I'm Going to Tell You a Secret

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I'm Going to Tell You a Secret
I'm Going to Tell You a Secret.png
Distributed by MTV
Directed by Jonas Åkerlund
Produced by
Starring Madonna
Cinematography Eric Broms
Editing by Jonas Åkerlund
Production company
Budget $1 million ($1.25 million today)
Country United States
Language English
Release date October 21, 2005
Running time 121 minutes

I'm Going to Tell You a Secret is a 2005 American documentary film directed by Jonas Åkerlund that follows singer-songwriter Madonna on her 2004 Re-Invention World Tour. The film premiered on MTV in the United States on October 21, 2005, but was not released commercially until June 20, 2006, in DVD by Warner Bros. Records. The documentary was originally called The Re-Invented Process in reference to the world tour it documents and the Steven Klein collaboration and exhibition titled X-STaTIC Pro=CeSS. It starts with imagery from the exhibition and Madonna auditioning dancers for the tour, continues with Madonna and her entourage travelling through different cities and performing, the singer's introspection on her life, her marriage, her religion, and her children, and ends with Madonna's visit to Israel in the midst of protests.

The documentary developed from Madonna's need to show her artistic side on the tour and her devotion towards the Jewish mysticism Kabbalah. Unlike her 1991 documentary Truth or Dare, which had an air of Hollywood glamour and its spoils, with I'm Going to Tell You a Secret Madonna wanted to signal from its beginning that it was about spirituality and her own maturity. Like Truth or Dare, the performance scenes were shot in color, while the rest of the documentary was in black-and-white. Besides Madonna, her dancers and her tour entourage, Åkerlund also shot her family, her working process and her day-to-day life. Other locations and persons included Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie's local pub in Mayfair, London, as well as appearances from filmmaker Michael Moore, her father and stepmother.

Before releasing the documentary, Madonna invited a select group of friends and co-workers to watch a rough three-hour cut of the film at a local theater in Notting Hill, and had to prune the film when feedback was negative regarding excessive details about Kabbalah. For the promotion and premiere of the film, Madonna appeared at Q&A sessions with the press and also gave a speech to film students at New York's Hunter College. Critical response to the documentary was mixed, with one group of reviewers complimenting the live performances from the tour and the scenes involving her children and family, while others criticized the self-indulgent nature of the documentary and the preaching nature of Madonna's commentary in the film. I'm Going to Tell You a Secret was released in a two-disc format, a CD with 14 songs from the show and a DVD with the documentary film. The release received a positive response from critics but was a moderate success commercially.


The documentary begins with scenes from the X-STaTIC Pro=CeSS, with Madonna featured as a queen sitting beside a coyote. Known as "The Beast Within", the opening is accompanied by Madonna's voice reciting verses from the Book of Revelation.[1][2] The intro is followed by the singer recording some vocals with music director Stuart Price and discussing about religion and God. Auditions for dancers for her world tour take place and rehearsals begin.[1]

The Re-Invention World Tour opened with a performance of "Vogue"

The opening night of the show at The Forum in Inglewood, California, Madonna is nervous while her husband Guy Ritchie sends her flowers. The show opens with the performance of "Vogue" and afterwards Madonna attends a party as her dancers celebrate the success of the opening night.[1] The tour moves to New York City with more rehearsal footage and Madonna asking her dancers to register for voting in the upcoming elections.[1] Ritchie jokes around with Madonna as she gets ready for the performance at Madison Square Garden. "American Life" is shown and after the concert ends, Madonna comes to an empty dressing room wondering where everybody left. Then Michael Moore appears in an interview segment, recalling how Madonna thanked him during the concert for his documentary.[1]

