Before we started thinking about how to develop a video essay from the text, we spent many hours trying to figure out which film the then anonymous author (Clair Richards) described in her story. The work we searched for seemed to arrive at the Venn diagram of three intersecting sets: horror – 1980s – VHS culture. When we finally found out what film it was – Poltergeist (Tobe Hooper, 1982) – it created more problems than opportunities as neither of us are exactly aficionados of this 80s classic (to put it mildly), and rewatching didn’t help…
…Or did it? After the experience, specific segments of Richards’ text started to come to the foreground: “Things were familiar but strange.” “The shadow, the storm, the lightning.” “The clown, the tree, the shadows.” It is fitting that those are barely even sentences, and yet they manage to pinpoint what of the film sticks in our memories. These are the moments when the safe space of a kids’ bedroom collapses and reveals all the specters and monsters that lurk both within and beyond. Three figures resonate particularly strongly: the clown doll staring at the boy, the giant tree behind the window, and the flickering shadows coming from the television screen. In our imagination, these figures – the clown, the tree, the shadows – escape the constraints of the film’s plot and begin to communicate with other clowns, trees, and shadows entrenched in our cinematic memories.
The core question that guided our videographic adventure was: How to explore this circulation and overlapping of clowns, trees, and shadows in our memory without abandoning Richards’ original focus on Poltergeist? Our affection for experimental cinema and found footage seemed particularly fitting for addressing such a problem, as these forms offer exquisite tools for capturing how images from popular culture haunt our imaginative lives, too ephemeral to gain distinctive contours yet too insistive to dissolve into chaos. Thus, we created a private database of experimental films and videos that involved each one of the three themes and chose those that seemed to reverberate most strongly with the scary moments from Poltergeist. Significantly, the figures of clowns, trees, and shadows were meant to be inscribed not only into the video essay’s “content” but also into its form and matter. This is why the essay experiments with masks, overlays, and flickers that enforce the notion of well-known images disintegrating in our memory. The music and sound followed suit, including a vintage 80’s tune by Kate Bush (“Hounds of Love”), whose nostalgic appeal is allowed to prevail only at the expense of a slow, horrifying distortion.
Besides our experience with experimental film and Clair Richards’ memory, a key source of inspiration was Adrian Martin’s essay “Entities and Energies.” The text examines the relationship between Sidney J. Furie’s horror movie The Entity (1982) and the avant-garde short by Peter Tscherkassky, Outer Space (1999), which creatively utilizes as its “found footage” a print of The Entity. Unlike commentators that portray the latter film as an elevation of a trashy Hollywood genre work into a sphere of art, Martin highlights the continuities between both films. As he argues, the original scenes from The Entity – in which the heroine is assaulted by an invisible force – already contain within their style similar energies, affects, and intensities that Tscherkassky’s appropriation film plays out on another, more physical level of the actual filmic matter. Accentuating a genuine interplay rather than hierarchy between narrative and experimental cinemas, or, more specifically, between the clown, the tree, and the shadows in Poltergeist and the associations from avant-garde works they evoke, can help us appreciate the deeper “materiality of cinema – once, that is, we manage to overcome the biases ingrained in both narrative-centred and experimentally-specialised approaches.”
The final piece of the puzzle was, paradoxically, the opening of the video essay. In it, we finally had a chance to exploit the possibilities of a quasi-cinematic device we had recently bought for ourselves. Inspired by an episode from the TV series Better Call Saul (2015–2022), we acquired a starry sky projector lamp that illuminates the entire room with images of stars, planets, or animals. Not only is this night lamp-turned-projector similar to the strange device in Poltergeist – it also expresses the feeling of familiar childhood toys on the verge of becoming uncanny, which Poltergeist in Clair Richards’ memory, and, by extension, our video essay, strive to convey.
Overall, our videographic essay aims to grasp Poltergeist as a “textual volume,” a film that survives in Richards’ (and our own) memories as an “integral and integrated form,” independent of the work’s chronology of events and existing “outside of time in a literalized fourth dimension.” Simultaneously, the original narrative does not disappear but is made to intertwine with the memory narratives built out of the repertoire of experimental cinema, in order to show that beneath “the clown, the tree, and the shadows” lies a complex and dynamic structure that incorporates singular as well as general elements.
This work was supported by the European Regional Development Fund-Project “Creativity and Adaptability as Conditions of the Success of Europe in an Interrelated World” (CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000734).
 For the record, we had chosen the song months before that Stranger Things episode started the Kate Bush revival. :-)
 Martin, Adrian. 2019. ‘Entities and Energies,’ in Mysteries of Cinema: Reflections on Film Theory, History and Culture 1982–2016. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 63–78.
 Ibid., 67.
 The starry sky projector lamp was also used in Leos Carax’s recent film Annette (2021).
 Radner, Hillary and Allistair Fox. 2018. Raymond Bellour: Cinema and the Moving Image. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 21.
Jiří Anger is a researcher and lecturer at the Department of Film Studies, Charles University in Prague (https://cuni.academia.edu/JiriAnger). He also works at the National Film Archive in Prague as a researcher and editor of the peer-reviewed academic journal Iluminace. He specializes in the theory and history of early cinema, archival film, found footage, and videographic criticism. Anger’s texts and videos have appeared in journals such as NECSUS, Film-Philosophy, The Moving Image, [in]Transition, and Quarterly Review of Film and Video. For the article “Trembling Meaning: Camera Instability and Gilbert Simondon’s Transduction in Czech Archival Film,” he won the Film-Philosophy Annual Article Award 2022. He is currently developing his doctoral thesis titled “Aesthetics of the Crack-Up: Digital Kříženecký and the Autonomous Creativity of Archival Footage” into a book.
Veronika Hanáková recently graduated with a master’s degree in new media studies from the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague (https://cuni.academia.edu/VeronikaHanakova). Her research focuses on the materiality and preservation of digital images, including those deemed unpreservable (such as the star wipe). Together with Jiří Anger, they curate the “Audiovisual Essay” section at the Marienbad Film Festival.
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