Monday, February 21, 2011

What Would a Lady Gaga Movie Look Like?

I love Lady Gaga. Not personally, not for her music, and not really for her performances either. I just adore her presence in the media, the attitude with which she cheerfully makes a spectacle of herself before anyone else tries to do it for her.

Madonna should have waited before Frenching Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera back at the 2003 MTV Music Awards, as her real successor didn't show up until 2009. Oh, Britney played with sexual identities and Christina's disastrous outfits had everyone's attention, but next to Lady Gaga, the self-dubbed Culture Monster, their titillations look positively timorous. Did you see the "Alejandro" music video? And the "Paparazzi" live performance where she simulated her own death onstage ? And the outfits - ohmigod, the outfits. She's a walking art installation, rotating between the provocative and the bizarre. Well, except when she's being carried around town in a giant egg. With her penchant for stunts, Gaga leads the media around by the nose and makes them like it. That's my kind of pop icon.

However, all divas inevitably travel certain paths in the course of their careers, and one of the usual stops is a feature film. Britney did "Crossroads," Mariah did "Glitter," Christina did "Burlesque," and of course Madonna, Cher, and Whitney Houston actually became bona fide actresses, briefly, in the early 90s. Lady Gaga has reached a certain standing in the pop culture firmament that would seem to compel her to tackle the silver screen next, if only to keep up with the likes of Justin Bieber. But how would you best translate the persona of Lady Gaga into movie form? Do you have a behind-the-scenes documentary like Michael Jackson's "This is It"? A biopic/concert film like "Never Say Never"? Or maybe turn one of her albums into a full blown musical, like Pink Floyd's "The Wall." She could even leaver her mark on the formula that most of her contemporaries have tried: the old small-town-girl-becomes-a-big-city-star plot.

Gaga's persona is strongly dependent on visuals, collages of image references and borrowed iconography from dozens of different sources, many of them already cinematic. Quentin Tarantino even loaned her the Pussy Wagon from "Kill Bill" for her "Telephone" music video. A feature film feels like the logical evolution of what she's already been doing. This is not to say that I'm in any hurry to see Lady Gaga turned into another commercial brand for Hollywood to exploit. Quite the opposite. I honestly think that she could create interesting films by taking the same approach to movies that she has with music and fashion. By pushing the common tropes of the music-film genres to their extremes, she could do what Joaquin Phoenix didn't didn't quite manage with "I'm Still Here," and make a movie that satirizes and illuminates the celebrity experience.

I've long wanted an "American Idiot" movie because the album provided such a wonderful snapshot of post-9/11 American alienation, and I'd love to see a Lady Gaga immortalize the Internet-celebrity age, where it's not enough to simply be a popular star. One must be self-aware, self-satirical, and self-deconstructing in order to survive the media gauntlet with soul and sanity intact. In a "60 Minutes" interview last week, Gaga acknowledged to Anderson Cooper that she was well aware that her audience was waiting to savor her tumble from grace and then cheer for a subsequent resurrection. Lady Gaga may not be interested in having in a full-blown celebrity meltdown in real life, but a film could be one way of exploring the meta-narrative that she's created for herself without suffering the personal damage that other pop starlets like Miley Cyrus have weathered recently.

Then again, an acting career could also be a good alternative to Lady Gaga for Stephani Germanotta if she gets tired of being a pop star one day. Other musicians like Mandy Moore, Jennifer Lopez, and Justin Timberlake have gone back and forth between acting and music. It's common for music stars to leave their stage personas behind when trying to break into Hollywood. On the other hand, it seems like such a shame not to take advantage of a media creature as vibrant and interesting as Lady Gaga. I wish others like Madonna hadn't been so quick to abandon their Material Girl selves in front of the cameras. Some of my favorite screen turns by musicians have been variants on their stage personalities, like Mick Jagger in "Performance," Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard," and David Bowie - who is incapable of being anything but David Bowie - in just about everything.

Whatever Lady Gaga decides to do with regard to Hollywood, I hope she'll stick around for a while in some form or another. She may just be another incarnation of Madonna, but I think we always need a Madonna of some sort in the popular culture. When she went away, she left a void that hadn't been filled until now. And I missed her. It's so good to have a real provocateur around again.

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