Saturday, June 19, 2010
At Lake Wingra Friday night, a rainbow for Tom Joad and "The Grapes of Madison"
Or so it seemed when I awoke this morning. My mind was still awash in a confused jumble of sensory impressions and pop cultural allusions from two separate encounters last night with Lake Wingra: Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath, Swan Lake, Judy Garland singing "somewhere over the rainbow" -- they all knocked around in my dreams during the night. The rainbow (view larger) was part of the second encounter.
The first took place during the standing-room-only screening at the Sequoya library of "The Grapes of Madison," Ben Reiser's satirical short comedy about coping with unemployment (view larger).
People have been known to react to unemployment by grasping at straws, and the sheer escapist nuttiness of the protagonist's plan to launch a new career by auditioning for the role of Tom Joad in a production of "The Grapes of Wrath" gives the film an inspired loony energy. (Unlikely as it sounds, the plot also echoes the experience of the filmmaker, who decided to pursue a lifelong dream of making films after he was laid off, and who made the movie with the help of friends and neighbors).
My favorite scene takes place at the dock on the lake, not far from where the swan boats now are docked at Wingra Boats. Steve (Steve Tyska, who won an award for his performance at this year's Wisconsin Film Festival), the totally inexperienced but hopeful nouveau thespian, is rehearsing Tom Joad's famous "I'll be there" passage with his friend Alberto (Alberto Cordero), declaiming his lines with more enthusiasm than talent to the ducks and fishes -- and eventually, a group of neighborhood children who gather around. After Steve decides he's nailed it, the two buddies wander off slowly through Wingra Park in search of refreshment.
After working so hard, should they treat themselves to frozen custard? Or beer? Or both? They're happy to realize they don't have to choose, because Michael's Frozen Custard and the Laurel Tavern are right next to each other on Monroe Street. They could get everything in one stop. A perfect Wingra Park moment.
It was raining as we left the library, and the sun had almost set, obscured by clouds and trees. When we got home around eight, the sky was glowing with reflected light, a strange, lurid shade made up of an uneasy alliance between orange and magenta. We went down to the lake because I wanted to take a picture of the swans at Wingra Boats against the otherworldly sky. By the time we got down to the lake, the rainbow(s) had appeared. It seemed to last a long time. It kept raining, with occasional lightning, and it got darker and darker. But that radiant arch just kept glowing in the unbelievable sky. I think the spirit of Tom Joad would have been pleased.
Historical Footnote: The image of a rainbow has long been linked to a yearning for something better, especially during Tom Joad's Great Depression, when it was forever associated with that era by Judy Garland's voice filled with heartache and longing singing "Over the Rainbow." Also, Kris Kristofferson's song, Here Comes That Rainbow Again, was inspired by the lunch counter scene in Chapter 15 of "The Grapes of Wrath."