CFP – Nontheatrical Medias: Feminist Media Histories: An International Journal

Special Issue on Nontheatrical Medias

Guest Editors: Tanya Goldman & Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa


“In the introduction to a 2015 special issue of Feminist Media Histories dedicated to useful  media, Laura Isabel Serna writes that gender is “an extremely useful analytic” for uncovering the  role of women in nontheatrical media production as well as for analyzing the feminist potential of  such media. This special issue continues this conversation with a focus on the methodological  challenges of doing such work and potential interventions offered by approaches stemming from  gender and sexuality studies. 

In recent decades, scholars and archivists have increasingly turned their attention to the long  history of nontheatrical film and media. A dizzying list of moving image forms – educational  media, online “how to” videos, home movies, propaganda works, science films, industrials,  social guidance films and more – and the diversity of contexts within which they were produced  and consumed, has reoriented and diversified media history by moving presumably ‘marginal’  practices to the center. 

Nontheatrical media points to a range of spaces that have been differently gendered, from the  domestic to the industrial, the science lab to the classroom, and beyond. In some of these  settings, women of various walks of life have had unprecedented access to media production,  while in other cases such access was largely nonexistent. The cultural meanings of  nontheatrical media also often align with gendered distinctions between high and low, expert  and amateur, valuable and disposable — creating circumstances where such media objects are  housed in dispersed settings such as online sites (like, government and institutional  archives, specialized or classified collections (like those of various laboratories or military  branches), and boxes stashed in private attics and garages. Developing methods for  understanding the social reproduction of gender and sexuality within nontheatrical contexts  therefore requires an adaptable framework — one that can draw from feminist traditions of  historical research and critical analysis. 

This special issue invites contributors to interrogate the gender and sexual politics undergirding  nontheatrical media from past to present. We take a deliberately capacious and eclectic view of  nontheatrical media and encourage interdisciplinary, intersectional, and international  approaches from all periods of history. We invite submissions of work focusing on cis and trans  women and nonbinary nontheatrical filmmakers; the intersection of gender and race, ethnicity,  ability, and sexuality as expressed in nontheatrical media; strategies for recovering lost histories  of women working in nontheatrical media (including speculative approaches); and mediaarchaeology of gender in nontheatrical media.  

In addition to traditional research articles, we also invite videographic and other multimedia  formats of critique. This can include but is not limited to videographic and photographic essays,  and interactive scholarship. Criticism in forms beyond the traditional research article will  undergo peer review appropriate to their formats. 

Interested contributors should contact guest editors directly, sending a 500-word proposal and a  short bio no later than July 1, 2023 to and Contributors will be notified by August 1, 2023; submissions will be due by February 1, 2024 and  will then be sent out for peer review.

Feminist Media Histories is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal devoted to feminist histories of film, video,  audio, and digital technologies across a range of time periods and global contexts. Inter-medial and trans national in approach, Feminist Media Histories examines the historical role gender has played in varied  media technologies, and documents women’s engagement with these media as audiences and users,  creators and executives, critics and theorists, technicians and laborers, educators and activists. Feminist  Media Histories is published quarterly by the University of California Press. More information is available  here:”


Call for articles: Cinema, XR Media and Imaginaries of Disability – Imago. Studi di cinema e meda (Nr. 28, 2023)

Ivelise Perniola & Barbara Grespi (ed.)


“In recent years, growing attention has been paid to studies on physical and mental disability, both in the vast field of fictional cinema (cf. Chivers, S., and Markotić, N. eds., 2010, The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film. Columbus: Ohio State University Press), documentary (cf. Brylla C. and Huges H., eds., 2017, Documentary and Disability, London, Palgrave McMillan) and new media (Ellis, K. and Goggin, G., eds., 2015, Disability and the Media. London: Palgrave Macmillan).

The field of Disabilities Studies is therefore increasingly vast and complex, as much as to include not only investigations of the theme of disability in films, but also aesthetics capable of deriving a style from this condition, and finally the histories and theories of the connection between cinema and disability (stories of individuals working in the audiovisual sector and stories of cultural operations; theories of perceiving differently and theories of film aimed at differently percipient subjects).

