A Certain Sacrifice (1985): Madonna’s surreal and ‘borderline’ insane debut

By random chance, I got curious about Madonna’s filmography besides Dick Tracy, Evita and Swept Away. So I went to check her filmography on Wikipedia and started to skim through it. Then I noticed this little oddity, placed right before Desperately Seeking Susan, which should make this Madonna’s big-screen debut. I enter it’s Wikipedia page, and it’s apparently a rape-and-revenge thriller that was shot in 1979 but for some reason wasn’t edited and released until 1985, right after Madonna’s huge success with Like a Virgin. I read the production notes, and apparently Madonna tried to have the film banned from release, but this proved futile as the film was released and made available on VHS. My curiosity grew, and once I found out that it was only an hour long and existed on YouTube I jumped at the opportunity to see it. Oh my, what a big mistake that was.

I could try to describe the plot briefly, but it’s virtually impossible as the movie is completely insane and defines simple plot explanations, so I’ll just explain the whole thing. It starts with what looks like a comedy sketch version of the fight between Mark Wahlberg and his mom in Boogie Nights (some of the dialogue is almost verbatim which makes me wonder if Paul Thomas Anderson took inspiration from this movie). So this guy David (an unfortunate name in my case) leaves home and moves to New York City, where he looks like the sleaziest 70s gangster one has ever seen. When he’s at a diner, he meets an older man named Raymond Hull who simply won’t stop talking to him, even when David repeatedly tells him to stop talking, in a scene that goes on for ten minutes. Then David leaves and meets Bruna (Madonna) at a fountain and they decide they’re in love for some reason. Then Bruna tells her three sex slaves that she doesn’t want them anymore, and they respond by kinda-sexually assaulting her. Then, if my memory serves me correctly, David runs around for a few minutes, then talks to Bruna about what I think is supposed to be philosophy or whatever. Then David and Bruna go to the diner, and when Bruna goes to the ladies room Raymond is there and decides to rape her. David swears to avenge her, but then he sends Bruna and her sex slaves to find Raymond and bring him to their shitty rundown building, where they kill him by performing a satanic music video. Once Raymond is dead, David smears Raymond’s blood all over Bruna, and they kiss happily ever after.

The film was produced, written, edited, shot and directed by Stephen Jon Lewicki, and according to IMDb, it was shot as a student film which would explain some of the guerilla-aspects of the filmmaking and its obvious low-budget, and a lot of it is amateurish at best. Maybe that means it’s not entirely fair to criticize it, but since it was distributed and given a home video release and is a feature-length film I think I’m completely justified in trashing it. For instance, the ten-minute dialogue scene between David and Raymond is filled with long and extended zoom-ins and zoom-outs that would make Robert Altman or Stanley Kubrick proud (sarcasm), and the sound design is simply atrocious. I was joking to myself as I was watching it (and probably to keep my sanity alive) that Lewicki had instructed the boom operator to direct his mike to the coffee cups, plates, forks, knives etc because all those sounds drown out all the dialogue which makes most of it incomprehensible. Then again I may be giving them a little too much benefit of the doubt because I presume they actually had a boom operator.

According to most sources Madonna sought out to be in this movie. I guess I can understand being a young 21-year old in New York and perhaps not knowing what to do with your life may be reason enough to appear in this garbage, but I don’t see why she found this so attractive in the first place. Surely she could’ve starred in other student films being made in New York at the time, so why this one? I would simply have to ask Madonna, but her response would probably just be something along the lines of “fuck you” (her response to Lewicki after seeing the finished film). Well at least she got payed $100 for it so that’s something I guess. Also she’s really bad in the movie, with some of her line readings being hilarious, so they gave me a chuckle at least.

So, is A Certain Sacrifice worth seeing? Oddly enough I would say yes. It is completely atrocious without any redeeming features, but it’s so bizarre and surreal in many respects that most likely stem from the low budget, but they elevate the movie to the point of me remaining interested in it and I would almost recommend people seeking it out for themselves and see if they think it’s as bad yet as interesting as I did, or think it’s a complete piece of junk that deserves to be forgotten the way it is. It’s up to you to decide, whoever decides to read this.


Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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