The next segment shows Chicago, where Madonna's father Tony Ciccone is interviewed in his vineyard and he recalls Madonna's childhood and her teenage years in her home.[3] Ciccone and his wife Joan come to visit the singer at her concert in United Center and the performance of "Mother and Father" is shown. The documentary then moves to Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, where "Nobody Knows Me" (from American Life) is performed; later Madonna recites a poem she wrote that day.[3] The entourage moves to Miami where Richie is shown angling with their son Rocco, as Madonna reflects on relationships and her husband.[2] Rocco plays with her daughter Lourdes, who talks about the singer. "Music" is the next performance shown and at the after party the singer drinks for the first time since the beginning of the tour and enjoys.[3]

Re-Invention World tour continues its journey to London, with Madonna getting irritated with her costumes. The performance of "Hollywood" is shown where her dancers enact different roles.[4] As Price mocks her interest in Kabbalah, Madonna explains how the religion changed her life and made her a more matured person. This segment also interviews her Kabbalah teacher Eitan who explains the origins of the religion.[3] Madonna performs the song "Lament" (from Evita) at the Wembley Arena while being bound to an electric chair and as the London show ends, the singer complains about how the concert exhausted her completely. She calls Richie to ask about his absence from the show, and learns that he was enjoying in their local pub. A visibly upset Madonna asks "Why do men even lie?"[3] On the day of the show at Slane Castle, Dublin, weather forecast said it would rain. Madonna still wanted to continue the show. Rocker Iggy Pop opened the show and as the Re-Invention tour started, a full moon sailed over the crowd and the rain came down.[3] In constant danger of being electrocuted, Madonna performed in the rain and later reminisced: "I felt I was in the war zone... constantly worried for the dancers... traumatized... and when the show ended I can't remember what happened".[5] Madonna spends her night in London with Ritchie at their pub, but bored of his singing and karaoke, she falls asleep there.

The documentary ended with Madonna's visit to Rachel's Tomb, on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

The entourage moves to Paris, where Madonna is shown fooling around with her children and later, takes her dancers for a classical piano recital by Katia and Marielle Labèque.[5] The singer asks her daughter the French translation for "I'm going to tell you a secret"; the segment also shows her reading the Zohar and reciting stories from it. At the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Madonna performs "Like a Prayer" and the tour reaches its final stop at Lisbon.[5] The dancers are shown enjoying on the beach and they also talk about their future plans. Madonna talks about them in voice-over and reveals her worries about their future. Preparing for the last show, Madonna and Lourdes tell jokes.[2] Reaching the Pavilhão Atlântico, the dancers and Madonna get emotional. The singer recalls her interactions and memories of her entourage and thanks them for being a part of the show.[5] With a final performance of "Holiday", the Re-Invention World Tour ends. At an after party, Madonna recites a poem for her assistant Angie.[6]

The final segment of the documentary shows Madonna arriving at Tel Aviv, Israel, amidst protests of her visit. She gives a speech at a benefit for her charity foundation, Spirituality For Kids. She speaks of compassion, peace and giving children all the benefits that they deserve. Then Madonna visits Rachel's Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem and offers her prayers. The documentary ends then, with a parting shot of an Israeli child and a Palestinian child walking down a road together as Madonna's voice over tells that the audience has learnt her "secret".[7]

Background of tour[edit]

The Re-Invention World Tour was the sixth concert tour by Madonna. It supported her ninth studio album American Life, and visited North America and Europe.[8] Madonna was inspired to create the tour, after taking part in an art installation called X-STaTIC PRo=CeSS, directed by photographer Steven Klein. She incorporated the images from the installation in the tour, whose name was in reality a dig at Madonna's critics.[9][10][11] A number of songs were rehearsed for the tour, with twenty-four of them making the final setlist.[12] The tour was divided into five segments: French Baroque-Marie Antionette Revival, Military-Army, Circus-Cabaret, Acoustic and Scottish-Tribal.[13] The costumes were developed by designer Arianne Phillips based on the concept of re-invention.[14] The opening segment displayed performances with dance in general. Military segment displayed performances with the theme of warfare. Circus displayed light-hearted performances while the Acoustic segment performances were melancholy. The final Scottish segment had Madonna and her performers display energetic dance routines.[15]

