The ghost is one of the most enduring motifs in the history of storytelling, but it underwent a profound shift at the turn of the 20th century with the advent of filmmaking. Since the dawn of cinema, directors have been preoccupied with conjuring up ghosts on-screen, not least because the filmic medium is intrinsically spectral, allowing us to reanimate people as phantoms. Put simply, all movies are ghostly, not just the supernatural ones.
Paradoxically, the forces and developments that gave rise to cinema—the enlightenment, modern science, and the industrial revolution—should have extinguished the ghost, yet the opposite has taken place; in our present-day secular society, the ghost is more popular than ever before.
This class will explore how manifestations of the ghost have metamorphosed throughout film history, examining the ways in which such shifts reflect philosophical questions about cinema, such as how do depictions of the ghost foreshadow anxieties about cinema’s own death and afterlife in a digital age?
We will also pay close attention to the formal techniques used to bring the ghost to life, for example, Méliès’s innovations with superimposition, and analyze how the ghostly form has changed alongside advancements in film technology. Zooming out, we will examine how the ghost as metaphor has evolved over time and across cultures, as well as give some thought as to why ghost stories remain so ubiquitous in the popular imagination.
Lastly, we will unpack the popular philosophical concept of hauntology, which is concerned with lost cultural memories and an aesthetics of nostalgia. Films featured include everything from Hollywood classics and silent cinema to experimental documentaries and contemporary horror.
Harrison Sherrod manages a film production company by day and teaches seminars at the Newberry by night. He has led courses on everything from metaphysical detectives and con games to Star Wars and Marxism.
All films will be available via major streaming platforms. Participants needn’t purchase any texts for this seminar.
- Alfred Hitchcock — Vertigo
- Olivier Assayas — Personal Shopper
- Jack Clayton — The Innocents
- Kiyoshi Kurosawa — Pulse
- Apichatpong Weerasethakul — Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
- Nia DaCosta — Candyman
- Nikolaus Geyrhalter — Homo Sapiens
- Georges Méliès — The Haunted Castle
- Ana Mendieta — Silhueta series
- Please watch Georges Méliès’ The Haunted Castle and Jack Clayton’s The Innocents before the first session. The former is on YouTube, the latter is on Hulu currently.
Cost and Registration
Four sessions, $130 ($117 for Newberry members, seniors, and students). Learn about becoming a member.
To register multiple people for this class, please go through the course calendar in Learning Stream, our registration platform. When you select the course and register, you’ll be prompted to add another registrant.Register