For all the respects in which they seemed incompatible, movies and spiritualism were nonetheless closely associated. In 1896, a French journalist compared restless moviegoers awaiting the start of a projection to “spiritualists around a turning-table.” One of the four sluggish dramatic movies Houdini starred in, The Man from Beyond (1922), ends with the rousing confirmation of a couple’s ghostly life after death and a reading from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1918 spiritualist manifesto The New Revelation. Even as late as 1929, when sound film had already been introduced in the United states and Europe, distinctions among films, magic shows, and spiritualist displays didn’t always hold. An instructional manual from that year in Tony Oursler’s archive tells enterprising exhibitors how to host a “Ghost Show,” in which, Oursler writes, “movie theaters screened a horror film while mediums held séances and magicians performed illusions.” This is the jumbled, distinction-defying territory Oursler’s archive occupies.
The full article appears in Even no. 5, published in fall 2016.