Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Movies as a means to discover fear

I grew up in a small town, but we had a movie theater. It sat about 100 people and was recently rennovated, showing first-run movies only weeks after they've released. Of course, it's all run by volunteers now which explains why they can afford to get films so quickly. When I was a kid, we had to wait weeks for a big film to get to town. When I was older we drove to a nearby 'city' to see the biggies, but when I was younger, the Palace Theater was the In Place to be.

The first movie I went to at the Palace Theater was Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring James Mason and Jame MacArthur (? I think that was his name. He was the cutie) and some babe or other as the romantic lead. I was part of a school outing and it was probably third or fourth grade.

About halfway through the film, there's a scene where they enter this GINORMOUS cavern in the center of the earth and have to walk across this wee tiny rocky bridge thing with a dark cavern below them, obviously leading all the way to HELL or some other equally icky place.

Remember, this was the first film I'd seen on a BIG SCREEN in a dark theater with a bunch of other kids in a strange, dark place.

I panicked. True panic attack. Woozy, dizzy, faint, nauseous ... I bolted out of the theater, pausing long enough to tell the teacher I was going home (3 blocks away). Poor woman, she was in a bind -- she had a theater full of kids and me, acting like a drama queen. Luckily my best friend at the time came out, too, and volunteered to walk home with me. I know, I know -- in today's world, who would allow that? This was the 60s, though, and two kids walking the streets alone in daylight were perfectly safe.

So I came home and told my Mom what happened. We figured it was an anomaly until it happened again at an event in an auditorium. Panic attack, faint, dizzy, nauseous .... and lo, that's when we figured I had this Thing about enclosed big spaces.

It's taken me years to get over, but I no longer feel queasy when I enter a concert hall, conference center, or auditorium. I still sit on the aisle, though, near the back so if I need to make a fast exit I can. And there are times when I have bolted out, even as lately as a few years ago -- the press of people, the tall walls, the high ceilings all combine to make me feel like I'm suffocating.

Thank you, Walt Disney and the cast of JTTCOTE for providing such an excellent example of agoraphobia. I've been able to watch your movie since then -- albeit at home on my small screen. I don't know if I want to revisit it in a theater ....

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