However, especially in the Anglo-Saxon context, the study of niche and experimental productions has so far been privileged, while popular imaginary and genre cinema have received little attention. Moreover, disability has been treated since early cinema  especially in medical documentaries, characterized by attempts to “scientifically” describe cases, or militant documentaries, aimed at drawing the attention of a selected audience to forms of discrimination that are implicit or openly censored in the information channels (documenting for example the conditions of degradation in which people with mental disabilities are kept, or denouncing the actions of ‘annulment’ of disability carried out by the great dictatorships of the twentieth century, primarily Nazism).

The objective of this issue of ‘Imago’ is therefore twofold: firstly, it aims to broaden the analysis of audiovisual production to mainstream products, from national and international television seriality to genre cinema, from immersive media experiences that promise to make us experience disability with various forms of embodiment, to extended reality practice both narrative and rehabilitative. Secondly, the issue intends to redefine the territory of Disabilities Studies by indicating points of contact with different but parallel and often complementary strands, such as Trauma studies (for example with the case of war mutilated, or traumatized soldiers, documented in different forms and narrated in various ways by mainstream cinema). Sometimes these narratives assume disability as a symbolic motif, as in the case of Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954) or Terence Young’s Wait until Dar (1967), built around characters suffering from mostly symbolic blindness. Of the same kind is Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window (1954), Born on the Fourth July (1989) by Oliver Stone and Jacques Audiard’s De Rouille et d’Os (2012), just to mention the best-known titles. In other cases, the staging of disability leads to a transformation of the filmic language whose boundaries are experimented with, as in the case of deafness of Todd Haynes’s Wonderstruck (2017) or blindness in Derek Jarman’s Blue by (1993) but also of a 360 degrees film such as Notes on Blindness (VR, ARTE, 2016), which essentially attempts the translation of sight into hearing by working on the environmentalisation of the image.

These lines of research can be developed through various approaches and applied to different objects; the following is a non-exhaustive list open to any integration:

  • The representation of disability in certain periods or geographies of the history of fictional cinema: Hollywood, Italian cinema, genre cinema.
  • Scientific documentaries on the topic of mental and physical disability, from its origins to the present day: archives, funds, case studies.
  • Cinema for the visually impaired: audio-description, expressive and evocative potential, limits, mirages.
  • Cinema without images: poetics of darkness and audiovisual boundaries
  • Cinema aimed at the hearing-impaired: the Pasolinian “written language of reality”, gestural and hypericonic cinema.
  • Disability caused by wars: between Visual, Disabilities and Trauma Studies.
  • Disability as an expressive model for the avant-garde
  • Disability and paradigms of XRmediality: multisensoriality and the decline of the gaze.
  • Disability and forms of care
  • Cinema and epochal, symptomatic, imaginary disabilities: hysteria, autism, sleepwalking.

Procedure for submitting essays: we welcome abstracts (max 2500 characters) in Italian or English, plus 5 essential bibliographical references, 5 key words and a biography (max 5 lines). Proposals should be sent by email to both editors ( and by May 30th. The results of the selection will be communicated by June 15th, and the complete essays (maximum 40,000 characters), written in Italian or English, possibly accompanied by a maximum of 8 images (jpg or png, 300 dpi, possibly already manipulated for publication in black and white), must be sent no later than 15th October 2023 for double blind review.”

Ivelise Perniola & Barbara Grespi (ed.)


Filmer le trouble (neuro)psychiatrique au XXe siècle : du corps à la parole du sujet ?

Lors de sa conférence « From diseased and sportive bodies: some reflections on grammars of media and its technologies » (ERC Final Conference « The Healthy Self as Body Capital », février 2022), Anja Laukötter a distingué deux tendances qui traversent l’histoire des représentations audiovisuelles du corps. Avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, les films éducatifs et scientifiques véhiculent leur message à travers une structure dramaturgique simple et une rhétorique redondante : textes, sons, mais surtout images (microcinématographie, graphiques, animation didactique, etc.) jouent avec les émotions du public dans le but d’influencer son comportement face aux problèmes sanitaires et sociaux soulevés. L’enjeu consiste à faire peur, voire à dégoûter via des images crues ou choquantes, de sorte à créer une prise de conscience salutaire (pensons aux films antisyphilitiques).

