March 2014, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Shadows, ghosts and doppelgängers


The ephemeral, eerie and uncanny nature of film finds its coherent but equally unstable shape in the fleeting form of shadows, ghosts and doppelgängers. Ghosts of history, cultures and myths, shadows – from those that are cut out of paper to those created by moonlight – the protagonists’ dark sides that are often brought to light by the figure of the doppelgänger, all foretell the uncanny, the strange, and indeed the shudder, as the original principle of cinema. This month’s Magical History Tour invites viewers to 11 different encounters in the dark cinema with restless ghosts, illusionary shadows and doppelgängers unleashed.

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, USA 1947, 1. & 12.3.) Lucy Muir is a young widow who escapes the restrictive life she leads in London staying with relatives by renting a house on the Cornish coast with her small daughter Anna. She is not swayed by the fact that it is supposed to be haunted. The ghost of the dead sailor Daniel Clegg who built the house and committed suicide in it soon tries to frighten them in the best tradition of spirits and to drive them out. When he realizes that Lucy refuses to be intimidated, the two become friends – until an admirer makes advances. The music by Bernard Herrmann accentuates the atmosphere and dialogues.

REBECCA (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1940, 2. & 8.3.) A large country estate which seems to be cursed, its deceased mistress whose morbid presence continues to haunt the property years after her death, and a housekeeper who is "a governor of the dead in the realm of the living" (Klaus Kreimeier) form the poles of this spine-chilling Bermuda triangle, in which a young woman with a modest background risks losing it because of her romantic streak, her naïveté and inexperience.

LOONG BOONMEE RALEUK CHAT (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/GB/F/D/Spain/NL 2010, 4. & 15.3.) "Ghosts are not bound to places but to people, to the living." Uncle Boonmee only has a short time to live and has returned to his home village to die. The ghost of his deceased wife appears to him, as does his son who had long disappeared in the jungle, as a monkey-man. Family and friends take their leave and accompany him from one form of existence to another. With impressive intensity and translucent images of the apparitions that are free of all mysticism, and making use of the impenetrable jungle and the pitch-black night, Weerasethakul tells a story of life and death, reincarnation and metempsychosis.

UGETSU MONOGATARI (Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan 1953, 7. & 16.3.) A village in the middle of an area where war rages in the late 16th century: The potter Genjuro and his brother-in-law want to try their luck despite the situation. Genjuro wants to sell his pots on the city's market square and earn plenty of money, whereas Tobei dreams of becoming a famous samurai. Their earnings are at the expense of their wives that they have left behind. Their path is not guided by reality but by dreams and fantasies. Therefore, they are not able to interpret the signs correctly when they are visited by death whilst on a boat and Genjuro falls in love with a woman who turns out to be the spirit of a long-dead princess.

TABU (Miguel Gomes, Portugal/D/Brazil/F 2012, 9. & 18.3.) TABU is set between the present in Portugal and the past in a former colony, between fiction and memory. The excentric elderly lady Aurora lives with her Cap Verdean housekeeper in Lisbon. When she dies, her former lover is located. In the second part of the film, he tells of his love story with Aurora a long time ago in Africa. TABU is like an incantation, which like Murnau's 1931 "Tabu", was made as a silent movie at a time when talkies had already imposed themselves on Hollywood.

SCHATTEN (Warning Shadows, Arthur Robison, G 1923, 11. & 20.3., Eunice Martins on piano) In this Kammerspiel inspired by Freud, Robison depicts shadows as deceptive proofs of unfaithfulness and as an effective method of "therapy". A pathologically jealous man begins doubting his wife’s faithfulness when he sees twitching shadows on a curtain. Before it all comes to a head, a showman who is passing through stages a shadow play about the desires and fears of those present.

VAMPYR (Carl Theodor Dreyer, F/G 1932, 14. & 30.3.) is a classic horror movie that to a large extent dispenses with the clichés of the genre. Through the lacking narrative continuity of space and time, Dreyer creates an atmosphere of uncertainty in his first sound movie. The film shot in a dilapidated factory and an empty castle in the environs of Paris gives the impression of a daydream; the images, perceived like though a gauze veil, are imbued by a ghostly white. "Horror is not a part of the things around us, but of our own subconscious mind." (Dreyer)

THE HALFMOON FILES (Philip Scheffner, G 2007, 17. & 27.3.) "When a person dies, he constantly roams about and becomes a ghost;" we hear Bhawan Singh say in a crackling voice that has survived on a gramophone record that was kept in a sound archive. His voice and that of hundreds of other colonial soldiers, which were recorded when they prisoners of war during First World War in the city of Wünsdorf in Brandenburg, serve as the point of departure, the central component and the leitmotif of a complex audiovisual piece of research about the connections between politics, colonialism, science and the media. The meticulous search for traces of the former prisoners develops a particularly narrative freedom in which the boundaries between the real and unreal seem to blur with the entanglement of different time levels.

THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (Woody Allen, USA 1984, 22. & 28.3.) In his declaration of love to the cinema and his take on the doppelgänger leitmotif, Woody Allen turns the standard view of the cinema-goer on its head. Cecilia (Mia Farrow) is at the movies watching a film for the fifth time, so enraptured is she by the archaeologist Tom Baxter, played by Gil Shepard, when the actor unexpectedly returns her gaze and climbs out of the movie to her. The boundaries between cinema and reality are casually blurred, with not only Cecilia's life but the whole of Hollywood being turned upside down. Shepard has to find his double and bring him back into the movie.

DYBUK (The Dibbyk, Michał Waszyński, Poland 1938, 25. & 31.3.), An early adaptation of S. Ansky's stage version of the Jewish legend: A young Talmudic scholar dies of a broken heart when Leah'le, whom he considers his predestined bride, is told she has to marry another suitor. On the day of her wedding, Leah'le is possessed by the spirit of her lover, by Dibbuk. This combination of mysticism and Expressionism brought about one of the great masterpieces of Yiddish cinema. (mg, al)