Thursday, June 17, 2010

Scary movies, scary life . . .

Psycho turned 50 yesterday. And the women of a certain age I know still fleetingly think about Janet Leigh sometimes as they step into the shower. Whoever suspected before Alfred Hitchcock's movie that closing that curtain and turning on the water could place one in the quintessentially vulnerable position?


My sister was attending girl's boarding school when Psycho came out. Surely the adult who decided to show it to 500 sequestered girls as their Friday night movie treat was pretty psycho, herself. Paranoia is contagious at boarding school. Being scared is much more entertaining than trigonometry. After the movie, one of my sister's dorm-mates decided to playfully scare a friend who was taking a shower. The friend ended up in the emergency room. It was all very thrilling.

Thinking about Psycho got me to thinking about other scary movies. We do love them, don't we? It's such of a relief to know who or what, exactly, constitutes Big Trouble. Even if it's only pretend Big Trouble, and it's only for a couple of hours.

I remember watching Jaws from the back of a Charlottesville movie theater.When that enormous white fish reared up out of the ocean behind that puny little boat containing Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw, I watched the entire audience jump in unison. I left the theater that night chattering with strangers, bonded with them for life by having experienced together the vanquishing of the Big Bad Fish.

I was interested in the reaction to President Obama's Oval Office speech night before last. David Brooks complained on PBS afterward that it was short on specifics, as though the president should know the specifics of what to do. But then, maybe such knowledge is inferred by giving a speech from the Oval Office. As Dan Kennedy put it on,
There was something odd and silly about the idea of Obama's delivering a prime-time, televised address – his first from the magisterial setting of the Oval Office. The oil continues to gush, with estimates about the quantity revised upwards on an almost daily basis. What could he possibly say?
There was also much debate on public radio airwaves yesterday as to whether the war in Afghanistan is going well, what to do about the Gaza blockade, and how could a complete unknown possibly have won the South Carolina Democratic Senatorial primary? People argued and argued and argued, because nobody really knows what's going on, much less what to do about it. And we Americans prefer anything to the unknown, don't we? Or, even worse, the unknowable.

The great challenge of real life these days, as I see it, is to accept that destructive things are out there that cannot be vanquished or even understood in a couple of hours, the time it takes in a cinema. Life is scary; but it is not a scary movie.  We have to keep talking, keep learning, keep trying things. All our arguing, it seems to me, is merely running scared disguised as bluster.

This is Jaws in real life. And the truth is nobody knows what to do about it. The real question is do we, as American citizens, have the guts to face that.

Where is Alfred Hitchcock or Roy Scheider when you need them?

1 comment:

  1. "Jurassic Park" did it to me, many years after "Psycho." Walking out the back door of the theater in broad daylight, I genuinely had a jumpy moment of fear that a velociraptor lurked in the parking lot.