The tour garnered positive reception from contemporary critics.[15][16][17] However, fellow singer Elton John accused Madonna of lip-synching on the tour. Madonna's representatives denied the allegations and John later apologized.[18] Re-Invention World Tour was a commercial success. Tickets were completely sold as soon as dates and venues for the tour were announced, prompting the organizers to add more dates.[19] After wrapping up, it was named the highest grossing concert tour of 2004, earning $125 million ($156.07 million in 2014 dollars[20]) from 56 shows with an audience 900,000.[21][22] It won the honor of Top Tour at the 2004 Billboard Touring Awards.[23][24]

Concept and development[edit]

The Punch Bowl pub in Mayfair, London was featured in one of the sequences in the documentary

The tour was chronicled in the documentary titled I'm Going to Tell You a Secret.[1] Originally called The Re-Invented Process in reference to the world tour it documents and the exhibition X-STaTIC Pro=CeSS, it was filmed during Madonna's visit to North America and Europe during May 24 to September 14, 2004, and was directed by Jonas Åkerlund, whose previous credits include various music videos (including those for Madonna), commercials and the cult hit film Spun (2003).[25] The documentary developed from Madonna's need to show her artistic side on the tour and her devition towards the Jewish mysticism Kabbalah. Unlike her 1990 documentary Truth or Dare, which had an air of Hollywood glamour and its spoils, with I'm Going to Tell You a Secret Madonna wanted to signal from its beginning that it was about spirituality and her own maturity.[1] "It's a different me, I have a husband, I have a family, my whole life has changed. It would be pretty strange if I was behaving the same way I did 12 years ago — that would be a little freaky. No more Evian bottles!", Madonna said in an interview with MTV, and referring to the scene of her perform fellatio on an Evian bottle in Truth or Dare.[26] She further explained that during Truth or Dare she did not have a family hence the mischievous acts with her dancers, unlike I'm Going to Tell You a Secret where she felt much balanced.[26]

Like Truth or Dare, the performance scenes were shot in color, while the rest of the documentary was in black-and-white. Besides Madonna, her dancers and her tour entourage, Åkerlund also shot her family, her working process and her day-to-day life as well. Other locations and persons included Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie's local pub in Mayfair, London, appearance of filmmaker Michael Moore, her father and stepmother.[3] In some scenes, Ritchie was shown missing some of Madonna's concerts and going out for drinks, which drove the singer to tears. Madonna explained her feelings for these situations in a December 2005 interview with Rolling Stone. Saying that the most important things in a relationship are the ability to listen, resilience and a sense of humor, she added:

"[My relationship with Guy] came off as peculiar [in the documentary]. Not a typical relationship. A lot of macho men see the movie and like Guy's character, because he doesn't give me any special treatment. I think we come off as a couple that has that has a genuine and deep connection. He is always there for me, but he's not impressed. I feel like we are sort of The Honeymooners, only I'm the Jackie Gleason character. Obviously, he irritates me on a significant basis, as everyone's significant other does."[27]

Referring to the incidents in the pub, Madonna further clarified that it is harder for a guy to travel around the world with a girl. Giving an example of her friend, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, she said that it was easier for Paltrow to tour with her husband Chris Martin, who is the lead singer of alternative rock band, Coldplay.[27] "You have to be a pretty evolved man to go on the road with me and not for a moment have this glimpse of yourself as someone who's lost their identity", she added. Madonna also recalled her troubled relationship with her father and how he had e-mailed the singer with his approval, after watching the documentary.[27] Kabbalah featured prominently towards the end, which author Lucy O'Brien described in her book, Madonna: Like an Icon, as being larger than Madonna herself. The singer wanted to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel to practice her newfound faith in Kabbalah. However, ultra-orthodox Jews protested her trip, saying that Madonna disgraced the religion with her portrayal of wearing phylacteries over her arm—a Jewish custom usually reserved for men—in the music video of her 2002 single "Die Another Day", before escaping from an electric chair on which Hebrew letters spell out one of the 72 sacred names of God.[28] Israeli securities had advised the singer not to make the trip, nevertheless she did it, visiting graves of Jewish sages in northern Israel as well as shrines such as Rachel's Tomb on the edge of Bethlehem, traditional burial place of the biblical matriarch Rachel.[6]

