Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Savagery, Empire, and the Occult

"Invasion," ABC's new prime-time drama about the arrival on Earth of mischief-making aliens, reminded me that the new TV season is full of shows about the supernatural. You've got, well, "Supernatural," and then there's "Surface," and "Threshold," and "Ghost Whisperer." The Emmys were in fact dominated by "Lost," ABC's cash cow, a frenetically popular series in which plane-crash survivors stranded on a deserted island are, maybe, being stalked by something not human. A few months ago, the network also broadcast a "news" special that made a case for UFOs.... As for the movies, two recent films, White Noise and Birth, are about the possibility of life after death; Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds is about big-time alien visitation. And if you still haven't had your fill of the supernatural and the occult, you can transubstantiate yourself over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where starting next week you can see "The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult," an exhibition about photographers at work from the 1860s to the brink of the Second World War who attempted to catch ghosts on film.

As the catalogue for the Metropolitan's show observes, the rage for photographs revealing the living presence of the dead began in France after its defeat and brief occupation by Prussia in the 1870s. In this country, occult photographers grew popular following the Civil War's unprecedented savagery and mass destruction. That period saw the rise of theosophy, a mystical system formulated by Madame Blavatsky, who established the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875....

Lee Siegel "Occult Following" The New Republic On-Line September 21, 2005.

Still from Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan (1964)


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