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Frozen

“Frozen” will always be remembered as an exceptional piece in which Madonna’s mystical alter ego Veronica Electronica is introduced.

“Frozen” stands out in many aspects. Most phenomenal, most hypnotizing, most untypical in Madonna’s whole career, and according to herself – the most difficult one to make.

The video was filmed in Mojave Desert from January 7 to 10, 1998. Today, it has been 15 years since the shooting began, so let’s have a closer look at the process of filming of the video and its content itself.

The clip was directed by Chris Cunningham who rose to fame by collaborating with alternative artists, such as Aphex Twin and Portishead as well as Björk and Grace Jones. The cinematography is by Darius Khondji who had worked with Madonna on “Fever” and Evita.

Chris Cunningham

The video is quite static, unhurried and “suspended”. To make it more commercially accessible, it was enhanced with some attractive, but subtle special effects – which would be later honored with an MTV Music Video Award. However, their final form disaccorded with Cunningham’s original idea, what would eventually become a sticking point between him and Madonna. The director had contrived the video as even more experimental. Despite artistic freedom Cunningham had, the filmmaker would later unflatteringly reflect on the working on the video. In an interview with Pitchfork in 2005, asked whether he was put off from filming more music videos after working on “Frozen”, a video with more commercial nature, he answered:

Yeah, it did. The Madonna video was an experience I didn't want to repeat. It wasn't that bad. I really am being melodramatic because, compared to a lot of people, I was given a lot of respect and freedom. But by my standards it wasn't enough, I need to know that if I decide to scrap everything and have one shot, I should be allowed to do that. But when you're working with that much money and that much at stake with a big artist it's an added stress I don't like.

Indeed, after 1998, the director would focus back on working primarily with Aphex Twin, and, excluding one commercial for the Gucci brand, would strictly avoid collaborating with mainstream stars. Cunningham decidedly wants to remain an independent artist with a complete control over everything he creates. Last year he vowed not to film music videos anymore. Instead, to fulfill his ideas, he wants to focus exclusively on video installations. One of his projects, called Flex, Madonna used as a backdrop for “Frozen” during the Re-Invention Tour.

Madonna was replaced by doubles in a few scenes, and in the levitation scene – by a mannequin. In a behind-the-scene footage, she admits using doubles only when necessary, preferring to appear in the scene herself. She reveals that “Frozen” was her most difficult video to make. Many scenes were filmed late in the evening when the temperature was too low for Madonna to appear herself on the set. During the day, however, Californian sun shone intensely, what had a negative impact on her skin, which for the video purposes had to remain as pale as only possible. Eventually, a blue monochromatic filter was laid on the whole clip.

There are many interpretations regarding the character played by Madonna in the video. As she said herself, the MYSTICAL creature on the desert is the embodiment of female angst.

In the Ray of Light era, Madonna adapted her alter ego Veronica Electronica. A remix album of the same title was also planned to be released. As Madonna said, Veronica is gothic, medieval and romantic. Wearing gothic gowns, with long hair braided on the sides, she looked just like teleported from the Middle Ages. Veronica was mystical and spiritual, however, due to too many references to the Goths, some claimed that Madonna was losing her status as a fashion icon.

Madonna as Veronica Electronica is the Ray of Light era

Ever-searching for a deeper meaning, fans have found impersonations of much more mystical personas in “Frozen”, primarily Hekate and Morrígan. The former is a Greek goddess of witchcraft and magic, and a patron of witches. She is usually illustrated as a trinity, what Madonna retains in the video, with a dog by her side – according to the beliefs, Hekate’s coming would always be preceded by dogs’ barking. The latter originates from the Irish mythology. Morrígan is a phantom, a goddess of war, able to change into a crow, sometimes interpreted as 3 sisters: Morrígan, Badb and Macha. Apart from the European mythology, the video showcases also Far Eastern inspirations. Madonna’s hands are covered in henna tattoos, which include the Om symbol on the palm of her hand. It is the most sacred symbol in Hinduism, believed to be the sound of creation of the Universe, that many mantras are based around.

Trying on the “Frozen” wig

It is not quite clear who was the visual inspiration for Madonna in this video – it seems that there were a few. Surely, it was Jean Paul Gaultier who designed the gown. His Spring-Summer 1998 collection, inspired by Frida Kahlo, astonished Madonna. However, in an interview for Aperture, Madonna clearly mentions Martha Graham as an inspiration. Interestingly, stylist Arianne Phillips revealed that Madonna initially planned to wear the black gown to an Oscar ceremony. Eventually, she wore that one in the “Frozen” clip, choosing Olivier Theyskens’ outfit as her Oscar number. That certainly contributed to Theyskens being mistakenly credited as the gown’s creator.

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Watching the video and reading about it, I come to realize how much I’m missing Madonna the way she was circa that era. Combining ancient mythology with Far Eastern symbolism, searching for new means of expression, discovering untouched subjects, mystical, mysterious, unobvious. And eager to experiment! Let’s end with another quote from Chris Cunningham. Asked why he thinks it is that the mainstream music industry refuses to take the risk and experiment, the director answered that when there is too much money involved, the risk simply doesn’t pay off. Madonna, however, has on several occasions proved that she’s willing to undertake more challenging projects. Hopefully, there is more to come.

MS  / transl. Matt

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