“This international conference aims to bring together multiple perspectives on the way in which madness and its forms of care were mediatised and discussed in the public arena in a context marked, in France as in other European countries, by profound transformations in the field of psychiatry and mental health policies.
Based on the observation that the media – press, radio, television – gave increasing prominence to mental health issues in the decades following the Second World War/WW2, the conference “Mediatising and destigmatising madness” will be an opportunity to shed light on the means used to raise awareness, among a wider audience, of mental pathologies and of the conditions under which they are treated, against the tenacious prejudices fed by sensational reports or by fictional works which, while they sometimes acknowledge an aesthetic dimension to madness, also convey a number of negative representations and stereotypes.
The challenge will also be to identify the actors of this media coverage: psychiatric professionals, politicians, journalists, photographers, reporters and documentary filmmakers, producers and directors, but also of associations of patients’ families or patients, who are sometimes led to form paradoxical alliances in order to advance “the cause of the mentally ill”. This implies, in addition to reforming the psychiatric institution and promoting new approaches and new treatments, awakening consciences by once again posing the issue of the rights and the dignity of individuals caught up in processes of stigmatization, marginalization or even disaffiliation from which it seems impossible to extricate themselves.
The objective is to analyse (1) the conditions for producing these media objects (radio or TV broadcasts, reports, interviews, testimonies, articles, professional films, conference cycles, etc.), which very often involve entering an institution with a sometimes undeserved reputation for being particularly closed, (2) their reception and impact, as well as (3) the procedures, devices and formats used to act on the representations of madness that are identified as a hindrance to the implementation of mental health policies.
Although the chronological framework chosen is that of the three decades following the end of WW2, presentations that propose a longer-term narrative or whose subject matter lies within or beyond these chronological boundaries will also be taken into consideration. In order to complete, contrast and clarify the French framework, papers on other European countries will also be welcome.
The conference will take place on the 20th et 21st of September 2023 in Strasbourg. Please send a 500-word abstract and a short CV to Marianna Scarfone (email@example.com) by June 15th 2023.
Ce colloque international se propose de réunir des perspectives multiples autour de la façon dont la folie et ses formes de prise en charge ont été médiatisées et discutées dans l’arène publique dans un contexte marqué, en France comme dans d’autres pays d’Europe, par de profondes transformations du champ de la psychiatrie et des politiques de santé mentale.
Partant du constat que, dans les décennies qui suivent la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les médias – presse, radio, télévision – accordent une place croissante aux questions de santé mentale, le colloque Médiatiser et déstigmatiser la folie sera l’occasion de mettre au jour les moyens et les canaux mobilisés pour sensibiliser un large public aux pathologies mentales et à leurs manifestations et plus largement aux conditions de leur prise en charge, à rebours de préjugés tenaces alimentés par des faits divers traités sur un mode sensationnel ou par des œuvres fictionnelles qui, si elles reconnaissent parfois une dimension esthétique à la folie, véhiculent également nombre de représentations négatives et de stéréotypes.
L’enjeu sera également d’identifier les acteurs de cette entreprise de médiatisation portée par des professionnels de la psychiatrie, des politiques, des journalistes, des photographes, des reporters et des documentaristes, des producteurs et des réalisateurs mais aussi par des associations de familles de malades ou de malades, amenés parfois à nouer des alliances paradoxales afin de faire progresser « la cause des malades mentaux ». Celle-ci supposant, outre de réformer l’institution psychiatrique et de promouvoir de nouvelles approches et de nouveaux traitements, de réveiller les consciences en posant à nouveaux frais, dans une approche éthique, la question des droits et de la dignité d’individus pris dans des processus de stigmatisation, de marginalisation voire de désaffiliation dont il parait impossible de les extraire.
Il s’agira d’interroger les conditions de réalisation de ces objets médiatiques (émissions de radio ou de TV, reportages, interviews, témoignages, articles, films professionnels, cycles de conférence, etc.) qui supposent bien souvent de pénétrer à l’intérieur d’une institution réputée particulièrement fermée qui commence toutefois à s’ouvrir. Leur réception voire leurs retombées feront aussi l’objet d’une analyse approfondie, de même que les procédés, les dispositifs et les formats privilégiés pour agir sur les représentations de la folie identifiées comme un frein à la mise en œuvre de toute politique de santé mentale.
