Special Issue on Cinema and Neuroscience

The first issue of 2016 of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences is a special issue devoted to “Cinema and Neuroscience: Development and Application of Cinematography in the Field of the Neurosciences.” Full article titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

Introduction: “Cinema and Neuroscience: Development and Application of Cinematography in the Field of the Neurosciences,” by Geneviève Aubert. No abstract.

“Capturing Motion and Depth Before Cinematography,” by Nicholas J. Wade. The abstract reads,

Visual representations of biological states have traditionally faced two problems: they lacked motion and depth. Attempts were made to supply these wants over many centuries, but the major advances were made in the early-nineteenth century. Motion was synthesized by sequences of slightly different images presented in rapid succession and depth was added by presenting slightly different images to each eye. Apparent motion and depth were combined some years later, but they tended to be applied separately. The major figures in this early period were Wheatstone, Plateau, Horner, Duboscq, Claudet, and Purkinje. Others later in the century, like Marey and Muybridge, were stimulated to extend the uses to which apparent motion and photography could be applied to examining body movements. These developments occurred before the birth of cinematography, and significant insights were derived from attempts to combine motion and depth.

“The Dercum-Muybridge Collaboration and the Study of Pathologic Gaits Using Sequential Photography,” by Douglas J. Lanska. The abstract reads,

In the late 1870s and 1880s, prior to the development of movie cameras or projectors, English-American photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) photographed sequential images of people and animals in motion, using arrays of sequentially triggered single-image cameras. In 1885, Philadelphia neurologist Francis Dercum (1856–1931) collaborated with Muybridge at the University of Pennsylvania to photograph sequential images of patients with various neurological disorders involving abnormal movements, and particularly various gait disorders, including both the sensory ataxic gait of tabes dorsalis and various spastic gaits. Dercum used tracings of sequential photographic images to plot trajectories of limbs as a way to characterize and distinguish pathologic gaits. The Dercum-Muybridge collaboration produced the first motion-picture sequences of neurological gait disorders ever filmed. These sequences and the trajectory-based studies that derived from them were a milestone in studies of pathologic gaits.

“Professor Camillo Negro’s Neuropathological Films,” by Adriano Chiò, Claudia Gianetto & Stella Dagna. The abstract reads,

Camillo Negro, Professor in Neurology at the University of Torino, was a pioneer of scientific film. From 1906 to 1908, with the help of his assistant Giuseppe Roasenda and in collaboration with Roberto Omegna, one of the most experienced cinematographers in Italy, he filmed some of his patients for scientific and educational purposes. During the war years, he continued his scientific film project at the Military Hospital in Torino, filming shell-shocked soldiers. In autumn 2011, the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, in partnership with the Faculty of Neurosciences of the University of Torino, presented a new critical edition of the neuropathological films directed by Negro. The Museum’s collection also includes 16 mm footage probably filmed in 1930 by Doctor Fedele Negro, Camillo’s son. One of these films is devoted to celebrating the effects of the so-called “Bulgarian cure” on Parkinson’s disease.

“Vincenzo Neri and His Legacy in Paris and Bologna,” by Federico Vanone, Lorenzo Lorusso & Simone Venturini. The abstract reads,

Italian neurologist Vincenzo Neri was able to discover cinematography at the beginning of his career, when in 1908 he went to Paris to learn and improve his clinical background by following neurological cases at La Pitié with Joseph Babinski, who became his teacher and friend. While in Paris, Neri photographed and filmed several patients of famous neurologists, such as Babinski and Pierre Marie. His stills were published in several important French neurological journals and medical texts. He also collaborated with Georges Mendel, who helped Doyen film the first known surgical operation in the history of cinema. In 1910, when he came back to Bologna, he continued in his clinical activities and, for 50 years, slowly developed a huge archive of films, images, and prints of neurological, psychiatric, and orthopedic cases. This archive was extremely helpful to Neri, who especially needed to analyze neurological disorders and to differentiate them from functional conditions in order to understand clinical signs, rules, and mechanisms.

“Arthur Simons (1877–1942) and Tonic Neck Reflexes With Hemiplegic “Mitbewegungen” (Associated Reactions): Cinematography From 1916–1919,” by Bernd Holdorff. The abstract reads,

Tonic neck reflexes were investigated by Rudolf Magnus and Adriaan de Kleijn in animals and men in 1912 and eventually by Arthur Simons, a neurologist in Berlin and coworker of Hermann Oppenheim. Simons studied these reflexes in hemiplegic patients, who were mainly victims of World War I. This work became his most important contribution and remained unsurpassed for many years. The film (Filmarchiv, Bundesarchiv [Film Archive, National Archive] Berlin) with Simons as an examiner shows 11 war casualties with brain lesions that occurred between 1916 and 1919. The injuries reveal asymmetric neck reflexes with “Mitbewegungen,” that is, flexion or extension on the hemiplegic side. Mitbewegungen is identical with Francis Walshe’s “associated reactions” caused by neck rotation and/or by cocontraction of the nonaffected extremities, for example, by closing of the fist (Walshe). The knowledge of the neck reflexes is important in acute neurology and in rehabilitation therapy of hemiplegics for antispastic positions. Simons’ investigations were conducted in the early era of increasing use of cinematography in medical studies. The film had been nearly forgotten until its rediscovery in 2010.

