Sunday, August 14, 2011
August Is County Fair Season
August is county fair season here in Pennsylvania. Fairs and carnivals bring out the kid in me, evoking the same sort of muscle memory reflex that shows itself as I watch parades with marching bands. Long dormant band practice drills awaken within me at the sound of a drum cadence, left-right-left-right-left-right, and I check myself to see if I’m actually marching in place from the sidelines as a spectator. I get a similar adrenaline jolt at the sound of a Ferris wheel motor starting up or hearing the bells and whistles of games along the midway.
Growing up, summer meant 4-H Club projects. End of summer meant county fairs and carnivals coming to town before the start of the school year. For rural kids, the county fair was an amusement park that traveled to us each year, bringing with it a sense of mystery and a hint of danger. The rides excited and distorted the senses, the games of skill and chance always seemed rigged, and the nomadic outsiders working the fairs looked more world-weary than the locals. It’s the ultimate story premise: a stranger comes to town.
What draws me in most is the carnival atmosphere, especially at twilight when the mood shifts with the light as it changes from the golden glow of sunset to bright, spinning neon. After dark spookiness sets in, an underlying sense of danger, which probably works better to create added tension in films than in books since it’s so visual. No specific scenes from books come to mind as I write this in the way that scenes from films do, particularly Alfred Hitchcock’s film noir “Strangers On A Train.” I’ve yet to read Patricia Highsmith’s novel on which the film was based, so I don’t know if the carousel scene in Hitchcock’s film was part of story in the book. I never tire of Hitchcock’s visual mastery in storytelling, be it in black-and-white or Technicolor – and no one used color better than Hitch.