anecdotes, since I gave the book to a friend who is a wonderful chef (much better then I am) with his promis he would prepare some dishes for me :) I could imagine I order a new one for myself though... if you have some specific question about it, I might be able to help you out, since I read it recently.

      The book "Sag mir, daß Du mich liebst..." is much more personal and touching. I can't wait to continue, what strikes me after the first few letters is the lovely endearing pet names remarque gives her and how he discribed his turmoils, his longing for her in such a charming, tender, romantic way.

      I was wondering if you maybe read "Arch of Triumph" by Remarque since Joan Madou, one of the characters in the book was modelled after Marlene. I ordered it a week ago and I'm still waiting next to my mailbox.

    5. Sometimes, I read materials about Marlene not only to learn something new but also to see what interested other people about her. That's why I got that cookbook. It's a text that I would expect to address Marlene the hausfrau. Reading about Dietrich's "divine" scrambled eggs in Maria's bio always gave me a chuckle, and I discovered that another blogger has already tried making them (almost) according to the cookbook's recipe. If I return to reading the cookbook (beware that I'm a book whore who goes through multiple books at a time, almost never committing to finishing any of them), I'll ask you. When your chef friend does cook the dishes, you should take photos. I'll probably try preparing some myself, but it won't be a pretty sight.

      You've read my mind because I've been wanting to read Arch of Triumph for a long time. I actually have the film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman & Charles Boyer yet haven't watched it. If I read the book and then watch the movie, I'd have something to write about here. Incidentally, I've read The Song of Songs and The Woman and the Puppet, at least finding Sudermann's book quite charming. I wish there had been a chaste and consumptive academic character to steal Lily's heart in the movie.

    6. hihi book whore, several books at the same time is also my habit (only I mostly do finish them!)

      I also saw the scrambled eggs blog before, I will definitely take pictures of a dish if he prepares me one! From the book I also expected more about her hausfrau side, but what referred to her hausfrau side where mostly excerpts from Maria's book. So nothing new. The insight that was new where the stories from the chef of restaurant Maison d'Allemagne, Markus Auer, who brought her favorite german dishes between September 1989 and february 1992.

      I found an interview with him about Marlene. it is in German, but I just used google translate and if you copy paste the text, I have to say that the translation is quite accurate, you will understand most of it for sure.

      I only don't understand what he is saying about Edith Piaf and that Marlene is visiting her in these years, since she passed away in 1963. (is this also a part of the chinchilla syndrome?!)

      (ok what I tell now is a very global recount of the two stories in the book, since I don't have the book here, I can't back it up. So I hope i'll be fair enough)
      Beside the subjects mentioned in the interview, he also recounts the fall of the berlin wall and how Marlene responded to that, celebrating and being a proud German. Telling the chef what kind of dishes he should serve in the restaurant for this glorious occasion. At one point everything is sold out and he has to find a solution in order to be able to serve Marlene this nice german dish as well. Since she came up with the whole idea of the dishes in the first place.
      He also discribed the last time he visited her, which you can feel is something she must have experienced as painfull and sad. He leaves because the restaurant closed down and will go back to germany.

      Arch of Triumph arrived, hurrah. My pile of marlene related books is rising ;) Never read the other two stories you mentioned. I'll have to put them on my list, thanks!

  4. It was Steven Bach to whom Marlene made that Madonna comment in Vanity Fair July 1992,just reread the article.Have just scanned hundreds of photos of Marlene,mostly 1960's and 1970's.Did anyone know that the book on the armrest in the BOAC advert is Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.Trivia but fun.Paul

    1. Thanks, Paul. I've never noticed what the book was in that BOAC ad because I've only seen fairly low-resolution versions of it online and perhaps in some books. Marlene must have been on her way to Manderley.