“Jean Comandon Neuroscientist,” by Lorenzo Lorusso, Thierry Lefebvre & Béatrice de Pastre. The abstract reads,

The microbiologist Jean Comandon is famous for his studies on the movement of the syphilis bacteria as differentiated in various forms by ultramicroscope. He was also a pioneer on the technical application of the microcinematography in laboratory research. His collaboration with clinicians and surgeons in the study of various pathological disorders is little known. From 1918 to the 1920s, he collaborated with such neurologists as André Thomas, Jean Athanase Sicard, and others in the study of various neurological disorders by using cinematography as a scientific tool for understanding the clinical and pathological mechanisms of diseases. These collaborations allowed him to be involved in the beginnings of the French cinematography industry, especially with Charles Pathé who established a small film studio laboratory in Vincennes where a multidisciplinary group improved the application of cinematography in clinical medical practice.

“Neurocinematography in Pre-World War II Netherlands: The Magnus-Rademaker Collection,” by Peter J. Koehler, Bregt Lameris & Eva Hielscher. The abstract reads,

Historical films made by neuroscientists have shown up in several countries during past years. Although originally supposed to have been lost, we recently found a collection of films produced between 1909 and 1940 by Rudolf Magnus (1873–1927), professor of pharmacology (Utrecht) and his student Gysbertus Rademaker (1887–1957), professor of physiology (1928, succeeding Willem Einthoven) and neurology (1945, both in Leiden). Both collections deal with the physiology of body posture by the equilibrium of reflex musculature contractions for which experimental studies were done with animals (labyrinthectomies, cerebellectomies, and brainstem sections) and observations on patients. The films demonstrate the results of these studies. Moreover, there are films with babies showing tonic neck reflexes and moving images capturing adults with cerebellar symptoms following cerebellectomies for tumors and several other conditions. Magnus’ studies resulted in his well-known Körperstellung (1924, “Body Posture”) and Rademaker’s research in his Das Stehen (1931, “Standing”). The films probably had an educative and scientific purpose. Magnus demonstrated his films at congresses, including the Eighth International Congress of Physiologists (Vienna, 1910) and Rademaker screened his moving images at meetings of the Amsterdam Neurologists Society (at several occasions as reflected in the Winkler-Monakow correspondence and the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde). Next to these purposes, the films were used to analyze movement and a series of images from the films were published in articles and books. The films are important historical sources that provide a portrait of the pre-World War II era in neuroscience, partly answering questions on how physicians dealt with patients and researchers with their laboratory animals. Moreover, the films confirm that cinematography was an important scientific tool in neuroscience research.

“The Magnus-Rademaker Scientific Film Collection: Ethical Issues on Animal Experimentation (1908–1940),” by Peter J. Koehler & Bregt Lameris. The abstract reads,

The Magnus-Rademaker scientific film collection (1908–1940) deals with the physiology of body posture by the equilibrium of reflex musculature contractions for which experimental studies were carried out with animals (e.g., labyrinthectomies, cerebellectomies, and brain stem sections) as well as observations done on patients. The films were made for demonstrations at congresses as well as educational objectives and film stills were published in their books. The purpose of the present study is to position these films and their makers within the contemporary discourse on ethical issues and animal rights in the Netherlands and the earlier international debates. Following an introduction on animal rights and antivivisection movements, we describe what Magnus and Rademaker thought about these issues. Their publications did not provide much information in this respect, probably reflecting their adherence to implicit ethical codes that did not need explicit mentioning in publications. Newspaper articles, however, revealed interesting information. Unnecessary suffering of an animal never found mercy in Magnus’ opinion. The use of cinematography was expanded to the reduction of animal experimentation in student education, at least in the case of Rademaker, who in the 1930s was involved in a governmental committee for the regulation of vivisection and cooperated with the antivivisection movement. This resulted not only in a propaganda film for the movement but also in films that demonstrate physiological experiments for students with the purpose to avert repetition and to improve the teaching of experiments. We were able to identify the pertinent films in the Magnus-Rademaker film collection. The production of vivisection films with this purpose appears to have been common, as is shown in news messages in European medical journals of the period.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.