It's interesting that "amusement" parks exist in large part to frighten us. Roller coasters, haunted houses, towers of terror, the witch's cottage -- all are designed to bring out the sharp little odds and ends of terror that lurk in our imaginations. And design is an essential part of the experience -- with the possible exception of casinos, it's hard to think of architecture as fanciful as the magical landscape of amusement parks. Their architecture is intended to free the spirit, to crack open the shells we build around our imaginations, to make us more vulnerable to wonder and beauty.
So they can scare us to death.
And somehow, when all the shininess has worn away and the structures have been abandoned to wind and rain and the sun's radiation for a few years, amusement parks are not diminished. In fact -- as Miyazaki knew -- that's when their true spookiness (and beauty) become apparent. It's like realizing you've just stepped off the edge of everything you're certain of.
One of the ways functioning amusement parks keep the intrinsic creepiness under control is through the use of light -- lots and lots of light. Back at the end of the 1800s, a few imaginative entrepreneurs acquired some cheap, scrubby beach frontage in New York that was noted only for its rabbits (or "coneys") and built the greatest amusement park of the Gilded Age. The centers of Coney Island were Luna Park and Dreamland, between them illuminated by something like 150,000 light bulbs. People at the time calculated that the complex could be seen from space. Here's part of Luna Park.
And here's Dreamland.
They burned down, which seems fitting, but what I'd give to be able to wander through them.
I think we enter a sort of amusement park every time we open a book. We lower our defenses and make a deal with the writer that he or she can take us new places and put us through new wringers but that we'll be intact when we're done. Once in a while the writer betrays us and takes us much, much farther than we wanted to go, and that's when you get one of three things: empty sensationalism, cheap sentiment, or art. You go through the cardboard door of the witch's cottage and meet a real witch. The experience changes you, just as Chihiro was changed by her sojourn in the haunted park. Chihiro was changed for the better, but that's not a promise art always makes. Art is more dangerous than amusement parks.
Tim -- Sunday