Si le cadre chronologique retenu est celui des Trente Glorieuses, les présentations qui proposeraient un récit de plus longue durée ou dont l’objet se situerait en-deçà ou au-delà de ces bornes chronologiques, seront également prises en considération. Afin d’éclairer et de compléter le contexte français, des communications portant sur d’autres pays européens seront également les bienvenues.
Le colloque aura lieu le 20 et 21 septembre 2023 à Strasbourg.
Les propositions de communications – de 500 mots maximum et accompagnées d’une brève présentation de l’auteur/autrice – sont à envoyer avant le 15 juin 2023 à Marianna Scarfone (firstname.lastname@example.org).”
Panels from the Media and Mental Health workgroup, led by Mireille Berton & Bregt Lameris
Much as literature can “repair the world” (Gefen 2017), audiovisual cultures, practices, and imaginaries have, from the outset, tried repairing our conditions as victims, to fight against illness, to relieve our traumas, to foster our empathic inclination. By taking the opposite side of the discourse that laments the damaging effects of screens (analog and digital) on the psyche, these panels explore, through case studies, the restorative, healing and reconciling effects of audiovisual images in the field of mental health.
While moving images have often caused concern because of their suggestive power, they have also been perceived as a valuable tool for health education, and sometimes even for health itself. This is evidenced by the recommendations of doctors in defense of the motion pictures (Berton 2015, 2016. 2017; Toropova 2022), the construction, within hospital institutions, of spaces dedicated to cinematographic projections seen as a leisure activity supporting the mental balance of the patients (Hennefeld 2022), moving colors used to heal shell shock soldiers, such as Auroratone films (Pernuit 2021), or more recently the creation of multimedia or immersive dispositifs meant to represent mental illness such as Goliath. Playing with reality or have therapeutical effects (Cavaletti & Grossi 2020).
These panels invite us to reflect on the question of “care” understood in the broad sense at two levels: that of practices, discourses and representations regarding the therapeutic or restorative powers of the media; and that of the historical or archaeological approach, which consists of taking care of “fragile” objects such as films, images, sounds, media, audiovisual devices, etc. (Denis & Pontille 2022).
Panel B2, 15th June, 11 am – Caring and Repairing through Audiovisual Images: Films and other Medias for Mental Health – Part I – Film and Video – Chair: Mireille Berton (University of Lausanne)
Paper 1 –– Beatrice Irwin and the Therapeutic Culture of North American Screen Practices (1910–1940), Pierre-Jacques Pernuit (University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne)
Paper 2 — Caring Colours, Bregt Lameris (Open University of the Netherlands)
Paper 3 — Videotherapy through self-confrontation. Methods and approaches in the IAAPP (International Working Group for Audiovision in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy) 1977–1999, Renée Winter (Department of Contemporary History at the University of Vienna)
Paper 4 — Between self-help and how-to: reproductive (mental) health and prenatal care on film 1920s–1970s, Katrin Pilz (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Digital History, Vienna)
Panel C2, 15th June, 14 pm – Caring for the Mentally Disordered; Learning Practice and Empathy from Mental Health Nursing Films –Chair: Magdalena Zdrodowska (Jagiellonian University, Poland)
Paper 1 –– Papering over the cracks in nursing recruitment: a look at how films from the archives toe the line between fantasy and reality in mental healthcare, Angela Saward (Wellcome Collection, London)
Paper 2 –– Filming psychiatric nursing in Switzerland in the 1920s. A maieutic between “care” and “cure”, Raphaël Tinguely (University of Lausanne)
Paper 3 –– Studying research and teaching films in psychiatry: What practices of care?, Mireille Berton (University of Lausanne)
Panel D2, 16th June, 9 am – Caring and Repairing through Audiovisual Images: Films and other Medias for Mental Health – Part II – Digital Worlds – Chair : Bregt Lameris (Open University of the Netherlands)
Paper 1 — On the Couch with Arielle and Mowgli. Therapeutic Narratives in Documentaries about Mental Illness, Janin Tschechel (University of Bonn)
Paper 2 — The mediated practices and narratives of care. Artists and activists with disabilities under quarantine, Magdalena Zdrodowska (Jagiellonian University, Poland)
Paper 3 —Taking Care. VR, Immersiveness, Intimacy, Elisabetta Modena
Paper 4 –– Take Care of Your Digital Self: On the Usage of Virtual Reality in Contemporary Psychotherapy Practices, Federica Cavaletti & Giancarlo Grossi (University of Milan)
