What does a Sunday night with Madonna look like? Well, it involves two barricades of photographers, film crews flanking the entrance to the Museum of Modern Art, reporters waiting (for over an hour) on the red carpet for the star’s arrival, and an eclectic guest list ranging from Julian Schnabel and Patti Smith, to Parker Posey and Alan Cumming—and later on, rather inexplicably, Tony Danza.
Of course, this wasn’t your average Sunday night family supper. It was a private screening of Madonna’s feature directorial debut, W.E., hosted by the Cinema Society and Piaget. If all those tourists flocking down Fifth Avenue had gotten wind of the Madge’s impending arrival, mayhem would have ensued. The red carpet alone provided a source of ongoing amusement during the wait for her arrival.
“Do they think we’re the same size as a piece of paper?” asked a fellow journalist as he glanced at his publication’s marker on the floor. “We all work in fashion,” replied a woman, “so if we’re not, we’re in the wrong industry.”
A good-natured Glenda Bailey was mistaken for one of the film’s actors by a less-informed reporter (“Am I in the movie?” she laughed rhetorically as she walked toward the theater), while Donna Karan fielded questions from both reporters and the person on the other end of her cell phone simultaneously.
The nature of switching creative fields à la Madonna was a topic Chloe Sevigny had some familiarity with, considering her successful transition from actor to actor-designer. “Does it make sense for your soul?” she mused, adding that her initial concerns were “finding the confidence to believe in the merchandise I was putting out there in the world. Also, trousers are really difficult.”
Madonna didn’t have to grapple with pants patterns, but she certainly loaded her plate high with W.E., acting as director, producer, and co-writer. The movie juxtaposes modern-day Wally (Abbie Cornish), a former Sotheby’s employee currently stuck in an abusive marriage, and Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the great love of the Duke of Windsor (James D’Arcy), who abdicated his claim to the throne of England to be with her. Set around the 1998 Sotheby’s sale of the couple’s possessions, the film flip-flops between the two women’s lives, exploring the nature of romance, heartache, and, in Simpson’s case, the cult of celebrity.
The latter is something Riseborough can still claim some distance from, though Simpson’s public persona, specifically her personal style, began to influence her own while filming. “I think when you’re playing a character, you and them, they sort of meld together. It’s inescapable. It absolutely affects your aesthetic,” said the young British actor, who chose a ladylike organza Oscar de la Renta dress for the occasion. “At the time it made me very stark, chic, almost androgynous or matronly… but I feel like one must move on. Otherwise, there’s no closure.”
The evening provided a bit of closure for Riseborough’s director, too. After revealing to journalists that she’d long been captivated by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s epic and unlikely affair, Madonna gave a rather charmingly self-deprecating introductory speech to the crowd gathered in the downstairs theater. “Tonight’s about letting go,” she said, explaining that unlike screenings at earlier festivals, she would be unable to make any changes to the version being shown. “I have a big knot in my stomach. And no one has offered me a glass of champagne like they did in Venice and Toronto. So I’m sober. And I really hope I like the film.”
It was nearly impossible to watch the scenes of Riseborough being hounded by the press without thinking of Madonna’s own experience as a worshiped—and scrutinized—celebrity. One wonders what negative views she feels the public has of her. “I don’t think I should answer that question,” she said crisply, giving me a somewhat ominous look before smiling. “I think there’s many misconceptions—too many for me to note.”
At the after-party that followed at Crown (conveniently located a few blocks from Madonna’s townhouse), as Tom Sachs shared mini burgers with his date and Anne V gobbled down fries (thank god that Victoria’s Secret show is over!), her Madgesty ensconced herself in a back booth, surrounded by security. No one puts Baby in a corner, except when it’s the safest place for her to be.
Photos: Patrick McMullan **