30 October 2007

THAT movie is SCARY? …Ye-ep.

Time labels Bambi one of their “Top 25 Horror Movies,” which may seem incongruous, but really isn’t.

I feel that way because of my own experience, and I have a secret:

The thought of watching E.T. makes me heebed and nightmare-y.

That unfortunate fact is down to an even more unfortunate congruity in my own childhood.

Background: an offer made

In Spring 1981 I was a first grader and an enormous discipline problem in school. My soon-to-be-divorced, brazenly alcoholic mother was made an offer by her then-best-friend: the latter would agree (along with her husband) to be my guardian so that Mom could dry out, on the condition that Mom and Dad made $200 a month in support payments for the duration of the arrangement.

I was never asked for my opinion, presumably because all participants knew that I would scream bloody murder.

Dad agreed to the transfer of guardianship, on the condition that Mom make the near-term support payments on her own, and permanently waive her right to demand child support from him.

[She would break that verbal contract ten years later, at the very instant she learned from me that Dad had secured a tenure-track teaching job… but that’s a different story.]

When the music stopped playing on the evening of 7 June, I was living with the Fergusons in San Antonio… and if you know both San Antonio and Portland well, you probably have difficulty imagining two cities in the United States that could have been any more different at the time.

That dissimilarity, plus two thousand miles’ distance, plus finally the disruption of submitting to the (much stricter) discipline of two people whom I cared about but had a difficult time accepting as authority figures, made me absolutely miserable and lonely.

I’ve felt worse misery and loneliness from time to time in the years since, but not often, and in all cases because I’d been badly let down.

I look back on that time as a character-building exercise, if only because I was forbidden more than one hour of television a day, plus occasional ballgames … a rule which was enforced with some latitude, but not much.

Enter film

Deprived the anesthesia of television, I was encouraged to read books and newspapers at length, and during the two years my library cards got a lot of mileage. I was also taken to the movies frequently. I may have been miserable and lonely, but I can’t fault the Fergusons for trying to keep my mind and imagination fired up.

Most of the films I’ve forgotten, with the exception of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan… and E.T., which scared me practically to death.

Yeah, I know.

If you think it through, it should be pretty easy to figure out: a kindhearted young boy stuck thousands of miles from home watches a film about a kindhearted alien stuck billions of miles from home, and all hell breaks loose for the poor alien.

I walked out of that theatre knowing that a Speak & Spell wouldn’t do me a damned a bit of good, choking back tears, scared shitless, and beside myself with a really unpleasant flavor of empathy for that giraffe-necked fictional character.

I had nightmares of abandonment for weeks afterward. Not even Threads sends me into a headspace nearly as bad.

To this day, I still cannot bring myself to watch that film… and I default to Crankypants Mode until I become genuinely familiar with a new place.

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