Panel I9, 17th June, 14 pm – Mental Health in Film and Television
Paper 1 – Everything Calls for Salvation: Caring for Mental Health among Adolescent through a TV Show, Romana Andó (Sapienza University of Rome) & Leonardo Campagna (Sapienza University of Rome)
Paper 2 – Consenting When in a Vulnerable Position: An Ethical Discussion on TV Participation, Kjersti Blehr Lånkan (Oslo Metropolitan University)
Paper 3 – Institutional Films From the Waldau’s Psychiatric Film Collections, or the Shift From the “Cure Gaze” to the “Care Gaze”, Elodie Murtas (University of Lausanne)
Paper 4 – Cinemas of Insanity: Popular Culture and the Precarization of Care, Simon Schleusener (Freie Universität Berlin)
The main goal of the conference was to assess the research on “useful films” conducted during the first half of the 20th century by neurologists and psychiatrists in Europe for clinical, educational, and archival purposes. The “useful film” has been long neglected by film historians, remaining in the shadow of both commercial cinema and the “auteur film”. Partly escaping commercial theatrical release, useful films know over the years a large variety of formats, forms, and functions, but also a diversity of production, distribution, and reception contexts. Their pragmatic and ephemeral nature requires considering the context in which these films are elaborated, as well as the discourses that surround them and the practices that determine them.
Drawing on the work of Acland and Wasson, the notion of useful film refers to the multiple ways institutions conceive and engage with the tool of cinema. “The concept of useful cinema does not so much name a mode of production, a genre, or an exhibition venue as it identifies a disposition, an outlook, and an approach toward a medium on the part of institutions or institutional agents.” (Acland & Wasson 2011, 4). For our part, we employ this notion in order to designate an approach to cinema oriented by the needs of the actors in the field of neurology and psychiatry.
One of the scopes of the conference was to compose, through a number of case studies, a panorama of the practices involved (themselves quite diversified, even though the model of a film as a tool within medical research largely prevails), while bringing forth new approaches or lines of research relevant for this type of audio-visual document. Contributions focused on films made in France (Jean Comandon), Italy (Gaetano Rummo and others), Great Britain (Wellcome collections), Germany (Ludwig Mayer), Belgium (Van Gehuchten and others), the Netherlands (Magnus-Rademaker), Spain (Antonio Subirana), and Switzerland (Walter R. Hess, Ernst Grünthal).
We have chosen to focus on the first part of the 20th century for pragmatical reasons, but also to reexamine the traditional history of neuropsychiatric film, which isolates two key moments in the development of the film practices of neurologists and psychiatrists. The first one amounts to the era of the pioneers around 1900–1910 (Marinescu, Van Gehuchten, Neri, Negro, Magnus, Sainton, Comandon, etc.). Their films are for the most part the result of personal initiatives and emerge outside institutional policies, as is the case with the amateur films made by Ernst Grünthal; other films are made through collaboration between a professional filmmaker and a doctor/institution/firm. The second key moment extends from the inter-war to the post-war years that saw the rise of the “institutional asylum film”, a term introduced by Bonah and Rotzoll (2015). Indeed, in addition to a persistent voluntarist tradition, films are from that moment on actively supported by medical institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and public policies.
Yet how accurate is such an identification of two golden eras and what happens in between? Can the history of useful film in psychiatry and neurology really be divided into distinct periods and if so, according to what criteria? What forms does the notion of the camera’s alleged objectivity take during this period of fifty years? How do the films testify to this mechanical objectivity bestowed upon the medium of film? Certainly, the recourse to films pushes even further the fantasy of the “blind gaze” to which the scientists of the 19th century aspire – scientists who, as Daston and Galison observe, dream of becoming themselves machines with no will of their own. However, we must not forget that all statements about the objectivity of the cinematographic camera are essentially rhetorical. They serve in part to convince the scientific community of the legitimacy of such practices, since cinema is still associated with the world of entertainment. Therefore, discourses on the objectivity of the film medium have the function of legitimizing and stabilizing knowledge and practices.
