Le projet FNS

Comment les psychiatres et neurologues suisses se sont-ils emparés, au XXsiècle, du médium filmique dans leur pratique de médecins, d’enseignants et de chercheurs ? Que disent ces films sur la maladie, les patients·es et les thérapeutes et, inversement, que révèlent-ils du cinéma en tant qu’outil participant à la construction des phénomènes observés ? Ce projet entend répondre à ces questions sur la base d’une étude de différents corpus filmiques réalisés au sein et autour de l’hôpital psychiatrique de la Waldau à Berne, entre 1920 et 1990.

Le but consiste à mettre en évidence le rôle majeur joué, tant au niveau national que transnational, par la Waldau dans l’usage du médium filmique à des fins de recherche, d’enseignement et de vulgarisation scientifique, avec, comme point de départ de l’analyse, les 97 courts métrages réalisés à l’initiative du psychiatre allemand Ernst Grünthal entre 1934 et 1965 au Hirnanatomisches Institut de l’hôpital psychiatrique de Waldau – un fonds déposé à la Cinémathèque suisse dont une partie importante sera progressivement numérisée durant la durée du projet.

La projet s’articule en trois axes principaux : étudier la contribution d’Ernst Grünthal à la constitution d’un patrimoine filmique dont l’ampleur et la nature sont uniques en Suisse et probablement en Europe ; reconstituer et analyser la circulation transnationale de ces films et reconstituer le réseau scientifique et culturel de savoirs, d’objets et de personnes qui font de la Waldau et de la Suisse un épicentre en matière de sciences médicales ; observer, à partir d’un examen des caractéristiques formelles, sémantiques et esthétiques des films, comment les médecins s’emparent de cet outil pour forger une nouvelle forme d’expertise scientifique et d’identité professionnelle située à cheval entre sciences, médias et culture du spectacle.

Fonds Ernst Grünthal – Psychiatrie-Museum Bern

Cette recherche s’inscrit dans deux champs propres aux études cinématographiques : d’une part, l’histoire du film neuropsychiatrique qui s’est enrichie depuis une vingtaine d’années de la découverte de productions que l’on croyait disparues ; et, d’autre part, le champ du film utilitaire dit « useful cinema » ou « Gebrauchsfilm », qui a permis de valoriser des œuvres longtemps négligées par l’histoire canonique du cinéma en raison de leur caractère marginal.

Pensée dans la logique d’une histoire croisée du cinéma et de la (neuro)psychiatrie, l’approche proposée envisage leurs échanges dans une perspective constructiviste, dans la mesure où ce genre de film contribue à construire le savoir médical et inversement : tandis que le cinéma élabore certaines images de la maladie mentale, mettant en jeu des modes de narration spécifiques au cinématographe, à leur tour les médecins plient la technologie à leurs besoins spécifiques.

Par leur ampleur et leur homogénéité, ces ensembles filmiques offrent une occasion unique d’interroger les enjeux historiques et épistémologiques présidant à l’emploi du cinéma dans le secteur de la santé mentale, en Suisse et en Europe. C’est pourquoi ce projet espère éclairer un fragment important de l’histoire à la fois de la psychiatrie helvétique (en plein essor au XXsiècle, sur son versant tant biologique que psychothérapeutique) et du cinéma (dans l’une de ses applications scientifiques les plus originales).

English Summary

This project studies the cultural history of cinematographic practices in the field of (neuro)psychiatry in Switzerland on the basis of several film collections made in and around the Waldau between 1920 and 1990. These films show patients suffering from various neurological, psychiatric and somatic troubles, and some of them have a soundtrack. The main goal is to highlight the major role played by the Waldau Hospital both nationally and transnationally in the use of the film medium for research, teaching and scientific dissemination purposes.

