Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Leaping (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets: The Leaping
by Ian Brockway

Film to me is a refuge from uncertainty, gravity, and panic. More to the point, the flickering image is an antidote to anxiety, apprehension and the strange still moments of boredom that I feel.

I paint, I fantasize, and I write. My dad once said that he thought me "remarkably free of neurosis" and by extension, fear.

Whether that is true or not, is not for me to say. However, there is one concept and a specific film that usually throws me into a very real state of acute panic and that is the film "The Exorcist" (1973).

I don't really know why. It seems to go beyond simple shock. I start to hyperventilate at the sight of any Exorcist imagery, going rigid with fear that feels near to pain. I even leap in my chair whenever someone says "The Exorcist".

I first saw the film on TV  in the late 1970s with an aide at the time, my friend Becky, a Seventh Day Adventist. I didn't want to see the film. But she forced me, cajoling and teasing and this is puzzling in itself. I am not religious. Perhaps it was her way of attempting to convert me as she took me to Sunday School because I could not bring myself to say no. I often remember eagerly singing Christian tunes with lyrics about Satan as real as dirt.

Yet in  front of the TV, I shut my eyes. I can't recall exactly what I saw, but I remember the examination scene and Regan being thrown around on that bed, (which looked burnt, wilted  and cold, like stale wedding cake) the roars, that horrible, horrible voice and her unimaginable blue green face curdled over with what appears as old cheese.

Total fear. I remember feeling those electric volts. My body turned to complete bone.

Quite scary.

The next nights had no after effects, no worries, no thoughts of roars, demonic faces or vomiting of any kind.

Years passed. Then I watched it again. I became especially affected by the stairs and the growls behind the bedroom door. The electric jolts hit me. By the time I saw the bed, I was so overrun with fear, I was laughing interspersed with cries. But I got thru it.

Shortly after I was hit with recurring dreams: the sound of heavy footsteps and being faced with a blank movie screen, wanting to close  my eyes, knowing the bed was coming...

For a while the dreams stopped. Then, during grad school and an emotional romantic breakup, they began again: I was in an airy living room. On top of the tv, was a framed picture of Regan.

The dreams seemed to happen whenever I was stressed. My Exorcist fears point to my own physical body as I have cerebral palsy. Had I been born earlier in the 18th Century with cp, many would say I was possessed.

 I have heard that when people saw the original films they have had PTSD episodes or dreams and that it is an actual medical condition.

As if for catharsis, I read the novel by William Peter Blatty and all that I could on the film along with the subject of demonic possession.

I don't know if this helped or hurt, but I did find it captivating.

I do think my fear of sickness, my body and unease around doctors is at the root of my fear.

Indeed there is repeated medical imagery in the film: Father Karras goes to an asylum to see his mother. Regan is evaluated. Perhaps I see my condition as a troublesome ghost, or perhaps in my amoral musings,  I saw priests and exorcists as agents of Evil, using the force of Religion to eradicate my spastic and unique bodily eccentricities, imposing my poetically bent body to something straight and boringly linear to follow rules.

Whatever the cause, I had those dreams.

My mom said that in the film, even a car going by is scary. She's right. Director William Friedkin employed some double exposures and quick cuts in many scenes and maybe I really did catch something watching these sequences.

The Reverend Billy Graham believes that the energy of the devil physically exists within the film.

A few months ago, I was in bed watching TV and saw the body of Regan. My heart sped and I quickly changed the channel. There seems  no logic to these incidents.

I have tried to think of Linda Blair as a sex symbol to try to repel my fear, as she once modeled for an x-rated magazine at one time. I haven't followed it through. Should I write her a letter? Surely she was disturbed by her performance as well, injuring her back with a bed crane and having a bodyguard after filming due to death threats by Christians.

Might it be a bond between us?

I know that Blair has retired from film and has a dog rescue operation, equating dogs as angels.

I would not disagree.

At The Tropic, even though I usually think of film reviews before my comfort, I was too fearful to see "The Conjuring" or even a documentary about Rick Springfield as he and Linda Blair were known to have been a couple at the time of "that film" What if I see "that face"?

This has caused me some chagrin and embarrassment but I passed over them easily enough.

What to do?

Friends have said I should see the film once more. I still research "The Exorcist"  from time to time, sans imagery. I have heard of fires on the set, and of two cast members dying during the film. I have read of movie audiences at the time fainting and sickened. Mercedes Mccambridge, during her voice role as the demon was tied to a chair, regurgitating mashed apples.

The film never won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Academy refrains from horror and giving devils their due, but it did rightly earn Best Screenplay.

"The Exorcist" is a masterful and frightening film, incorporating surrealist concepts (The poster was taken from Rene Magritte) with subliminal sequences and has some irreverent dialogue. I respect and fear it.

And, after all this time at age 47, I still don't know the initial origin of this anxiety,  the exact moment of its beginning or why the film has taken hold of me.

Write Ian at

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