More importantly, these claims coexist with an acute awareness of the limits of such mechanical objectivity allowed by the film medium. For instance, the psychiatrist Paul Sainton highlights the challenges involved in properly filming subjects affected by movement disorders. It is not easy, he writes, to capture patients with neurological or mental illnesses because it happens that they freeze once they know they are being filmed: “Subjects who, in their hospital setting, had extensive movements, remained motionless when put in front of the camera.” This problem is of course magnified due to the high cost of the film. Neurologists and psychiatrists are fully aware of the epistemological obstacles that prevent them from getting a “good” shot – obstacles such as the whimsical behavior of the patients or the technical, material, and weather hazards. They know well it is a challenge to grasp some pathological movements such as hysteria or epilepsy, or to record eloquent enough movements, worthy of interest because of their emblematic or singular features. In their efforts to ensure the clarity of the images, they are forced to come up with solutions that seem contradictory to the “cognitive absolutism” of the “clinical gaze”. For instance, some doctors choose to dramatize and narrate their patients’ symptoms or to stage their own practice.
What are the main results of the conference?
The approaches presented during the Conference reflect the diversity of the disciplines to which the researchers belong. At the same time, they are telling of the complexity and richness of the films studied. As the first panel, “Filming the Brain”, illustrated (with Kimberley Fleuren, Leander Diener and Raphaël Tinguely), three different approaches stand out: a. a clinical approach, according to which the film is treated as a document informing on certain medical practices and pathologies, thus functioning as an extension of regular clinical observation, intended to capture what escapes the eye; b. a history of medicine and science approach that uses the film as a means of shedding light on a particular aspect of this history; c. a film and media history approach that focuses on the aesthetics and the materiality of films, as well as the context of their application. All three approaches attest to the epistemic value of the neuropsychiatric film, though the actual nature of this knowledge differs according to perspective adopted. As Christian Bonah remarked, “we look at the same images, but we don’t see the same thing” (referring to Ludwik Fleck’s “looking vs seeing model”). Therefore, it is important to openly assume the position from which we interpret these multi-dimensional images (and sounds).
As Katrin Pilz reminded us, the question of the “usefulness” can be asked at different levels, depending on the actual users. To whom are these films useful? Firstly, to medical doctors, teachers, staff, students, etc. at the time of the production (we may speak, in this case, of the films’ original usefulness). Then, they were useful to operators, filmmakers, firms, etc. interested in collaborating with doctors. Finally, they are useful today to researchers, archivists, curators, etc. If their original message is quickly outdated (they are ephemeral material), they present an immense historical value, as Angela Saward explained through a specific case study. Katrin Pilz concluded that one must begin by asking why these films were considered useless for so many years, forgotten in attics, remote hospital rooms, bunkers, etc.
The usefulness of these films is a dynamic concept, as David Cantor has noted. Usefulness changes over time (it increases or decreases with time and context); it fluctuates based on the groups that engage with the medium of film; it depends on the applications to which film is submitted, but also on the audiences that watch it. The question of the usefulness of films must be distinguished at all stages of their existence: production-direction, distribution, reception. Depending on the stages of the film’s development, the medical knowledge, the technology used, the content, the contingencies of the filmmaking, the audience responses, etc., the usefulness changes in form and meaning. Utility is a concept under constant construction, the object of negotiation between production, distribution and reception entities.
With regard to the original utility, the paradigm of mechanical objectivity dominates. But mechanical objectivity constitutes only one type of epistemic virtue among several others, as Daston and Galison have shown. For Andreas Killen, the Ludwig Mayer’s films on hypnosis resort to the truth-to-nature paradigm, in that these films aim above all to demonstrate the effectiveness of hypnosis through emblematic images of the hypnotic state.
Nowdays, these films also inform us about the history of recording technologies (35mm, 16mm, 8mm, super 8, 9.5 Pathé Baby, etc.), as the Subirana collection presented by Paula Arantzatzu illustrated. The Subirana films testify to a media convergence practice that is quite extraordinary for the time: the films combine different types of still and moving images, such as real shots, X-rays, EEG, histological sections, and photographs. Moreover, they provide informations on the history of medical imaging, i.e. the usefulness of audiovisual devices expanding the field of scientific knowledge. This is also the case with the Waldau collections analyzed by Raphaël Tinguely, Léa Ritter, and Lucas Iliani. The hybridity of both the collections and the films of which they are composed requires us to trace the wider network in which they are embedded. According to Caroline Fournier, head of the film department of the Cinémathèque suisse, hybridity is what characterizes the production of amateur films—a paradigm that allows to understand the particularity of these film practices.
Another question raised by the original usefulness is the content of these images. What exactly is the camera filming? Illnesses; patients, doctors, interactions between patients and medical staff; state of research; brain, mind, body, etc.?
