Phantom Threads: Seven Ways of Looking at the Ghosts of Cinema

Really thoughtful piece by Dennis Lim on the relationship between ghosts and cinema. Excerpts:

Premised on illusion and promising endless reanimation, cinema is often called the ghostliest of mediums. Ghosts are themselves cinematic in essence, automatic disruptions in space and time. Movies and ghosts both afford the possibility of life after death. Our engagement with them inevitably raises the matter of belief.

What was the cinema’s first ghost? One very early instance can be found in The House of the Devil, a three-minute film from 1896 by Georges Méliès. The hauntings here, goofy more than spooky, are essentially a series of transformations achieved through simple in-camera edits: a skeleton becomes a bat and then the devil. Méliès would go on to develop some of the practical effects—multiple exposures, superimpositions—that are still central to cinema’s vocabulary of the supernatural. Even in his primitive, late-19th-century trickery, one senses a nascent delight in the spectacle of figures materializing and vanishing before our eyes.

One could argue that the ghosts were present even earlier—at the birth of the medium, in fact....

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