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The Materiality of Genre: Analog and Digital Ghosts in Video Movies from Ghana

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2017

Abstract

This article discusses three representative examples of one particular genre, the Ghanaian ghost movie, to look closely at the creation and evolution of the figure of the ghost in analog and digital video environments. The larger aim is to expand our understanding of African movie genres by accounting for their technological and material dimensions. In Ghana, the earliest ghost movies, here represented by Ghost Tears (Socrate Safo, 1992) and Suzzy (Veronica Cudjoe, 1993), relied on analog visual effects to render the ghost as a visual trace of violence. Appearing almost a decade later, The Chase (Jon Gil, 2011) is noteworthy because it stretches the boundaries of the genre considerably. Jon Gil, the director and producer of the film, exploits digital tools to transform the ghost into a horrifying, multisensory experience; the ghost is felt as a disembodied, affective shock. In both cases, the ghost reflects back on its technological context in unanticipated ways.

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© Cambridge University Press 2017 

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References

1 Haynes, Jonathan, “African Cinema and Nollywood: Contradictions,” Situation 4.1 (2011): 74 Google Scholar.

2 Brown, Matthew H., “At the Threshold of New Political Communities: Some Notes on the History of Nollywood’s Epic Genre,” The Global South 7.1 (2013): 57 Google Scholar.

3 Haynes, Jonathan, Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Larkin, Brian, Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Green-Simms, Lindsey, “Occult Melodramas: Spectral Affect and West African Video Film,” Camera Obscura 80 (2012): 2559 .

5 Haynes, Nollywood: The Creation of Nigerian Film Genres, xxv.

6 Gunning, Tom, “ ‘Those Drawn with a very fine Camel’s Hair Brush’: The Origins of Film Genres,” IRIS 20 (1995): 4960 Google Scholar.

7 Ghost Tears, videocassette, directed by Socrate Safo (Accra, Ghana: Hacky Films, 1992); Suzzy, videocassette, directed by Veronica Cudjoe (Accra Ghana: 1993).

8 The Chase, directed by Jon Gil (Tamale, Ghana: Hollyhock Productions, 2011).

9 I draw my conclusions from the following Ghanaian movies: Abyssinia (1987); Worker’s Agony (1989); Ghost Tears (1992); Step Dad (1992); Suzzy (1993); A Mother’s Revenge (1994); The Visitor (1999); London Got Problem (2006); A Sting in the Tale (2009); Ghost (2010); and The Chase (2011). Nigerians films such as Living in Bondage (1992) and The Ghost (2005) exhibit many of the narrative features of the ghost genre, though I do not discuss them here.

10 Quayson, Ato, Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing (Oxford: James Curry; Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

11 Gyekye, Kwame, An Essay on African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987): 98 Google Scholar.

12 Parrinder, Geoffrey, West African Religion: A Study of the Beliefs and Practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo and Kindred Peoples (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1949): 116 Google Scholar. And see Gyekye, An Essay on African Philosophical Thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme, 133–34.

13 See Wendl, Tobias, “Wicked Villagers and the Mysteries of Reproduction: An Exploration of Horror Movies from Ghana and Nigeria,” Postcolonial Text 3.2 (2007): 121 Google Scholar; Meyer, Birgit, Sensational Movies: Video, Vision, and Christianity in Ghana (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016).

14 Garuba, Harry, “Explorations in Animist Materialism: Notes on Reading/Writing African Literature, Culture, and Society,” Public Culture 15.2 (2003): 263 Google Scholar.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid., 262.

17 Garritano, Carmela, African Video Movies and Global Desires: A Ghanaian History (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 See Larkin, Signal and Noise; Garritano, African Video Movies and Global Desires.

19 Foubiri Ayakoroma, Barclays, Trends in Nollywood: A Study of Selected Genres (Ibadan, Nigeria: Kraft Books, 2014), 92 Google Scholar.

20 Green-Simms, Lindsey, “Occult Melodramas: Spectral Affect and West African Video-Film,” Camera Obscura 80 (2012): 29 Google Scholar.