Cette manière de mettre en scène les connaissances relatives au corps devient obsolète à partir des années 1970-1980 : le corps n’est plus visualisé mais « parlé », précise Anja Laukötter, qui donne comme exemple les programmes TV sur le virus VIH. Si les productions audiovisuelles de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle font disparaître le corps des écrans, c’est notamment parce que l’éducation à la santé s’adosse à un savoir fourni par la psychologie — les psychologues accédant à un statut d’experts incontournables.

Fig. 1

Ce passage d’un corps visualisé à un corps « évoqué » par la parole du sujet épouse en partie l’évolution de l’histoire des disciplines chargées d’examiner et de traiter les maladies nerveuses et psychiques. Alors que durant la première moitié du XXe siècle, les films de médecins portent une attention toute particulière aux dysfonctionnements du corps (Fig. 1), dès les années 1950, la caméra devient plus attentive à la parole des patient·e·s et aux troubles du langage, comme l’illustre la pratique de l’entretien filmé dans le cadre de films « médico-pharmaceutiques » (Bonah & Danet 2017).

Différents facteurs expliquent ce glissement, les uns en lien avec l’histoire des technologies d’enregistrement, les autres avec l’histoire des sciences du psychisme : l’émergence de nouveaux appareils de prises de vue et de son synchrones, l’impact des « nouveaux » cinémas soucieux d’authenticité, la remise en question du rôle des institutions psychiatriques, l’institutionnalisation du film psychiatrique soutenu par les entreprises pharmaceutiques, et peut-être aussi le prestige de la psychanalyse. C’est ce que Christian Bonah et Joël Danet nomment le « moment anthropologique » du cinéma médical utilitaire, notamment en référence aux films réalisés par Éric Duvivier en collaboration avec des médecins (Bonah & Danet 2017 ; Bonah 2019).

Fig. 2

Ce type de film témoigne d’une approche psychologique du patient et de sa relation avec le médecin, attentive aux gestes, regards, réactions, etc. de l’un et de l’autre. La manière de filmer ces entretiens rappelle à bien des égards le modèle du cinéma direct : immersion de l’équipe de filmage dans l’univers, dépouillement de la mise en scène, montage long, dialogues pris sur le vif, etc. On peut se demander à cet égard à quel point la télévision n’a pas aussi joué un rôle dans ce mouvement conduisant de la visualisation à l’écoute du corps malade (Fig. 2).

Fig. 3

Qu’en est-il des films réalisés dans les institutions cliniques et hospitalières suisses, et plus particulièrement à la Waldau ? Globalement, ils suivent la même évolution mise en évidence par Anja Laukötter. Durant la première moitié du XXe siècle, de nombreux films cherchent à capter les symptômes des malades dans leurs manifestations somatiques. Les médecins ont une approche commune des patient·e·s atteint·e·s de maux neurologiques, psychiatriques et neuropsychiatriques – malades qui ne sont pas encore strictement séparé·e·s dans les hôpitaux helvétiques. Il s’agit d’observer les troubles de mouvement — lesquels concernent un large spectre de maladies mentales — et parfois leur modification au fil du temps.

Au LAC (Laboratoire d’anatomie cérébrale), Ernst Grünthal filme par exemple la rigidité des mouvements d’un patient atteint d’un syndrome parkinsonien post-encéphalitique, selon la logique d’un récit « avant/après traitement » censé faire la démonstration d’une amélioration grâce à un médicament (Fig. 3). Formé en tant que psychiatre, mais adepte d’une vision neurobiologique des troubles psychiques (alors souvent amalgamés aux troubles purement neurologiques), Grünthal place au centre de son système théorique et de sa pratique filmique le cerveau humain, qu’il étudie essentiellement à travers l’examen du comportement et de ses aléas (Tinguely 2020).

