Thursday, May 29, 2008

In the key of Kahn

Madeline Kahn was a kook. Every choice she made onscreen was slightly off-key. Her career was a string of strange and rich harmonic notes in chords that straddled the major-minor line (most dear to me, and many others, is Clue's Mrs. White, a performance both sharp and flat in equal turns, resulting in the most eccentric blend of comedy and severity). But I want to briefly consider two grace notes in her career, i.e. two short musical performances she gave while hosting Saturday Night Live.

She sang Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars" at the tail end of a 1976 episode in the first season of SNL. She crooned simply, alone on a stool on a dark stage. This was back when SNL was more variety show than sketch dumpster, and there was room for a host to try unique things. Like singing an old tune from a songbook not necessarily tailored for a primetime weekend audience.
video
How pretty and sad is this? Sure, her operatic training makes the delivery a bit stiff, but there's something about that voice, those eyes, and the narrowing of the light on her face as the camera backs away at the end. It's slightly off and right on. Most importantly, it's interesting. Can you imagine SNL doing this today? And this was the final bit on this episode! What a way to end an hour of comedy. Next grace note is from the third season of SNL in 1977. Kahn pops up on location in Manhattan, singing "Autumn in New York" while trying to find the right key. It's such a weird conceit -- hey, let's have Madeline putz around New York wah-wah-wah'ing -- but oddly sweet. Like her.
video
She hosted one more time, in 1995, and reportedly sang "Ain't Got No Home" during her monologue. That season of SNL is not available on DVD and the clip is not online. But I can imagine it might've seemed a tad out of place on the SNL of the '90s, and that's probably what made it entertaining and memorable. This post is part of StinkyLulu's Madeline Kahn Appreciation Day.

7 comments:

elgringo said...

Oh Madeline Kahn, how I love you.
My first experience with her was in The Muppet Movie when I was a kid. I could never understand her character. She was unlike anyone I had ever seen before. From the way she spoke to the roles she showed up in, she's still an enigma to me. But I think she was fantastic and it's sad we lost her to something as terrible as ovarian cancer.

Rusty said...

"Yes, I killed Yvette. I hated her...SO.....MUCH....it's like flames, flaMES....FLAMES...on the side of my face."

Maria in Mostar said...

When we were talking about her the other night, and I said I knew who she was, I was wrong. I got her confused with Teri Garr. Which is weird, because I own Clue. I apologize to you and Madeline.

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