21 In most of the ghost movies that I have been able to see to date, the ghost is a woman. In the earliest movies, the formative years of the genre’s development, the ghost is always a young woman. There are a few recent ghost movies, such as London Got Problem, Bukom Lion and a Nigeria movie called Ghost, that center on men who return as ghosts.

22 Green-Simms, “Occult Melodramas: Spectral Affect and West African Video-Film,” 37.

23 Ibid., 29.

24 Larkin, Signal and Noise, 182.

25 Ibid., 184.

26 In Abyssinia, however, closure is reached after Donko, the protagonist, begs forgiveness from Abyssinia’s family and a pastor, who also happens to be a relative, for impregnating and abandoning Abyssinia to die. The ghost of the dead young woman appears to release Donko.

27 For a complete history of film and video production in Ghana, see Garritano, Carmela, African Video Movies and Global Desires: A Ghanaian History (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

28 These amateur, independent producers and directors recognized the economic and educational benefits to be gained from collaborating with professional camera operators and editors, and they engaged film and video-makers who worked for or were affiliated with GFIC, becoming entangled with the national film company.

29 The analog video edit involved a three-machine set-up: a source deck, a multichannel effects mixer, and a master deck. Video footage from the source tapes was edited and dubbed onto a master tape shot by shot, or in a linear fashion, which meant that the editor could not simply switch out takes or rearrange shots, as is possible with a nonlinear set-up. Any change to the arrangement of scenes or shots required that the entire sequence would have to be rebuilt by returning to the source tape and creating a new master. This complicated process required a skilled technician to operate the editing machines and plan and organize the creation of the master tape.

30 Rodowick, D. N., The Virtual Life of Film (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2007), 112 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 See Larkin, Signal and Noise; Hilderbrand, Lucas, Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 Larkin, Signal and Noise, 237.

33 Gunning, TomTo Scan a Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision,” The Spectralities Reader, eds. María del Pilar Blanco and Esther Peeren (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 222 Google Scholar.

34 Larkin, furthermore, contextualizes the electronic signal, describing how a wider culture of technological breakdown and piracy common to the African post-colony amplifies or exaggerates its media and sensory effects.

35 Larkin, Signal and Noise, 213.

36 Kumasi movies continued to be duplicated in Accra, where the DVD and VCD factories are located. Most producers hire couriers or traders to deliver the digital master to Accra.

37 Meyer, Sensational Movies.

38 Adejunmobi, Moradewun, “Evolving Templates for Minor Transnational Film,” Black Camera 5.2 (2014): 7494 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

39 These producers also can exploit the transnational networks and mechanisms through which an artist accrues cultural capital and acquires marks of distinction. They seek entry into the international film festival circuit, participate in workshops and training programs that are often sponsored by universities in the global north, and most recently, they have organized competitive film festivals in Ghana.

40 Rodowick, The Virtual Life of Film, 135.

41 The DV sensor rewrites its source as code that is severed from its source in space and time, and because light and sound have been converted into code, or information, a digital recording can be manipulated and replicated (copied without loss).

42 See Brøvig-Hanssen, Ragnild and Danielsen, Anne, Digital Signatures: The Impact of Digitization on Popular Music Sound (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2016)Google Scholar.

They point out that editing software did not invent new editing tools or methods. Instead, it made a wide array of tools easier to use and readily available and provided editing methods that are much less expensive and far more efficient than their analog predecessors.

43 Williams, , Linda, , “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess,” Film Quarterly 44.4 (1991): 213 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

44 The film includes a subplot in which two other young women are drugged by two men at a party, dragged into the bush, raped, and killed. These two women appear briefly in the bush as well.

45 Whittington, William, “Lost in Sensation: Reevaluating the Role of Cinematic Sound in the Digital Age,” The Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media, eds. Carol Vernallis, Amy Herzog, and John Richardson (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 67 Google Scholar.

46 Ibid.

47 Hanich, Julian, Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear (New York: Routledge, 2010), 82 Google Scholar.

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