Dès les années 1950, apparaissent dans les collections Waldau des films sonores qui contiennent des entretiens entre médecins et patient·e·s (les bandes-sons n’ont malheureusement pas, à ce jour, été retrouvées). Filmés parfois devant un rideau, assis autour d’une table basse, les patients en tenue de ville s’entretiennent avec un médecin en blouse blanche (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4

Ce choix de « mise en scène » est aussi présent dans des films plus tardifs, tels ceux destinés à l’enseignement de cas cliniques, à l’instar de Symptomatologie hystérique (Éric Duvivier & André Féline, 1971), dont le but est de montrer comment les symptômes d’une névrose hystérique peuvent s’exprimer somatiquement (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

Le principe de l’entretien filmé se combine souvent à l’observation du corps en mouvement, le·la patient·e étant libre d’arpenter la pièce, de fumer, de se lever, s’asseoir, etc. Les changements d’échelle de plans, tantôt plus rapprochés, tantôt plus larges, témoignent de cette focalisation variable sur le corps, le langage, les expressions, le discours du sujet. Certains films alternent même les modalités d’observation des symptômes, passant de l’écoute du patient au test de ses réflexes primaires, comme celui de la succion. D’autres encore « écoutent » les malades à leur chevet, visiblement en état d’agitation, comme en atteste le micro tenu par l’une des infirmières (fig. 6). C’est pourquoi il convient de parler de tendances qui s’ajoutent les uns aux autres et qui parfois s’hybrident, plutôt que de passage – même progressif – d’un paradigme à l’autre.

Fig. 6. Collections Waldau, années 1950 © Psychiatrie-Museum Bern/Cinémathèque suisse

Par ailleurs, il y a fort à parier que si le corps est au centre des films (neuro) psychiatriques, la parole (indicative tout autant de pathologie que de la vie affective) n’a jamais été négligée par les médecins, d’une part parce qu’elle s’inscrit dans le corps, d’autre part, parce qu’elle est susceptible de faire l’objet d’une retranscription jugée complémentaire à une documentation de type audiovisuel.

L’évolution d’une monstration du corps à l’écoute du sujet mérite donc d’être nuancée, tant les pratiques et les objectifs visés sont divers selon les contextes. Mais elle a le mérite de tracer un axe qu’il convient de garder à l’arrière-plan de nos analyses, en ce qu’elle nous rappelle le rôle joué par l’histoire des technologies d’enregistrement, ainsi que l’histoire des approches de la maladie mentale, dans la manière de filmer les troubles (neuro)psychiatriques.


Christian Bonah, « “Réservé strictement au corps médical” : les sociétés de production audiovisuelle d’Éric Duvivier, l’industrie pharmaceutique et leurs stratégies de co-production de films médicaux industriels, 1950-1980 », Cahiers d’histoire du Cnam, 2019, vol. 12, n° 12, pp. 133-158.

Christian Bonah & Joël Danet, « Le moment anthropologique du cinéma industriel pharmaceutique. Retour sur le film utilitaire médico-pharmaceutique francophone des années 1970 », Images du travail, travail des images [en ligne], n° 4, 2017.

Raphaël Tinguely, Les films neuropsychiatriques d’Ernst Grünthal au Hirnanatomisches Institut de la Waldau, 1934-1965, mémoire de Master en lettres, Université de Lausanne, septembre 2020.


Billet sous licence CC BY SA

Some notes on the “Useful Film in (Neuro)Psychiatry Europe, 1900-1950. Update on Current Research” conference

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.

Kimberley Fleuren

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.

Leander Diener

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.

Katrin Luchsinger on photography in psychiatric institutions

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).

Angela Saward from the Wellcome Collection (London)

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.

The roundtable with David Cantor, Katrin Pilz, Angela Saward, Christian Bonah and Caroline Fournier

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.

Léa Ritter and Lucas Iliani from the Cinémathèque suisse

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.

From Lorenzo Lorusso’s presentation about Gaetanno Rummo

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.

Psychiatrie Museum Bern

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.


