HHS Special Issue: Demons of the mind: The ‘psy’ sciences and film in the long 1960s

A new special issue of History of the Human Sciences on “Demons of the mind: The ‘psy’ sciences and film in the long 1960s” will interest AHP readers. Full details below.

Introduction: “Demons of the mind: The ‘psy’ sciences and film in the long 1960s,” Tim Snelson, William R. Macauley. Open Access. Abstract:

This introduction provides context for a collection of articles that came out of a research symposium held at the Science Museum’s Dana Research Centre in 2018 for the ‘Demons of Mind: the Interactions of the ‘Psy’ Sciences and Cinema in the Sixties’ project. Across a range of events and research outputs, Demons of the Mind sought to map the multifarious interventions and influences of the ‘psy’ sciences (psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis) on film culture in the long 1960s. The articles that follow discuss, in order: critical engagement with theories of child development in 1960s British science fiction; the ‘horrors’ of contemporary psychiatry and neuroscience portrayed in the Hollywood blockbuster The Exorcist (1973); British social realist filmmakers’ alliances with proponents of ‘anti-psychiatry’; experimental filmmaker Jane Arden’s coalescence of radical psychiatry and radical feminist techniques in her ‘psychodrama’ The Other Side of the Underneath (1973); and the deployment of film technologies by ‘psy’ professionals during the post-war period to capture and interpret mother-infant interaction.

“‘We have come to be destroyed’: The ‘extraordinary’ child in science fiction cinema in early Cold War Britain,” Laura Tisdall. Open Access. Abstract:

Depictions of children in British science fiction and horror films in the early 1960s introduced a new but dominant trope: the ‘extraordinary’ child. Extraordinary children, I suggest, are disturbing because they violate expected developmental norms, drawing on discourses from both the ‘psy’ sciences and early neuroscience. This post-war trope has been considered by film and literature scholars in the past five years, but this existing work tends to present the extraordinary child as an American phenomenon, and links these depictions to adults’ psychoanalytical anxieties about parenthood and the family. This article, considering Village of the Damned (1960), Children of the Damned (1963), The Damned (1963), and Lord of the Flies (1963), will contend that the extraordinary child was British before it was American, and tapped as much into nuclear anxieties generated by the early Cold War as fears about the ‘permissive society’, especially given that many of these films preceded the peak of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and were based on British science fiction of the 1950s. The ‘psy science’ that was dominant in these films was developmental psychology, not psychoanalysis. Moreover, adolescents as well as adults were key audiences for these films. Drawing on self-narrative essays written by English adolescents aged 14 to 16 between 1962 and 1966, I will demonstrate that this age group employed their own fears of nuclear war and their knowledge of psychological language to challenge adult authority, presenting a counter-narrative to adult conceptions of the abnormal and irresponsible ‘rising generation’.

“‘Somewhere between science and superstition’: Religious outrage, horrific science, and The Exorcist (1973),” Amy C. Chambers. Open Access. Abstract:

Science and religion pervade the 1973 horror The Exorcist (1973), and the film exists, as the movie’s tagline suggests, ‘somewhere between science and superstition’. Archival materials show the depth of research conducted by writer/director William Friedkin in his commitment to presenting and exploring emerging scientific procedures and accurate Catholic ritual. Where clinical and barbaric science fails, faith and ritual save the possessed child Reagan MacNeil (Linda Blair) from her demons. The Exorcist created media frenzy in 1973, with increased reports in the popular press of demon possessions, audience members convulsing and vomiting at screenings, and apparent religious and specifically Catholic moral outrage. However, the official Catholic response to The Exorcist was not as reactionary as the press claimed. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting (USCCB-OFB) officially and publicly condemned the film as being unsuitable for a wide audience, but reviews produced for the office by priests and lay Catholics and correspondence between the Vatican and the USCCB-OFB show that the church at least notionally interpreted it as a positive response to the power of faith. Warner Bros. Studios, however, were keen to promote stories of religious outrage to boost sales and news coverage – a marketing strategy that actively contradicted Friedkin’s respectful and collaborative approach to working with both religious communities and medical professionals. Reports of Catholic outrage were a means of promoting The Exorcist rather than an accurate reflection of the Catholic Church’s nuanced response to the film and its scientific and religious content.

