At first I was dubious about seeing a silent film in James Madison Park. The feature was to be a 1920 German Expressionist telling of The Golem, an ancient monster-morality tale set in the Jewish ghetto of Prague. It sounded like dark stuff.
But somehow, Sunday's James Madison Movie Night was perfect.
It could have been the music. Yid Vicious provided a live soundtrack, an original score composed by percussionist Geoff Brady. It was seamless accompaniment, and some moments - the French horn echoing around the park as the shofar was sounded onscreen, the clunky-footstep bass notes when the Golem lurched around the village - were spellbinding.
It could have been the film. The cinematography surprised me, as did the actors' ability to convey emotion without dialogue.
It could have been the weather. It was breezy, and people who were stretched out on blankets when the movie started were bundled in them by the time the credits rolled. The chill in the air matched the creepiness of the movie.
It could have been the park. We watched from the lawn in front of the shelter, with the lake behind us lapping the shore and expanding out under a clear, dark sky. I wanted to huddle tighter under our blanket to escape the vastness behind us as the Golem came to life and traveled his short, destructive path.
What's most likely, though, is that Sunday's movie night was the perfect alchemy of art, audience and location.
In addition to support from WORT-FM and Madison parks, the event was largely funded by a Madison Arts Commission BLINK grant, the purpose of which is to provide "an opportunity for experimental, ad-hoc, temporary works of art to sprout up throughout the community and vanish, leaving residents and visitors eager to see what is next."
Sunday night did just that. Kids danced to Yid Vicious's beautiful performance. The audience laughed at the Golem's awkwardness and hooted at the love scenes. Light streamed across the isthmus from the Capitol dome, and Madisonians - weird and beautiful themselves - watched something weird and beautiful unfold in one of the city's most idyllic spots.
If you missed the first James Madison Movie Night, catch the Aug. 28 feature, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the 1920 German horror film. The screening will feature an improvised score created and performed by Brady, Arthur Durkee, Kia Karlen and JoAnne Pow!ers.