Watching the movie Madison…in Madison. It’s the RHPS of the midwest

It’s been madness in Madison this week as residents and tourists have been preparing for the Regatta. Kurt and I have tried to keep up with all the activities, but there are many and we are two.

We did manage to attend the hype-building movie, Madison, starring Jim Caviezel, and the little kid who played young Aniken Skywalker in the first of those Star Wars prequels.

Although we spent a year in Los Angeles, and marveled at how many places we began to recognize from feature films, there is nothing quite like watching the movie Madison, in the town of Madison, just before the regatta…

We were not expecting the midwest version of attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Oh I don’t meant the movie itself. It was surprisingly inspirational and made us feel even more affinity for this historic town and its love of boat racing. What I’m talking about is audience participation.

Kurt and I weren’t planning to go to the movie. We just thought we’d walk the river and check out the progress of the vendors setting up, county-fair style, along the riverwalk. Locals were already pitching tarps along the grass, claiming territories for the big event.

It’s all Jack Bird’s fault. Jack’s a local legend, amazing photographer and all around nice guy. In fact, we want to adopt Jack and take him with us on all our journeys. But alas, Jack has his own family, so we will leave him be.

What I mean is that Jack told us if we’re only here once and we really want a feel for all this, go watch the movie, even if it’s fictionalized, it does still give a sense of the town’s attachment to these races. We still weren’t planning on it, but as we were heading past the park, that darn animated Cars was playing a short as a warm-up for the feature film. We paused, got sucked in, and there we sat for the next couple hours, the still-warm concrete terraces of the sloped park alternately warming and aching our butts.

Jack Bird
Madison, Indiana

What caught our attention first were the boos at the Budweiser racing team onscreen. A large group of Madisonians sat in a clutch nearby and inadvertently guided us both through the movie and through the way to feel and think about the town and its regatta. The other big boo came near the end, when the film stated that Madison hasn’t “won a race since 1973.” The booing was followed by grumbling over the film’s accuracy. But that couldn’t keep down the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and anticipation heading to race day.

Cheers were more abundant during the film. Everytime the onscreen locals cheered, the group next to us cheered. There was the big speech given by Jim Caviezel to raise money, touting San Diego as the anti-Madison bad guys to inspire action. There was the roof-raising “hooray!”when Miss Madison (that’s the name of this town-owned boat) is rebuilt and put in the water, breaths held, then “It floats!” And of course the race itself. Each time Miss Madison took over an opponent, I couldn’t tell which was louder – the onscreen fans or the offscreen party to my left.

Perhaps the best bit of cheering came over cameos of area residents in the movie, and of famous businesses. When the Hinkle’s Sandwich Shop sign appeared, it was deafening.

And perhaps most like RHPS, and my favorite part of the audience participation, were the movie quotes shouted from the most ardent of fans: “This whole town’s obsolete!” The words were shouted by nearby movie watchers, followed by voices of the same booing the quote. But my favorite quotes were, of course, near the end, especially because they were accompanied by giggling adults: “You’re dragging a stick of dynamite!”

But best of all is the quote that summarizes the feel of both the movie and of the townspeople watching. Lifting the hair on my arms, the movie came to a climax as the audience shouted along, “We’re gonna go or we’re gonna blow.”

I saw Jack Bird again yesterday as I was taking photos of the boats being towed down to the river. He introduced me to his grandson and explained parts of the boats we were looking at. “You know,” he said, kindly, “Miss Madison is owned by the residents of Madison, Indiana. Not by an individual. Not by a corporation.” I nodded, happy to understand a little of this history and the way its citizens embrace the race. “As temporary residents, you can your husband can consider yourselves temporary owners in her, too.”

I knew the sweet words of this father figure were nothing official, but it didn’t matter. What matter was that Jack embraced us, brought us into the excitement and happiness of Madison’s love for her boat and her race. As the words settled in, I had to take leave of Jack and his grandson to gather my composure and…get ready to Regatta!

Love, Marla

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