Among those listed elements, the question of the patients has proven to be of a central importance. Who are they, where do they come from, how do they experience medical observation and filming; who are these invisible and unknown people on the screen? It seems quite difficult to trace their history, and when we do have some elements, they only come in fragments. Different sources provide some data: film storage material, administrative records, patient records, written testimonies, drawings, interviews with relatives, etc. But as Maia Woolner showed, this lack of information about patients is also meaningful. It reveals something about the status of patients as objects of experimentation, demonstration, or medical observation – hence, Christian Bonah‘s call to avoid the anonymization of data for legal reasons, as this process contributes to the invisibilization of people who have nevertheless played an essential role in the history of medicine. He also rightly reminded that the question of patients’ consent to be filmed is not just an ethical issue but also a legal one. In any case, solutions need to be found to conceptualize this invisibilization of patients, by drawing, for instance, on the social history of medicine, the spectralities or disabilities studies, which are interested in social groups neglected by canonical history.
The uncanny dimension of patients was also raised. While it strikes as obvious to today’s researchers, it is safe to assume that this must also have been the case, at least to some extent, for the experts watching the films at that time of their production. For example, it is difficult to make sense of images of patients who have completely lost control of their bodies and minds, as David Cantor has noted. And how to deal with the aesthetic dimension of certain shots that reduce patients to elements of the “medical set”? Part of the uncanny comes from their nudity, which emerges as a representational convention since the beginning of neuro-psychiatric cinema. For some speakers, nudity meets a need for visibility of every part of the body and muscles affected by pathological movements. For others, it is a cultural convention that allows nature and culture to be contrasted, with patients embodying the primitive and doctors the civilized. In this latter perspective, it is used to contrast the healthy body (that of the doctor who stands by the patients) and the sick body of the patient, in a comparative gesture typical of medical thought.
But is the nakedness always necessary? In some cases, the nudity does not fail to add something spectacular to the representation. According to Christian Bonah, some of these films appear as “medical exploitation films,” in that they rely on sensationalist effects. For this reason, they lend themselves to all sorts of hijackings, as illustrated by the films of Doyen that circulated on fairgrounds. One solution might be to contextualize these images when shown today, following the model of platforms such as Medfilm or the Wellcome collection.
In any case, these films need to be interpreted as a history of specific power relationships, as for instance, the history of Western colonialism, and more generally the history of the stigmatization of the insane based on processes of exclusion and inclusion (in other words, in terms of negotiation, as suggested by Katrin Luchsinger). As Christian Bonah highlighted, one must be careful not to essentialize what one sees, as films always reveal more than the doctors wish to show; indeed, while mechanical objectivity is inherent in the film medium, film is underpinned by ideological, even political, issues, as Paula Arantzatzu showed.
Katrin Luchsinger has raised a yet another essential question on the subject of patients, namely that of the emotions aroused by these images of madness. She reminded how important it is to take time to watch and process these films and photographs. She also drew attention to the aesthetic and spectacular dimensions that escape those who produce the images. These films also respond in a way to existential questions that will be at the core of the avant-gardes, as when they display new images of the body and mind, through new technologies, a theme highly relevant for artists from the beginning of the 20th century.
There are still many more questions that need to be answered: Who is filming? Who is behind the camera? Doctors, operators, assistants? How are we filming? Is it just to document experiments that confirm research hypotheses (as for W. R. Hess) or to create a sophisticated discourse to be presented to peers at conferences (as for Subirana)? Who is watching these films? Medical and non-medical audiences (films do not always reach their original audience and may be enjoyed for their spectacular dimension outside the medical realm)? How should the issue of sensitive data be approached ? (We have seen that there are different “schools of thought” depending on the institution).
Charles R. Acland & Haidee Wasson (ed.) (2011), Useful Cinema, Durham-London, Duke University Press.
Maike Rotzoll & Christian Bonah (2015), “Psychopathologie en mouvement. Histoire des films à Strasbourg et à Heidelberg”, in Ch. Bonah, A. Sumpf, Ph. Osten, G. Moser, T. Close-Koenig & J. Danet (eds.), Le Pré-Programme. Film d’enseignement / film utilitaire / film de propagande / film inédit dans les cinéma et archives de l’interrégion du Rhin Supérieur. 1900-1970. Une étude comparée franco-allemande, Heidelberg-Strasbourg, A25 Rhinfilm.