‘Ghost’ is Gentrifier’s Fairy Tale of New York
Also, we don’t want anyone touching us with their clay hands, not even Patrick Swayze
Welcome to the second installment of “Movies Keith and Sarah Have Never Seen. (Until Now).” Keith Harris lives in Minneapolis and was, until very recently, the music editor for Minneapolis’ City Pages (RIP.) Sarah Miller is a writer and lives in Northern California.
Sarah: Ghost is so bad. It was so bad it almost felt like science fiction — not because science fiction is bad — I mean, I generally don’t love science fiction but I support its existence for those who do. My lack of interest in the genre doesn’t relate to my stunned horror watching Ghost.
What I am saying is Ghost is so bad it’s almost like it’s depicting an alien world. And what’s weird about it is that it’s not the actual ghost that makes Ghost not feel real. Like, the Ghost may be the realest thing about Ghost, not that it seems very real. But the world of Ghost — New York City in the late 1980s, since it came out in 1990 — is so depressingly synthetic in this movie. Thinking about it three days after seeing it that’s kind of all I can think of.
Keith: New York is synthetic here, and for this story to justify itself it has to be, right? Because it’s a gentrifier’s fairy tale, so there can’t be a “real” New York to displace. What happens? A banker buys a loft so his girlfriend will have a place to do her art. But because there’s some residual unspoken guilt here about the city’s new-monied re-colonizers, the movie has to give him an opportunity to prove his worthiness by defeating a Bad Banker and letting him go to heaven. Of course, in the process, he has to also essentially gentrify a black woman’s body, but that’s ok because he forces her not to keep the embezzled money, proving his moral superiority. Ghost is basically #NotAllYuppies.
Sarah: Oh, god, you know how the last movie we did we both had very similar analyses? I was so just awestruck at this movie I didn’t really analyze it. Also I realize stupidly that in a way I guess Ghost is science fiction. Such a weird movie. It’s kind of a thriller, I guess, kind of a love story, kind of a comedy I guess. Oh, yeah, here, the New York Times said it was Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Thriller. But not a ghost story.
Keith: It’s a Patrick Swayze action movie! It’s a Demi Moore romance! It’s a Whoopi Goldberg comedy! There’s something mediocre for everyone here. Like, how much better would this be as an actual ghost story about a loft haunted by poor New Yorkers of the past or something. Ok, it would still be pretty terrible. But maybe it would at least be shorter.
Sarah: Look at this bananas first paragraph from Janet Maslin in the Times, in 1990, about Ghost. Do you understand this at all?
Current Hollywood thinking extends into the next world, but not very far. Being dead has lately been presented on screen as a character-building experience, but beyond that the current ghost films hedge their bets. The questions of just what ghosts can do, of what effect ghosts may have on others or even of how ghosts regard their new status are seldom even addressed. What seems most important is that ghosts come to the aid of their loved ones, and that the ghost film manages, at least on its own terms, to be sincere.
I’m like — says who? I have no idea what she’s talking about.
Keith: What’s the point of looking for sincerity in Hollywood product? I mean, just get a dog, Janet. Also, were there a lot of ghost movies in the late ’80s? I honestly don’t remember. I also forgot that this won two Oscars — Whoopi for supporting actress, plus best original screenplay(!?) — and was up for best picture. Which, I know, the Oscars, whatever. But also, still…
Sarah: It’s weird that this movie is known for sexiness too when there is no chemistry between Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze.
Keith: Yeah — that famous scene where she’s molding her clay and he holds her from behind during “Unchained Melody”? That’s when he’s alive? How disappointing was that. (Btw I don’t want anyone touching me if they’re hands are all clayey.) Now, Sarah, tell me why Demi Moore was the highest paid actress in Hollywood in the ’90s.
Sarah: I think it’s because she has that scratchy voice but she is also hot. I mean she really is an extremely beautiful woman. She is 100% “fuckable” by guy standards but also tough, like maybe an early version of “the cool girl” tiresomely discussed in an equally terrible film, Gone Girl, which I bet you didn’t see but I did, a curse on me. Interesting that tough but fuckable thing is really the central premise of G.I. Jane which seemed to be what kind of was the beginning of the end for her big career, or maybe just the final straw after Striptease? What do you think?
Keith: She was in all these huge movies that I had no interest in — huge as in moneymakers but also as in “movies people talked about.” Ghost, of course, but also A Few Good Men and (lol) Indecent Proposal and the one where she sexually harasses Michael Douglas. She was A Big Deal. But, yes, aside from her voice (and hotness) seemed kind of … vaguely tough in a way that she really didn’t act on till, like you said, G.I. Jane.
Sarah: Well, after she played a stripper, G.I. Jane was an attempt to like re-brand her with the military, like, what’s the correction for being in a movie where you took off your clothes for money, a movie where you kill people for less money. But Keith, we got off the subject of Ghost. But that’s fine, because there’s nothing else to say. Except I do think it’s interesting that you were kind of ghosting me in the process of writing this.
Keith: Very interesting.
Sarah: But it was for a good cause. You were launching your newsletter. If you want to hear Keith talking about more interesting things than Ghost, find him at @usefulnoise and follow him and subscribe.