Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ghosts - Storytelling - Tradition

I have yet to run into any ghosts in my bedroom. Do they exist? Most definitely!

I encountered one in a small secular graveyard on a frigid winter’s day in western Pennsylvania decades ago. I turned away from my uncle’s grave to whom I had paid my respects. It was cold and windy but I thought it strange. I thought I was alone in the graveyard. But I thought I heard… no. I turned around and the graveyard was empty. I turned again to return to my car. But there it was again. The sound was like that of a women crying and the sound was muffled like it came from behind a closed door…

…and I was working twenty years ago in an office building in downtown Tucson. I was sitting there and suddenly I smelled smoke. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on edge. I felt panic and heat! I walked very quickly over to a co-worker's desk to tell her that I smelled a strong smoke. There must be a fire! We have to push the alarm and leave the building. My co-worker looked up at me from her desk. “There is no fire Michael. You don’t smell smoke.” She then proceeded to tell the story of the office building. It had twenty years before been a hotel and the scene of a disastrous fire in which 28 people had died. She then told me that if anybody had to come in on a Saturday to do work, they never would come in alone...

Something of a surprise at the American Box Office this past weekend. A ghost story produced for something like $11,000 grossed over $7 million dollars.

Paranormal Activity
After a young, middle class couple moves into what seems like a typical suburban 'starter' tract house, they become increasingly disturbed by a presence that may or may not be somehow demonic but is certainly most active in the middle of the night. Especially when they sleep. Or try to.
It is near Halloween. Word of mouth has had this film go from a few dozen theatres in a week to showing in 160 theatres. With an average screening getting something like $44,000 per theatre screen for the weekend, you have to imagine that the theatres are very crowded. Perhaps part of the charm of seeing a ghostly tale in the dark with a crowd is the electricity of one person’s reaction quickly spreading through that crowd.

Looking at the data, and considering there is a SyFy cable show called Ghost Hunters, something to say about all this. I of course don’t like scary movies. Have not watched any since the old 1930’s Dracula, Frankenstein used to air in my youth on the local TV station late at night.

The cable ghost show has people running around at night using night filtered filming. Everybody is in some sort of hazy tint. There is always somebody jumping up saying they just heard something or saying they just got touched. Guys run around with little ghost meters that are always registering strange readings. Well you get the picture. There is an audience already for this type of storytelling.

Watch the short clip below of the ghost movie to get a flavor of this word of mouth phenomenon.

I see youth. I see crowds. I see an audience perhaps starved for imagination. I see a generation that no longer gets the fear of fire and brimstone from pulpits because they perhaps do not go to church.

I see the ghost story genre as part of some ancient secular ritual of people, family, tribe sitting around the flames in the hearth. I see humanity and I have hope for the next generations. A human tradition of story telling exists in a modern evolved form.

The art of telling a good story is alive in this modern age and transferred to cinema among other things. The possible down side of all this is that less and less the telling of a good story is in a book. Who reads these days? Is reading rapidly becoming a lost art form?

In any case, happy Halloween season. Boo!

1 comment:

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

As a ghost lover and a storyteller, your post caught my interest! My mystery books have an element of the paranormal in them, and a fried who is a ghost hunter showed me a picture of one they captured the other day! Cool! I'll have to watch for the movie coming to town.