The wonderful blog Mind Hacks has just brought to our attention John Huston’s 1946 film, Let There Be Light. The third of three propaganda films Huston was commission to make for the United States Army, Let There Be Light features World War II era soldiers experiencing neuropsychiatric illness as the result of the trauma of war.
Initially banned by the US government, the film made its debut at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. Now the film – which showcases the experiences of these soldiers, their often harsh treatment at the hands of medical professionals, and the soldiers distaste for the military post-war – is available in full online, both on YouTube (above) and as a downloadable file on Internet Archive.
The July 2012 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are two articles that tackle the history of mental health. The first article describes the work of Arthur Hurst who filmed soldiers suffering from shell shock post World War I. Further films by Hurst were used to convey the message that these soldiers could be “cured” with relative ease. The second mental health related article in this issue explores the relationship between mentally ill smokers and the tobacco industry, including efforts to cast smoking as an activity with positive effects for the mentally ill. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“War Neuroses and Arthur Hurst: A Pioneering Medical Film about the Treatment of Psychiatric Battle Casualties,” by Edgar Jones. The abstract reads,
From 1917 to 1918, Major Arthur Hurst filmed shell-shocked patients home from the war in France. Funded by the Medical Research Committee, and using Pathé cameramen, he recorded soldiers who suffered from intractable movement disorders as they underwent treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley and undertook programs of occupational therapy at Seale Hayne in Devon. As one of the earliest UK medical films, Hurst’s efforts may have drawn inspiration from the official documentary of the Battle of the Somme and films made in 1916 by French Army neurologists. Although initially motivated to make use of a novel medium to illustrate lectures, Hurst was alert to the wider appeal of the motion picture and saw an opportunity to position himself in the postwar medical hierarchy. Some “before treatment” shots were reenacted for the camera. Hurst, like some other shell shock doctors, openly used deception as a therapeutic measure. On the basis that the ends justified the means, they defended this procedure as ethical. Clinicians also took advantage of changes in military regulations to address functional symptoms. Claims made of “cures” in the film and associated publications by Hurst were challenged by other doctors treating shell shock. The absence of follow-up data and evidence from war pension files suggested that Hurst may have overstated the effectiveness of his methods. Nevertheless, the message conveyed in the film that chronic cases could be treated in a single session had a powerful resonance for ambitious or charismatic doctors and was revived in World War II.
The December 2010 issue of History of Psychiatryhas been published online. The issue contains nine all new articles on topics including, pyromania, war neurosis in the Spanish Civil War, Kanner’s syndrome, as well as an article by Leon Hoffman (right) on the one hundredth anniversary of Freud’s visit to the United States. Article titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Care of the insane in Lübeck during the 17th and 18th centuries,” by Horst Dilling, Hans Thomsen, and Fritz Hohagen. The abstract reads,
Only selected aspects of the history of the House of the Poor Insane in the Hanseatic Free City of Lübeck have been studied to date. This article presents the results of an entire source study of this small institution in the 17th and 18th centuries, and briefly also during the next 40 years after the opening of a new building. In addition to the minute-book of the Governors, now kept in the Lübeck Municipal Archives, the results are based primarily on the account-books, which illustrate the institution’s social history and activities. Examples are given. During most of the 17th century, the House was generally rather like a prison for the insane, but at the end of this century and in the early 18th there was a reform phase. This was followed by phases of repression and ‘containment’ at the end of the 18th century and in the early 19th century, before a renewed reform by the medical profession. The findings for Lübeck are compared with the development of inpatient care in institutions elsewhere, and the decisive factors in Lübeck are discussed.