Madonna's Movie Making Obsession


LONDON, England (CNN) --

Cast members Vicky McClure, Eugene Hutz, and Holly Weston with Madonna at "Filth and Wisdom" photocall

1 of 2 From ripped denim street-punk, lipstick lesbian, English countrywoman, stage actress, yummy mummy, children's writer, bendy disco diva to Kabbalah devotee, mother of re-invention, as far as her image goes, Madonna has left no stone unturned.

Now on the verge of turning 50, she could be forgiven for slowing down a little.

But there is one thing eluding the eternally driven Queen of Pop: a successful film career.

Apart from a role in Evita, for which she won a Golden Globe best actress award, Madonna's contribution to the film world can be, at best, described as forgettable.

She has worked on a string of notorious flops including "Shanghai Surprise," "Body of Evidence" and "Swept Away," directed by husband Guy Ritchie.

Madonna also has a record haul of Golden Raspberry awards for Worst Actress, with 15 nominations and nine wins. Two years ago, fans breathed a sigh of relief when she vowed never to star in another film again.

She told "I hate to admit it, but I've decided to give that up. What film can survive people saying it's going to be a bomb from the second it's announced?"

Yet, like an indefatigable phoenix rising from the ashes, Madonna is back making movies and more determined than ever to make her mark.

Only this time, she is behind the camera.

And in typical confident Madonna fashion, she compares herself to great European directors like Godard and Fellini.

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Unveiling her directorial debut, "Filth and Wisdom," at the Berlinale Film Festival last month, Madonna said: "I have always been inspired by the films of Godard, Visconti, Pasolini and Fellini and hope that I may one day make something that comes close to their genius."

Described as a romantic musical comedy, "Filth and Wisdom" tells the story of a Ukrainian immigrant who finances his dreams of becoming a rock star by moonlighting as a cross-dressing dominatrix.

Set in London it stars Eugene Hutz, the lead singer of wildly popular New York gipsy punk band Gogol Bordello, in the main role of a philosophizing S&M escort. Other characters include Holly, a ballet dancer who works as a stripper and pole-dancer at a local club and Juliette, a pharmacy assistant who dreams of going to Africa to help starving children.

Madonna compared the characters' struggles to her own early career. "One of the themes that I explore in the film is struggle, and if I look back to the beginning of my career, I can recall those moments of struggle like it was yesterday," she said.

But with the depressing predictability that follows the words "Madonna" and "movies," the reviews have not been kind.

Peter Bradshaw of Britain's Guardian newspaper said: "She has made a movie so incredibly bad that Berlin festivalgoers were staggering around yesterday in a state of clinical shock, deathly pale and mewing like maltreated kittens."

In Germany, Die Welt proclaimed: "Time and again she thrusts herself on to the big screen, and each time she is spurned and ridiculed by audiences and critics alike."

The London Evening Standard's Derek Malcolm suggested the Material Girl had some way to go "before she can breathe the same air as Godard, Pasolini, Fellini and Visconti."

But The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett was a little kinder, saying "the film's cockeyed optimism and likable leads conspire to bring a smile by the time it's done."

Known for her remarkable chutzpah, the fiercely ambitious Madonna is unlikely to be deterred by this wave of criticism for her directorial debut.

She has several film projects in the pipeline including a documentary about Malawi, "I Am Because We Are," which will be shown at the Cannes film festival in May.

"It's definitely not a one-off," Madonna said in Berlin. "I made the film because I wanted to learn how to make films and I've wanted to be a filmmaker for many years. I had to find the right moment. 'Filth and Wisdom' was essentially my way of putting myself through film school."

But for now this debut is unlikely to see a cinema release and will go straight to iTunes as Madonna believes the low-budget movie will be a bigger hit as an Internet download.

Despite her relative lack of success in the movies, you cannot doubt Madonna's incredible drive.

Eugene Hutz told CNN working with her was "fantastic because she has a lot of energy ... For me, it's a key part to work with anybody, to have a very open and flowing brain-storming. That's when some of the best stuff happens."

Ultimately what makes Madonna a successful artist is her uncanny knack for reading the musical pulse and choosing the best producers like Mirwais, William Orbit and Stuart Price, thereby making her relevant to a young audience.

But what works in her music does not necessarily translate to the big screen.

It is telling that all the critics agree that the "Filth and Wisdom" soundtrack, which features some of her music plus Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time," is excellent.

Her latest album, "Hard Candy," also features production by hip producers like Pharrell Williams, Timbaland and an appearance by Justin Timberlake, and which Madonna says will "kick our ass."

Shame the same cannot be said for Madonna's forays into the movies.

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