Billet sous licence CC BY SA

CFP – Useful Film in (Neuro) Psychiatry Europe, 1900–1950. Update on Current Research

Workshop – University of Lausanne 3-4 March 2022

Since its inception, the cinematograph had many applications in the medical field, and particularly in the fields of psychiatry, neurology and neuropsychiatry (Lorusso & Venturini 2019). With surgeons, neurologists and psychiatrists are at the forefront of using film as a tool for analyzing, storing, archiving, and transmitting knowledge. For a long time, the (neuro) psychiatric films made by doctors as part of their teaching and research have been overshadowed by educational and health films. But since 2000, and especially 2010, scholars from different disciplines are increasingly interested in these practices. Several interdisciplinary teams have conducted research, with the aim of rehabilitating film as a privileged source for both the history of medicine and the history of cinema.

This interest stems partly from discoveries of films thought to be lost, such as the Magnus-Rademaker collection (1909–1940) (Koehler, Lameris & Hielscher 2015; Koehler & Lameris 2016). We can also mention the research in Italy on the Vincenzo Neri collection (Lorusso, Vanone & Venturini 2012; Vanone, Lorusso & Venturini 2015; Venturini & Lorusso 2013); in Germany on the Arthur Simmons and Max Nonne collections (Holdorff 2010, 2012, 2016); in Belgium on the Van Gehuchten collection (Aubert 2002a, 2002b, 2009, 2016); or in Rumania on the G. Marinescu collection (Buda et al. 2009). All these studies, and many others, show the dynamism of a field of research in continuous expansion.

Scholars face several challenges in front of films made by mental health professionals. How to locate objects that are poorly (or not at all) identified? How to understand them in the absence of sufficient information about their production and distribution context? How to work on films that are in poor condition? How to solve problems of access to sensitive data? How to establish productive transdisciplinary collaborations? Indeed, there is still much to be done to build on these documents defying traditional classifications (e.g. the distinction between documentary and fiction) and even escape knowledge altogether, as they “sleep” at the bottom of a closet, in a hospital, a bunker or the cellar of private owners.

Such investigations involve observing the contexts in which the film medium is used. But also, how scientific practices, observation protocols and discursive logics discipline-specific shape the medium and the uses of film. If the film is embedded in a preexisting framework that it modifies, it is itself also transformed in return by its environment of use. For this reason, it would be essential to question the consensus on the epistemic value of the “medical gaze” as mediated by film.

Focusing on the study of films shown in medical institutions, in lecture halls and at scientific conferences, this workshop has several goals: to map the state of research on works devoted to useful films in the field of neurology, psychiatry and neuropsychiatry, in Europe between 1900 and 1950; to highlight investigations on poorly known or unknown film collections; to serve as a starting point for one to two publications (journal issues). The main purpose is thus to increase our knowledge on practices that have long been considered “marginal” both in the medical humanities and in the history of cinema (and the media

We seek papers that may provide some answers to one or other of these questions:

  • In which context (historical, institutional, scientific, etc.) do doctors appropriated the filmic medium?
  • What are their needs and expectations regarding film?
  • What are their explicit and implicit goals?
  • What conception(s) of cinema underlie(s) the use of the moving image?
  • What formal elements of the technology are considered productive or counterproductive?
  • Which criteria lead doctors to emphasize certain technical properties of the medium to the expense of others?
  • Which issues are raised by the films in the medical community?
  • How are the films distributed and watched?
Film reel, Waldau collections, Cinémathèque suisse (picture by MB)

Contributions can include but are not limited to the following topics:

  • Study of specific film collections, or other related media as film operates in conjunction with other visual media (Lorusso, Venturini 2019)
  • Methodological issues raised by the examination of such sources, including issues related to their preservation and storage
  • Theoretical questions, as long as they are supported by a case study
  • Investigation of institutional or personal synergies on a European scale (Switzerland, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain, etc.), given the intense circulation of medical expertise during the twentieth century

Organization committee: Mireille Berton, Elodie Murtas, Raphaël Tinguely

Scientific committee: Mireille Berton, Christian Bonah, Peter Koehler, Lorenzo Lorusso, Simone Venturini

Proposals submission

  • Abstract submission deadline: November 15, 2021
  • Ideally, each abstract should articulate: 1) an issue or research question to be discussed, 2) a source-based case study 3) a methodological or critical framework used, and 4) expected findings or conclusions
  • Decisions will be communicated to the authors by November 30, 2021
  • Title and abstract (400 words max.), and a short bio (200 words max.) should be submitted in Word format to 

