“Say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye” — Madonna
Who’s That Girl may not be the most memorable movie of Madonna’s career, but its main titles are unforgettable.
The animated (in both senses of the term) intro directed by Ric Machin of Broadcast Arts (of Pee-wee’s Playhouse fame) offers not only a preamble to the narrative, but a lesson in how to make your main titles pop – even further than the film, in this case. Even filmmaker James Foley concedes that they are "maybe the best ‘scene’ in the movie" about a bleached blond manic pixie ex-con with a penchant for tutus (this is Madge circa 1987, remember) who joins forces with a lawyer (An American Werewolf in London’s Griffin Dunne) to prove her innocence. Co-written by Canadian Newsroom creator Ken Finkleman, of all people, this screwball comedy is only really noteworthy as a time capsule of the Queen of Pop’s True Blue years. But the credits? Those are a thing of art.
The entire opening sequence, set to Madonna’s catchy ’80s groove “Causing a Commotion,” animates the events leading up to Nikki Finn’s arrest, a swinging key at the end dissolving into the one in her jail cell. The freneticism and overall anarchy of the main character is captured by the equally chaotic artwork in which the colours don’t always fill in (if they are coloured at all) and the seams make the odd appearance. While the bobble-headed vixen at the center is clearly formed, everything around her seems to fall apart, much like it does in the film. Sketched in grease pencil, per cameraman Glen Claybrook, "This gave it a vibrant, sketchy feel, sort of like old xerography animation." Director James Foley came up with the idea for an animated intro, Madonna wrote the song for it, and late Argentinian artist Daniel Melgarejo conceived the bobble-headed commotion-causing babe. "He did some sketches and just thought he caught the energy of Nikki Finn," Foley says. "Love how his angular style matched the sonics of the song."
A discussion with Who’s That Girl Animation Director RIC MACHIN.
You had only made a short film before Who’s That Girl. How did you end up working on this live-action feature?
In 1986 in London [UK], the company I was working with at the time, Speedy Cartoons, were producing storyboards and layouts for a New York Company, Broadcast Arts Inc., mainly 2D animation. But then with the success of Peter Gabriel’s "Sledgehammer" video and the rise of MTV, mixed media productions enjoyed a renaissance. Speedy Cartoons began pre-production on a cereal commercial for Cocoa Puffs, featuring Popeye with real modelled…