Monday, December 5, 2011

New Year's Day 1997: 'EVITA' in BOSTON

I wrote this essay for English class during my Freshman year of all boys’ Catholic high school. I don’t remember the assignment, but I do remember when the English teacher asked each of us to announce what our topics would be. 

“The anticipation and experience of seeing Evita” was my answer.

Bob Jeffrey
            The crowd was getting restless. The previews were flaring across the screen but all of us in the theater were completely oblivious to them. Suddenly the lights went dim. Evita had begun. 
            I had often fantasized that one day I would be a successful director, and that my films would be “event movies”. And in the months preceding the release of Evita, it was as if I was watching all of those fantasies come true. The anticipation of the film and the media attention surrounding it were all astronomical, like nothing I had ever seen before. This was not a movie, it was a part of cinema history. The soundtrack was one of the most sought after Christmas gifts in America. Advance ticket sales had been strong for several months. Books about both the film and the real Eva Peron lined shelves. There were clothing and make-up lines inspired by the film. And the premiere was held at Los Angeles’s Shrine Auditorium, the same building where the Oscar ceremonies take place. 

            But what affected me the most was that people were finally seeing Madonna the way I always had. Her almost religious following and incredible commercial success, both of which were strong after close to 15 years, never ceased to amaze me. Though it was her voice, acting, and public persona that initially drew me to her, it is the side of Madonna that not many people saw that made me a true fan. The woman who had made millions breaking music records, taking control of the fashion world, and continuing to surprise, shock, and change America was also one of the most giving humanitarians in the country. Long before AIDS benefits were common in Hollywood, Madonna played a major role in the fight against this disease, along with fighting for the rights of minorities, integrating other cultures into mainstream entertainment, inspiring countless fans, and being a wonderful mother to her daughter. Finally, Madonna was being appreciated not only as a star, but as both a legend and as a great person.
            I was so thrilled that she finally had a film that could send her movie career in a whole new direction. I felt a certain bond with the film because this seemed like it would be an “old-fashioned” movie, a film that told a great story, boasted superb performances by big stars, and which everyone would run out to see. This was the type of movie that I wanted to bring back to the world. And so seeing the world’s amazing reaction to the film was a very personal experience.
            But nothing could compare to the film itself. I went with my family to see the late show on New Year’s Day, 1997. The showing had been completely sold out through advance sales. Ticket-holders were lined down the street waiting in the cold to get in, but none of us had any complaints. When we were all allowed into the theater, I ran down the aisle and managed to get a seat in the center of the front row. It seemed like forever, but before long the film was starting. As soon as Madonna’s name showed up on screen, the crowd let out a round of applause. From then on the audience was completely silent as their eyes stayed glued to the screen. Madonna’s performance was beyond anything I could have imagined. She was so convincing that a half hour into the film I forgot it was Madonna whom I was watching, and almost believed it was Eva Peron on the screen.  


             Yet at the same time a part of me felt an admiration for Madonna that I had never felt before. I was so proud of her, and watching her on the screen I think that it hit me just how far along she had come. Not to say that I didn’t love all of her work, but seeing her in the film, I felt that this had to be the greatest work she had ever done. Yet all the while I knew it was merely a sign of even greater things to come.

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