Production and release[edit]

Madonna promoting I'm Going to Tell You a Secret in Chelsea, United States

Moore had initially offered to direct the documentary but since he was busy editing his own project, Fahrenheit 9/11, Madonna enlisted Åkerlund as the director. Moore later said that he could help around with the editing and advised Madonna to shoot "as much content as possible".[29] I'm Going to Tell You a Secret was an important film for Madonna, who was determined to show her matured persona through the documentary. With a modest budget of one million ($1.25 million in 2014 dollars[20]) for production, she spent several months in the edit suite with Åkerlund, poring over every shots and details and creating the whole film.[6] Side-by-side, Madonna had also started working on her tenth studio album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, hence she toggled between both editing the film as well as recording songs. "[I'm Going to Tell You a Secret] is not a conventional documentary. It's cinematic, it's like a journal. I was flying to Stockholm every other week to work on the edit, then coming back here, and it was very difficult, taking 350 hours of film and putting it into two hours. I was so wiped out by it," she recalled in an interview with The Observer journalist Simon Garfield.[7]

"It was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God, I hope I did the right thing. Oh, that scene is too long. Oh, that's too short. Are they going to get this part? Are they going to like this? Oh, they're going to think it's boring!' Just worrying the whole way, biting my fingernails off."

—Madonna talking about her tensions regarding the documentary.[30]

Before releasing the documentary, Madonna invited a select group of friends and co-workers to watch a rough three-hour cut of the film at a local theater in Notting Hill, and write their comments afterwards in a questionnaire.[6] The feedback which Madonna and her team received was that there was too much of Kabbalah in the film, hence she decided to prune those segments considerably.[6] The documentary premiered on MTV in the United States, on October 21, 2005 at 10.00 PM.[26] Madonna also showed the documentary to the film students at New York's Hunter College. After the documentary got over, the singer appeared in front of the students for a Q&A session. This promotion was a part of mtvU's Stand In series, in which celebrities filled in for college professors.[31] In the United Kingdom, the documentary premiered on Channel 4 on December 14, 2005.[7] A screening for the press was held on November 30, 2005, which Madonna attended with Ritchie, fielding questions from the journalists present and revealing her ambition to be a film director.[32] I'm Going to Tell You a Secret was not released commercially and was only viewed on MTV and Channel 4. Åkerlund later recalled in an interview with BlackBook magazine that he wished more people had the chance to see the documentary because according to him, it "a really strong piece of art, if you ask me... it had a lot of my blood, sweat and tears in it."[33]

Critical response[edit]

I'm Going to Tell You a Secret received mixed reviews from critics. O'Brien noted how the film inadvertently revealed a "strange isolation at the cost of stardom".[34] She complimented the scenes featuring her father, and the scenes where Madonna is not self-conscious, like when she interacts with her children, wishing the tour would end sooner, talks about her "fat Italian thighs" and also the performance in rain at Dublin.[3] O'Brien criticized other portions of the film, which she said was "affected" by conscious behavior in front of the camera, like backstage parties, Madonna's poems, and taking the dancers for the piano recital.[3] Author J. Randy Taraborrelli wrote in his book Madonna: An Intimate Biography that the film allowed a much closer look at the singer's family. He was particularly impressed by the scenes featuring Lourdes as she "revealed herself to be sophisticated beyond her years".[35] Kathryn Flett from The Observer newspaper described it as "Fascinating, [it has] tiny flashes of insight into her relationship with Guy Ritchie, which occasionally involve her being just as girlie and ever so slightly insecure as the rest of us."[36] Rupert Smith from The Guardian reported that the director "squeezed every last drop of spectacle from a highly stage-managed performance", but commented that "she gave away far more in 1991's In Bed with Madonna; this time she gave only the illusion of candour". However, he complimented saying "Even the easy-to-mock pre-show prayers brought a tear to the eye. We don't need to be told that 'there's more to life than fame and fortune – something deeper, more profound', or that 'the material world' is a bad thing. But it's good to see an entertainer who, 20 years into her career, is still trying to change the world".[37]

