Back from the Future

By Ken McMullen



‘Before you go any further, Ken, I better make it quite clear there’s no way you can persuade us to do another film about Marxism!’

‘I’m not trying to... I want to do a film about ghosts.’


‘Yeah, you know... souls of the dead, returned from the other world.’

‘We like a good ghost story.’

‘The French call them ‘revenants’, people who’ve come back.’

‘Sounds a bit arty to me. It’s the policy of this department to leave artiness to the foreigners. They’re doing good at it. They’ve been doing it so much longer than we have.’

‘I promise... no art! Just thrills... suspense... a story which gets scarier and scarier scene by scene.’

‘With a good, solid dramatic structure... good acting and good production values. An adaptation if possible, to keep you on the straight and narrow!’



A debate on the nature of cinema which, like psychoanalysis, is now moving into its second century, has been organised by the College International de Philosophic and the American Institute.

On the platform are philosopher Jacques Derrida, psychoanalyst and theorist Marie-Louise Mallet, psychoanalyst and film theorist Monique David-Ménard, and the film-maker whose 1983 production, Ghost Dance, has just been screened to set the scene.

The general debate was followed by a discussion of the multi-register texts and subtexts of the film itself, the fractures in its narrative structure, its use of juxtaposition, its predominant images of debris and decay, and the nature of its performances. Particular attention was focused on the powerful transference between Jacques Derrida and the French actress Pascale Ogier which is revealed in the following extract.

Ogier: I would like to ask you something. Do you believe in ghosts?

Derrida: That is not an easy question... When you ask me to play a part in an improvised film scenario, I somehow feel as if I am letting a ghost speak for me. Curiously, instead of playing myself, without knowing it I let a ghost ventriloquise my words. The cinema is the art of ghosts – a battleground of phantoms. I think that the cinema, when it is not boring, is the art of letting ghosts come back.

Cinema plus psychoanalysis equals the science of ghosts.

It’s to tempt ghosts that I agreed to appear in this film, thinking that all of us would have the chance to let them come to us. The ghost of Marx, the ghost of Freud, the ghost of Kafka...

You... I have only known you since this morning, but already you’re shot through for me with all sorts of phantomatic figures... Whether I believe in ghosts or not I say ‘Long Live Ghosts’!

And you, do you believe in ghosts?

Ogier: Yes, certainly. Maintenant, bien sûr!

Unconscious communication – that which passes from the unconscious of one to that of another, leaving not memory but only a trace is here in this scene. And it is in this scene that the most moving, and perhaps profound, exchange takes place. Tragically, Pascale Ogier was dead within a short time. Had her death been discussed in the subtext of this scene?

Jacques Derrida is the film’s intellectual core, as the extract above also reveals. Its return coincides happily with the publication of his new book, Spectres of Marx, which proposes that all we have known, all the clichés, all the assumptions, all the market-oriented speculations, have now been thrown up for re-examination.

Amidst the vulgar celebration of the death of Communism, and the triumphant waves of self-congratulation howled aloud by the mystical believers in market forces, the ‘spectre’ of Marx, unfettered by the perverted traditions of Communism and Marxism, is returning for the denouement. Other ghosts are waiting in the wings, not ghosts from the past, but phantoms of which we have no memory. Dressed in the paraphernalia of modern telecommunications technology, a new Oedipus, a new Antigone, a new Tiresias are waiting for their call. The stage is set. New texts exploding from the unconscious to challenge a cinema driven by anecdotal narratives, obsessive naturalism, a mystical star system, and a possessive production and distribution machinery – the opium of the twentieth-century mind. The future is calling on the spectres to return. It will happen soon, within living memory to come. And then the whole absurd and vulgar imperialisation of the mind will shatter into fragments, smashed by the return of these ghosts... these ‘revenants’, these films yet to be made.

Ken McMullen is the producer, director and co-writer of Ghost Dance, as well as Resistance, Zina, Partition and 1871.