“From In Two Minds to MIND: The circulation of ‘anti-psychiatry’ in British film and television during the long 1960s,” Tim Snelson. Open Access. Abstract:

This article explores the circulation of ‘anti-psychiatry’ in British film and television during the long 1960s, focusing on the controversial BBC television play In Two Minds (1967) and its cinema remake Family Life (1971). These films were inspired by R. D. Laing’s ideas on the aetiology of schizophrenia, and were understood as uniting the personal and political motivations of progressive film-makers (Ken Loach, Tony Garnett, David Mercer) and progressive psychiatrists (Laing, David Cooper, Aaron Esterson). Drawing upon practitioner interviews with producer Garnett and director Loach, and extensive archival research on the production and reception of these films, this article contests previous scholarship on the popular circulation of anti-psychiatry and the movement’s perceived polarisation from mainstream British psychiatry. While the reception of In Two Minds and Family Life did intensify an adversarial relationship between ‘rebel’ anti-psychiatrists and hard-line behaviourists such as William Sargant, the wider psychiatric field largely welcomed the films’ contributions to mental health awareness and used the publicity to counter the idea of a ‘battle’ within the profession. This included leading UK mental health organisation the National Association for Mental Health looking to Loach and Laing as models for engaging contemporary audiences as it rebranded to MIND in 1972. This article contributes to historical understandings of the complex interactions between the fields of media and mental health, as well as recent scholarship challenging the idea of a clear split between anti-psychiatry and British medical orthodoxy.

“Psychedelic psychodrama: Raising and expanding consciousness in Jane Arden’s The Other Side of the Underneath (1973),” Sophia Satchell-Baeza. Abstract:

Jane Arden’s debut feature film The Other Side of the Underneath (1973) is an adaptation of the radical feminist play A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches (1971). In both the play and the later film, the all-female cast re-enact personal and archetypal situations using autobiographical material, which was collectively gathered from group therapy sessions led by the director. Psychedelic drugs were also consumed during the group therapy sessions. In this article, I will situate Arden’s distinct approach to performance in the film within the framework of psychodrama, focusing specifically on the role that psychedelic drugs play in unleashing performers’ repressed feelings of trauma, rage, and desire; these emotions are harnessed into a dynamic mode of performance that amplifies the cathartic possibilities of women’s speech. The film’s heady brew of radical feminist politics, group therapy, and countercultural self-actualisation is both challenging and contentious. I argue that Arden’s pursuit of consciousness liberation through psychodrama and psychedelics—in other words, through ‘raising’ and ‘expanding’ consciousness—is best understood as a concerted attempt to align countercultural and radical feminist tactics for unravelling repressive forms of social conditioning.

“Mothering in the frame: Cinematic microanalysis and the pathogenic mother, 1945–67,” Katie Joice. Open Access. Abstract:

This article examines the use of cinematic microanalysis to capture, decompose, and interpret mother–infant interaction in the decades following the Second World War. Focusing on the films and writings of Margaret Mead, Ray Birdwhistell, René Spitz, and Sylvia Brody, it examines the intellectual culture, and visual methodologies, that transformed ‘pathogenic’ mothering into an observable process. In turn, it argues that the significance assigned to the ‘small behaviours’ of mothers provided an epistemological foundation for the nascent discipline of infant psychiatry. This research draws attention to two new areas of enquiry within the history of emotions and the history of psychiatry in the post-war period: preoccupation with emotional absence and affectlessness, and their personal and cultural meanings; and the empirical search for the origin point, and early chronology, of mental illness.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.