on 28 November 2005
This is a short (45 minute) documentary with no extras, and really little to contribute to the debate about communicating with the dead. It begins with a saccharine American commentary and a look at the work of James Van Praagh. He is clearly portrayed as a man who loves to be in the spotlight, a man who had gone looking for a career in Hollywood but who settled for a role as a professional medium. The film queries his techniques and skills, making the point that it is very easy to get strangers to divulge information about themselves without them being aware they've done so. Convincing people they are talking to a dead friend or relative is easy - once they've decided it's possible, they'll will the communication to be accurate, they'll hear what they want to hear.
The film looks at a town in the States which trains people to be mediums - a whole industry based on learning the techniques of asking the right questions, giving the right answers, working from generalities to specifics, reading people's body language and silences, feeding off their expectations and hopes.
We look at an accountant who claims to have a spirit guide, a 15th century Chinese woman. She goes into a trance and seems to speak with a highly suspect, amateur dramatics Chinese accent. Why doesn't she just speak with a normal voice? The 15th century Chinese woman couldn't speak modern English - nobody could. So why the phoney accent?
The film distinguishes between authenticity and voracity - most individuals who claim to communicate with the dead believe that they really are doing so; they are not being deliberately or consciously fraudulent, they are just wrong in their claims. People like to feel special - the medium feels special, the person using the medium's services feels special, feels eased. Emotionally, the two parties feed off one another.
It's an interesting look at the subject, but it does not offer any great depth in its investigation and tries so hard to appear balanced that you end up with a bland presentation of two sides of a coin - which turns out to be more of a wooden nickel than a golden guinea. As a sceptic, it failed to push the argument - it asked the essential questions too politely and presented the answers almost apologetically. Bland, insignificant, contributes little or nothing to your understanding, and definitely one you'd rent rather than buy.