Thursday, May 29, 2008

Quietly, with Madeline

Many things will be said about the comic genius and fantastic, zippy presence of Madeline Kahn during Stinkylulu's Kahn-fest today. There will undoubtedly be a lot of wonderful commentary on her roles throughout her career; I hope, for one, that someone does a comparison of her Blazing Saddles singing with Marlene Dietrich's warbling in the westerns that she did.

For me, however, thinking about Madeline Kahn oddly comes back to Judy Berlin, a quiet wisp of a movie that happened to be her last. Her supporting role as a Lawn Guy Land mother, just realizing her marriage ain't what she thinks it is, is pitch-perfect.

I remember less about the film itself, however, and more about the experience watching it. I wanted to see it not only because it happened to win Sundance that year, but also because I heard both Madeline Kahn was fantastic in it. It was playing at a theater I had not really been to in downtown Monterey, California, right on the main drag. The only time that I had to see the movie was a matinee sometime during the week; in those days, I was mostly trying to finish my dissertation during the daytime and waiting tables at night, so movies had to get squeezed in by hook and crook sometimes. I remember racing to the theater, buying my ticket and walking in.

Upon entering, I realize that the space I've entered is somewhat cavernous: a relatively large theater for what is really a small town. There are only a few lights on, although maybe there was only one, as I only remember one, right above. The rest of the theater was curiously dark. My eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw that I was in what had been a lovely old theater, with some wonderful details on the sides -- but that had been years ago. Fallen somewhat into disrepair, there were cracks on the ceiling in a number of places, some plaster on the floor somewhere. I saw it was a beautiful theater, if a bit sad in its manner of cracking.

And so began the movie: Judy Berlin. And quickly, before I get into the movie itself, I realize that I am alone in this grand old theater. It is, I think, the only time I have had such a privilege -- awkward, because this should have more viewers, because movie-watching is a social experience where we are collectively alone. And yet, also amusing and intimate. And so, when Madeline comes on the screen, I don't feel as if she is speaking only to me; she really is only speaking to me -- large, in black-and-white, wonderful, cracking.

This entry is part of Stinkylulu's Madeline Kahn Appeciation Day -- please visit the other sites on the list, since at least one of them is sure to bring up that fact that she was in possibly the best flick of 1979 The Muppet Movie.


Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, I saw this movie in Manhattan. All the acting was superb. Patty K

Karamale said...

OMG, now you're REALLY making me miss dc. a madeline kahn-fest? YES! (no, no, no, no, no, no, yes, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes, no, no, yes, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no...)

ed said...


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