One of the most successful performers in the 20th century has got to be Madonna. She has mastered the task of artistic redefinition and has maintained a diverse career that includes acting and children's books. Madonna is known for her theatrical stage performances and music videos that use religious iconography mixed with strong sexuality and in the 80s found herself likened to actress Marylin Monroe.
Madonna is clearly an admirer of Monroe, as she has successfully homaged Monroe's different looks and styles throughout her career. However, the comparison is no more clear than in Madonna's 1985 video for her single Material Girl found on her album Like a Virgin.
Material Girl seems to comment on the selfish culture of the 1980's and remains an anthem of that decade. The song mirrors "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" in painting females as materialistic gold diggers that will marry for money. This was a popular topic for comedy in the 1950s, but by the 1980s seemed to extend to an entire generation of young professionals. Disturbingly, American Psycho comes to mind.
However, the video for Material Girl homages the famous Marilyn Monroe scene in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, but diverges from the plot of the film showing that Madonna doesn't really care about material things when she's not on screen. Throughout the video she is pursued by a Hollywood producer, who has become obsessed with her onscreen persona. In realizing that she cares nothing for money or power (unlike the woman she portrays in the movies) takes on the persona of a blue collar guy, in order to win her affections. The part of the producer is played exceptionally well by actor Keith Carradine, who seems to be channeling a mixture of Charles Foster Kane and Howard Hughes. The inclusion of actor Robert Wuhl as the Hollywood "Yes-Man" at the beginning of the video was a brilliant stroke. I think he should continue playing period roles for the rest of his career.
This video works exceptionally well on several different levels. It's not just a rip-off of Gentleman Prefer Blondes, it diverges from it's source material enough to tell it's own story. The song and the images in the video present an ironic comment about 1980s American culture and let's face it, the song is damn catchy.
As mentioned previously, Madonna has used Monroe's image throughout her career, but we wouldn't see her in full Marilyn Monroe regalia again until Warren Beatty's 1990 film Dick Tracy. Material Girl, gives us a glimpse into the past and seems to share her love of Marilyn Monroe's film, while at the same time offering a cultural subtext that is all her own.