Friday, April 19, 2013

Theater Of The Ear


They say our brain is uniquely wired for certain predilections.  That wiring often predicts a talent for art or music, or writing, or how to fix a kitchen faucet.  One of the more fascinating differences is how we perceive and enjoy either the visual or aural, or both!  I was reminded of that when, in the span of a single day, I was able to watch a TV adaption and a radio adaption of a chilling tale called "The Hitchhiker".  

"The Hitchhiker" tells the story of someone who sets out from New York, bound for California.  Upon crossing the Brooklyn Bridge the protagonist sees a seedy old guy by the side of the road, with his thumb out and looking for a ride.  Upon seeing the hitchhiker the driver gets a strange creepy feeling and quickly speeds up until well ahead of the hitchhiker.  Then (and the first goosebumps appear) further up the road the hitchhiker appears again.  Again, the driver guns the engine and flees from the fear!  As this happens again and again, hundreds of miles apart, our protagonist is slowly being driven mad.  As the story progresses there are presented numerous efforts for the driver to regain a sense of sanity, clever little maneuvers accompanied by a need to rationalize how the dark man on the side of the road always seems be ahead, just up the road.  In the final chilling moments of the story we learn the identity of the hitchhiker and are left with sadness and despair...and an acre of chills running down our collective spines.

The TV adaption, a Twilight Zone episode, features a woman in the driver role, and played well by the late beautiful Inger Stevens.  Having a woman in the role increases the fear factor, a sense of vulnerability that can only be achieved by a woman traveling alone.  In the radio adaption of "The Hitchhiker it is the melodious voice of the great Orson Welles who drives the road alone, bound not for California, but for the slow unwinding of his sanity.

I found Orson Welles in the radio show to be far more compelling.  The radio enhances the "theater of the mind", allowing your own imagination to roam the wilds of fear.   The radio listener finds himself attuned to each variation of voice pitch, to each intonation of word, as we are literally transported from radio side to the front seat of that car, trying desperately to overcome the fear and loneliness of a fearful solitary road trip.  At one point Welles stops in the middle of the desert, looks up and stares into the sky, gazes up at a million stars, and realizes how small he is in the vastness of the universe.  That single gesture, that one thought presages what is to come...and even before we know the ending, we know it won't be good!

So, yes!  I do watch TV, some of it.  Some of it I even enjoy.  But I have found it is the theater of the ear that I enjoy the most!  For the past twenty years or so I've been a huge fan of old time radio.  I have come to enjoy the mental tasks of building the sets, drawing the characters all on my own, then hanging on for every turn of the story!  I find that same delight in the reading of books.  The characters will look just like I imagine them.  The scene will play out in the tone and colors I design!  A well written story affords the reader the opportunity to do just that.  

So I don't pretend to understand just how my brain is wired.  I only know I greatly enjoy the freedom to imagine on my own; so I guess I'll always enjoy the luxury of allowing the mind to stage my own unique production!

By the way, if you have neither seen nor heard "The Hitchhiker", I highly recommend it to you!  Just be prepared to be scared...very scared!

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