This essay examines the aesthetic dimensions of the “occult melodramas” of West African video-films by discussing how filmmakers use the technology of video to recreate the sensuous impact of daily rumors that speak to spiritual and socioeconomic anxieties. Given that these films are both recognizable to and somewhat outside world cinema categories, I suggest ways of reading the spectral affects of the films that account for the complex, conflicting forms of spirituality, eroticism, and transgression that make them so popular with their audiences. This type of a reading requires a rethinking of Western melodrama theory that presumes melodrama has emerged during a “de-sacralized” or secular context, and it necessitates a new type of African video-film criticism that takes gender and the body as a point of departure. Furthermore, I argue that in order to understand how pleasure operates in occult melodrama we must look beyond visual pleasure and toward a type of pleasure that is intimately bound to the multiple forms of anxieties and invisibilities on which the films are predicated and which they register through the inherently mutable and unstable technology of video. Therefore, through a close reading of Socrate Safo's four-part video-film Jezebel, I examine the ways in which women embody extremes, perversions, and private pleasures that are not confined to earthly realities and to the immediately visible world.
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Lindsey Green-Simms; Occult Melodramas: Spectral Affect and West African Video-Film. Camera Obscura 1 September 2012; 27 (2 (80)): 25–59. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-1597204
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