Practical info

  • Language: English
  • Location: University of Lausanne, Dorigny campus, Switzerland
  • Expenses covered: one night’s accommodation, meals, travel within Europe
  • No payment from the participants will be required
  • Contact: or


  • November 15, 2021: application deadline
  • November 30, 2021: notification of acceptance
  • February 1, 2022: submission of a long abstract (500-600 words)
  • March 3-4, 2022: workshop
  • September 1, 2022: submission of the articles for publication


AUBERT, Geneviève (2016), “Cinema and Neuroscience: Development and Application of Cinematography in the Field of Neurosciences”, Journal of History of Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 1–2.

AUBERT, Geneviève (2009), “Neurological Illustration: From Photography to Cinematography”, Handbook of Clinical Neurology, Nr. 95, 289–302.

AUBERT, Geneviève (2002a), “Arthur Van Gehuchten Takes Neurology to the Movies”, Neurology, Vol. 59, Nr. 10 (November 26), 1612–1618.

AUBERT, Geneviève (2002b), “From Photography to Cinematography: Recording Movement and Gait in a Neurological Context”, Journal of the History of Neuroscences, Nr. 11, 248–257.

Buda O., Arsene D., Ceausu M., Dermengiu D. & Curca G. C. (2009), “Georges Marinesco and the Early Research in Neuropathology”, Neurology, Vol. 72, Nr. 1 (January 6), 88–91.

CURTIS, Scott (2016), “Dissecting the Medical Training Film”, in Marta Braun, Charlie Keil, Rob King, Paul Moore & Louis Pelletier (ed.), Beyond the Screen. Institutions, Networks and Publics of Early Cinema, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 161–167.

CURTIS, Scott (2015), The Shape of Spectatorship. Art, Science, and Early Cinema in Germany, New York, Columbia University Press.

HOLDORFF, Bernd (2016), “Arthur Simons (1877-1942) and Tonic Neck Reflexes With Hemiplegic ‘Mitbewegungen’ (Associated Reactions): Cinematography From 1916-1919”, Journal of History of Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 63–71.

HOLDORFF, Bernd (2012), “Arthur Simons (1877-1942) über tonische Halsreflexe beim Hemiplegiker mit Demonstration seines Film (mit Fällen aus den Jahren 1916-1919)”, Der Nervenartz, Nr. 83, 514–520.

HOLDORFF, Bernd (2010), “Max Nonne und die Kriegsneurose: Mit Filmdarstellung der Kriegszitterer vor und nach Hypnose von Max Nonne/Hamburg (1918). Zur Erinnerung an Max Nonnes 50. Todestag”, Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Nervenheilkunde, Nr. 16, 197–208.

LORUSSO, Lorenzo & VENTURINI, Simone (2020), “Cinema and Neurology: From History to Therapy”, dans Bruno Colombo (ed.), Brain and Art. From Æsthetics to Therapeutics, Cham/CH, Springer, 95–120.

LORUSSO, Lorenzo, VANONE, Federico & VENTURINI, Simone (2012), “L’arrivo e le sue tracce: la collezione Vincenzo Neri”, Immagine. Note di storia del cinema, Nr. 6 (July-August), 32–54.

KOEHLER, Peter J., LAMERIS, Bregt & HIELSCHER, Eva (2016), “Neurocinematography in Pre-World War II Netherlands: The Magnus-Rademaker Collection”, Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 84–101.

KOEHLER, Peter, J. & LAMERIS, Bregt (2016), “The Magnus-Rademaker Scientific Film Collection: Ethical Issues on Animal Experimentation (1908-1940)”, Journal of History of Neurosciences, Vol. 25, Nr. 1, 102–121.

VENTURINI, Simone & LORUSSO, Lorenzo (2013), “Vincenzo Neri: Anatomy of a Finding”, Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, Vol. 16, Nr. 1, 112–116.

Neuropatologia (Camillo Negro) 1915 – Museo del cinema

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