Madonna performs "Lament" on the Re-Invention World Tour, while being bound to an electric chair

Barry Walters from Rolling Stone magazine mentioned that I'm Going to Tell You a Secret "lacks the dishy delights of the diva's 1991 Truth or Dare doc. Instead, a more worldly Madge struggles to become a less sound-bite-reliant, more sincere person."[38] Darryl Sterdan from Jam! gave it three out of five stars, saying that "it still sucks to sit through all that video and see almost as much of her limo as her show.... For a start, how about giving us a [movie] that isn't derivative and self-indulgent?"[39] Colin Jacobson from the DVD Movie Guide website opined that I'm Going to Tell You a Secret would find a divided audience and how one reacted to the documentary was a reflection of how one overviewed Madonna. "Fans like me will be able to essentially ignore the self-serving moments and enjoy the tour elements. We’ll also like the glimpse behind the curtain at Madonna on the road," he added.[40] This view was shared by a reviewer from Lexington Herald-Leader who confessed that he did not enjoy the documentary except the live performances, since he saw Madonna only as an "entertainer" and not as a "preacher".[41]

While reviewing Madonna: The Confessions Tour Live TV debut in 2007, Ginia Bellafante from The New York Times recalled the scenes of Madonna hugging her assistants and dancers and her wishing to be nicer to people she had met. She said that probably Madonna knew that many in her audience missed the "Madonna of so many Madonnas ago, the one who refused refinement and probably thought Oxford was just an insurance company."[42] Stephen Thomas Erlewine from Allmusic believed that the documentary served its purpose well. "It will convince anybody who is on the fence about going out to see the 2006 tour to go ahead and buy those expensive tickets already," he added.[43] Daily Mirror's Jane Simon commented that it became apparent from the initial scenes of the documentary that Madonna wanted to portray herself as a "good person". Writing about one of the scenes, Simon said "when [Ritchie] offers to give Madonna a foot massage after a show she looks at him as if he's been kidnapped by the body-snatchers from outer space. It's one of the few moments in two hours that feels like the truth."[44]

Stephen M. Deusner from Pitchfork Media panned the release, saying that "[Madonna's] life as portrayed in this documentary is cloistered and withdrawn, marked by hours of quiet Kabbalah study but very little self-reflection. Whether intentionally or not, Åkerlund reveals Madonna's supreme lack of self-awareness, from her embarrassing attempts at poetry to the condescending tone she takes with her dancers to her incredibly irresponsible visit to Rachel's Tomb despite the warnings of her host country and her security team." He ended the review saying that Madonna missed the point that she does not need to preach anything for the audience, its her songs which have stood the test of time and "have become a shared language among people who have very little common ground. Her music has been changing the world for more than two decades now, but sadly she seems unaware of this, her one true 'secret' to pop cultural unity."[45]


I'm Going to Tell You a Secret was released in a two-disc format, a CD with 14 songs from the show and a DVD with the documentary film.[40] The release received positive response from critics and was nominated for a Grammy Award at the 2007 show in the category of Best Long Form Music Video.[38][40][43][46] It was a moderate success commercially, reaching the top-ten of the music charts in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, while the DVD topped the video charts in Australia, Spain and the United States.[47][48]



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