Ernst Grünthal, a German psychiatrist who arrived in Switzerland in 1934 after having fled the Hitler regime, has played a crucial role in the development of what has become a collection. Thanks to a grant from the Rockfeller Foundation, he created and directed within the hospital the Hirnanatomisches Institut, which contained a “Filmlabor”. Between 1934 and 1965, more than one hundred films were made with the resources of this institute, but also of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) that funded in the fifties a project investigating functional and organic psychopathological syndromes – the Waldau patients providing the human contingent for this study. While these films by Grünthal make up the hard core of the Waldau collection, there are other documents gravitating around it to form a constellation extending beyond the period of the 1960s and beyond the perimeter of the hospital. By their scale, these films offer an opportunity to question the historical and epistemological issues underpinning the use of film in the field of mental health, in Switzerland, but also in Europe – because medical knowledge circulates across national borders.

We shall interrogate the conditions that made these objects possible, as well as their functions and their semantic and aesthetic particularities: What do these films say about disease, patients and doctors and, conversely, what do they reveal about cinema as a tool participating in the construction of the phenomena being observed? What point(s) of view do they construct on psychiatric and neurological disorders as well as on the ethos of doctors? More precisely, how and for what purposes do doctors use film? Is there a fit or a gap between the formal features of the filmic image and the medical practice in question? What are the formal properties privileged by physicians in their use of film (duration, interval, close-up, slow motion, speeded-up motion, freeze frame, variation in speed, loop repetition of a single shot, diachronic or synchronic serialization, etc.)? What aspects are considered counterproductive or problematic (insufficient lighting, the immersive power of the projected image, the risk of spectacularizing the medical gesture, the obliteration of the social relationship between doctors and students, but also the heaviness of the equipment, technical incidents, safety issues, storage problems, etc.)? Following the work of Scott Curtis, we assume that the ways in which doctors use cinema depend directly on the adequacy between the disciplinary logic in question (its observation protocols, its diagnoses, its therapies, its theories, etc.) and the formal characteristics of the recording tool that determine the images in terms of duration, framing, rhythm, editing, etc.

The project uses two main approaches: useful cinema (or ‘non-fiction film’, ‘Gebrauchsfilm’) and a cross-history method. Waldau collection is part of a panorama of filmic practices that have long been considered “marginal” both in the medical humanities and in the history of cinema (and the media). If the films made by mental health professionals were until recently neglected, it is probably because of the challenges they represent: how to define objects that are poorly (or not at all) identified, difficult to show, and sometimes even to understand in the absence of sufficient information about their production and distribution context? These documents defy traditional classifications (in particular the distinction between documentary and fiction) and sometimes even escape knowledge altogether, as they “sleep” at the bottom of a closet, in a hospital, a bunker or the cellar of private owners. This is why they appear, to some extent, as ‘historiographic orphans’, just like other medical and useful films.

But more than the field of orphan film studies, this project intends to approach film through its uses, and other dimensions inherent to the film medium, such as its formal, aesthetic and technical characteristics. Over the last two decades, industrial, advertising, corporate, educational and amateur films, etc., have opened up new areas of research, making it possible to explore a major aspect of 20th century Western culture. It should be remembered that the 16mm format is widely used in amateur and professional practices, particularly from the 1950s onward, when the equipment for shooting and sound recording became lighter.

This approach to useful film invites us to apprehend films produced on the fringes of commercial theatrical exploitation within a network of interactions between texts (discourses, representations, etc.), contexts of production-distribution-reception (institutional, commercial, etc.) and practices (amateur, semiprofessional, etc.). Above all, it indicates the need to approach this category of films from the viewpoint of their performative dimension, as the film image applied to medical knowledge is not limited to representing a given reality, but also shape this reality.

So it enables to study historically how psychiatrists and neurologists have appropriated the cinematographic tool with the following questions in perspective: what are the stakes of such an appropriation? What are the needs and expectations of the medical staff concerning film? What are their explicit and implicit goals? What conception(s) of cinema underlie the way they use the camera? Therefore, our intention is also to use a crossed history of cinema and (neuro)psychiatry as this approach promotes a constructivist perspective. Indeed, this kind of film contributes to the construction of medical knowledge and vice versa. While the cinema participates in the development of the observed medical phenomena, bringing into play modes of narration specific to cinematography, in turn the medical sciences shape cinema, such as when the doctors “bend” technology to their specific needs, which leads them, for instance, to create new technical devices.

This project is part of the Collaboration UNIL (University of Lausanne) + Cinémathèque suisse, which aims to strengthen the links between these two institutions.


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