In Madonna’s illustrious career, ‘A Certain Sacrifice’ remains an almost forgotten footnote. Released in 1985, this film marked the Queen of Pop’s acting debut. Here, we delve into the history of a film that Madonna herself sought to ban, exploring its creation, content, and the controversy it sparked.
The Birth of an Underground Cult Classic
Directed and co-written by Stephen Jon Lewicki, ‘A Certain Sacrifice‘ was filmed over a period spanning from September 1979 to June 1981 in New York City. It is an independent, underground art film, shot using Super 8 format and on a budget ranging between $12,000 to $20,000.
Before her rise to stardom, Madonna, keen on making a mark in acting, joined the project. Her casting story is also worth mentioning — she responded to an ad and sent a detailed three-page letter to Lewicki, which surprised the director as the part she wanted didn’t even pay. On a side note, the entire cast was non-professional.
She completed her scenes in late 1980 and was paid a nominal $100 for her role to cover her apartment rent. In her first film role, she portrays Bruna, a Lower East Side resident entangled in complex relationships with her three ‘love slaves.’ Bruna then encounters Dashiell (Jeremy Pattnosh), and a violent and sexual tumult follows.
In the end, the story culminates in a revenge-driven Satanic sacrifice, which takes place in a dark, unsettling environment.
The Film’s Road to Release
‘A Certain Sacrifice’ was shot on Super 8 film. Its low-budget nature resulted in a guerrilla-style production. Despite its technical and financial constraints, the film is Lewicki’s directorial debut and Madonna’s first foray into acting.
Initially filmed from September 1979 through June 1981, the release of ‘A Certain Sacrifice’ was delayed until 1985, coinciding with Madonna’s rising fame. However, the film’s debut was not without hurdles.
Madonna reportedly expressed hatred and regret upon viewing the film and offered Lewicki $5,000, later increasing to $10,000, to prevent its release. When these attempts failed, she sought legal means to ban the film. In the end, a court ruling favored Lewicki and allowed the use of her name in association with the movie.
Reactions to ‘A Certain Sacrifice’
Upon its video release in 1985, ‘A Certain Sacrifice’ sold over 50,000 copies in its first week. Despite being branded a failure by most viewers and critiqued for its explicit content, the film achieved a cult status among certain Madonna fans and collectors. It also had an R rating.
Lewicki intended the film to be a ‘non-mainstream midnight movie’ and a meditation on celebrity. However, viewers ranged from seeing it as bizarre and surreal to outright terrible. It was also debated as either an interesting piece due to its oddity or a forgettable work.
Although Madonna tried so hard to ban the film from the screens, ‘A Certain Sacrifice’ achieved a degree of commercial success, with international distribution and reported sales that contributed to Lewicki’s financial success. The film’s release strategy of using Madonna’s fame as a selling point was an important factor in its market performance.