GFF 2010: The Ghost Show
Resting in a small, quaint but slightly neglected city park in Glasgow is the Mobile Picture Salon. From the outside, to the normal passer-by, it looks suspiciously like a very little caravan. But – and this has been demonstrated time and time again in both sideshows and cinema – appearances can be deceiving. The door opens, our ring-master, for all intent and purpose, Mitch Miller, welcomes us with a warm handshake and a hello, and we clamber inside to find a perfect, tiny cinema.
Yes, we sit on cushions to save our bottoms from the wooden bench, and the generator outside continues its whirring, but inside it feels as though we are guests, invited into a secret world that time has forgotten. How's the Ghost? Presents: The Movie Trailer is a highly personal, intimate, intriguing and truly unique cinematic event.
“In the sideshows, there were these guys called lecturers who stood at one side putting narrative onto the the film [they were showing], explaining it, telling lies about it – doing whatever it took to make it interesting, and I thought, I like that idea, why not do something like that for this” reflects Miller, our curator (along with Chris Dooks).
On-screen the audience is shown a series of films – experimental modern art films (including Escaped Circus Elephant Lives the Dream by Ruth Macdougall), fragments of an as-yet unfinished feature documentary (“now sitting in development hell”, sighs Miller) and shorts created by the sideshow folk as early as 1901. The connection between the sideshow, the fairground and cinema is one that many may have missed, but as our curator points out, “any object could be turned into a show”.
Whilst The Movie Trailer explains about this forgotten relationship, at the show's core is Miller's family. The descendent of a long line of 'carnies' (his term), the intimate setting reflects the intimate nature of what is seen on-screen and what we are told by our narrator. It wasn't intended, he admits, but “after a while it became logical to look into my own family history. If I'm going to effectively exploit this background of mine, then I really should go right to the bone”. And without the family connection, this show may never have happened. “I saw a film - my great great grandfather walking around in this bizarre, macabre archive film and it was really the genesis of the whole project”, he states.
As the sideshow embraced moving pictures, slowly but surely the images took over, and the tradition that embraced this novelty never recovered. “They gave birth to cinema and then cinema promptly strangled them”, Miller reflects. Now, the sideshow has been sidelined, exploited and misrepresented in cinema. Little but the stories, and some brief film clips, remains, but maybe The Movie Trailer can help keep the traditions alive. “I'd love to do it [this film] in an actual show”, he says. “There are a few that are still going, a couple in Europe that are museum pieces but still travelling around. That would be excellent”.