Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead * John Hillcoat (1988)

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Not too long after its release in 1998 I bought the brilliant “Live At The Suicide Club 8-7-95” cd of Sonic Subjunkies. This (m)cd (of 70 minutes) contains live recordings and material that was earlier released on vinyl, so it has a few double tracks. In one track there is this lenghty sample about Central Industrial, “part of correctional services rapidly expanding networks of new generation facilities dedicated to the goal of humane containment”. It is not like I play that cd twice a day, but for some reason this sample (and a few others) got stuck in my head. Then I have this Tesco shirt, the back of which says “central industrial since 1987” which adds to the whole ‘phenomenon’. Only recently I thought to finally find out from what film the sample is. I typed it in in Google and immediately the title “Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead” popped up. My usual filmrental has it (but had it come from another location) so yesterday I finally got the whole story.

The film is about a modern prison for the worst prisoners where things go very wrong (which is obvious from the Sonic Subjunkies track already). The film opens with the sample. It is some sort of broadcasting system of the prison through which, with a friendly female voice, prisoners are instructed to return to their cells, told that the lights will dim soon, etc. For a reason that remains unclear, the wards start to treat the prisoners worse and worse. They first had cells full of cigarettes, a tv and books, but everything is taken away and the prisoners get beaten for no particular reason. The inmates also start to become more and more violent towards eachothers and (what we do not see) the wards. This is not entirely unexpected regarding the treatment and the sort of inmates in Central Industrial. What is strange about the film is that it seems to tell the story fragmentarily. There are texts between scenes (like in a silent film) that sometimes fill gaps in the story, sometimes explain events. First I thought that they were to prevent the director from having to show too shocking events, but the film itself is pretty damn violent and explicit at times. I saw an import without subtitles. There is quite some variation in volume and often the speaking is more like mumbling in some British accent (also of the voice-over), so I certainly missed some details, so as of now, I must say that the story is not really clear to me. The atmosphere of the film is dark and dirty at times, so I guess taken as a whole it is not such a bad film. Perhaps I should watch it again with subtitles sometimes.

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