VD at the Movies: Public Health Service World War II Venereal Disease Films – NEWEST ESSAY
By John Parascandola, Ph.D.
The United States Public Health Service (PHS) released education films in the 1930s and 1940s as part of a campaign against VD. Two of the best of these, produced in cooperation with the Hollywood filmmaking industry, were Know for Sure (1941) and To the People of the United States (1944).
- “Come with me, into the visual instruction room” - By Michael Sappol, PhD
A dentist invites a young boy: “Come with me, into the visual instruction room.” And with this, Ask Your Dentist, a silent dental film from around 1930, stages a cinematic revue of instructional techniques and tactics.
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- A Bit of Hollywood in the Operating Room - By Caitjan Gainty, PhD
Dr. Joseph DeLee’s obstetrical training films were made to instruct those less experienced and demonstrate to the medical profession that obstetricians were every bit the consummate professionals.
- A Cinematic and Physiological Puzzle: Soviet Conjoined Twins Research, Scientific Cinema and Pavlovian Physiology - By Nikolai Krementsov, PhD
Among the many old motion pictures shelved in the collection of the National Library of Medicine is a uniquely strange two-reel 16 millimeter film, with an ungainly title: Neural and Humoral Factors in the Regulation of Bodily Functions (Research on Conjoined Twins).
- A Rediscovered Cancer Film of the Silent Era - By David Cantor, PhD
It was in the fall of 1921 that the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC) released its first public education film.
- An Epidemiological Expedition Into the Interior of Africa - By Paul Theerman, PhD
Reconnaissance for Yellow Fever in the Nuba Mountains, Southern Sudan, 1954 is one of the several dozen films that Dr. Telford H. Work created during his distinguished career in arbovirus (“arthropod-borne virus”) field research.
- “Light, Air, and Sun!” Die englische Krankheit [The English Disease] and Health Education Films in the Third Reich - By Anja Laukötter
A darkly-lit parade of twisted, deformed people slowly, painfully, marches back and forth over a map of England, as the movie soundtrack sounds anxious notes of alarm.
- “Stronger and Whiter Light Down Deeper and Darker Holes”: Jacob Sarnoff and the Strange World of Anatomical Filmmaking - By Miriam Posner, PhD
As a historian of medicine's visual culture, I've seen some weird films. But The Blood Vessels and Their Functions (1924–1925) still took me aback.
- Can Leprosy Be Cured? - By Magnus Vollset, PhD and Michael Sappol, PhD
Leprosy in India [Lepra in India in the original German] is a hard film to watch. In the course of its 12 minutes, it puts before the camera patients who suffer from a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild discoloration of the skin to terrible facial and bodily disfigurement, and loss of fingers and toes.
- Cartoon Fun with Cancer, Cars and Companionate Marriage in Suburban America - By David Cantor, PhD
The release of Man Alive! in 1952 signaled a change in American anti-cancer campaigns. Since their emergence in the early twentieth century, such campaigns had focused most attention on recruiting women into programs of early detection and treatment.
- Child-men, Fast Women, Venereal Nightmares and Racial Uplift… - By Mikita Brottman
Made shortly after the end of World War 2, this curious little nightmare movie addresses black soldiers. It depicts them as overgrown, impulsive, hypersexualized children who are not able to contain their primordial desires.
- Commandments for Health - By Michael Rhode
Inspired by the U.S. Army’s popular “Private Snafu” animated cartoon series, late in World War II the Navy hired Hugh Harman (1908–82) to do a similar series, focused on health.
- Copper Masks and Faceless Men… - By Zoe Beloff
A tiny, black-robed woman scurries down a deserted street and ducks into an alley overgrown with ivy.
- Disease Vectors of Cartoon Modernity - By Kathy High
It's 1950 and a fine upstanding teenager named Rodney is stricken with the deadly tuberculosis bacterium (Mycobacterium tuberculosis).
- Edgar Ulmer, The NTA, and the Power of Sermonic Medicine - By Devin Orgeron, PhD
From the late 1930s through the early 1940s, low-budget filmmaker and perennial Hollywood underdog Edgar G. Ulmer (1904-1972) directed what appear to be eight educational health shorts for the National Tuberculosis Association (NTA).
- Erdheim’s Autopsy: Dissection, Motion Pictures, and the Politics of Health in “Red Vienna” - By Tatjana Buklijas
Sometime in the last century a fragment of silent film landed at the National Library of Medicine. Like many of the older films in the collection, how it got there is a mystery: no paperwork survives to tell the tale; no other prints of the film appear to have survived; no other sources on its making or showing have turned up.
- For Rebels, it’s a Kick… - By Erika Dyck, PhD
It’s the late 1960s. Teenagers, a hip voice clues us in, are always looking for kicks, and today’s teens express themselves with cool fashions, groovy hairstyles, and kooky pranks.
- Fresh Air and the White Plague - By Cynthia Connolly, PhD, RN, PNP, FAAN
It’s 1926. The camera is shaky and the images blurry, but we can see a forested hillside and a crop of buildings. Then more acreage, more structures. Eventually, row upon row of people sunbathing; nurses in white uniforms; fresh milk poured into tin cups; children playing and yes, even boxing.
- Gene Kelly’s Unknown Wartime Star Turn - By Michael Sappol, PhD
As America entered World War II, the prestige of science and technology was very high. From early on, the conflict was seen as a total war and a modern war, requiring modern methods in every respect.
- Informative Beauty - By Oliver Gaycken, PhD
The archival record is mostly silent on the origins of this short film produced and narrated by Frank Armitage, a medical illustrator who also worked as a Disney animator and mural artist, and whose work demonstrates the rare beauty of medical art. By tracing Armitage’s career, we can contextualize and elucidate Anatomical Animation.
- Modernizing the Tropics, Making a New Nation with Public Health - By Michael Sappol, PhD
Filariasis, a parasitic disease typically found in tropical areas, is caused by microscopic thread-like nematodes (roundworms; also known as filariae).
- The Cinema of Schizophrenia - By Mark S. Micale
Schizophrenia was a new diagnosis in interwar American medicine. Invented in 1911 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (1857–1939), the term gradually supplanted “dementia praecox,” which after World War I was associated too closely with German psychiatry.
- The Falls of 1972: John B Calhoun and Urban Pessimism - By Jon Adams and Edmund Ramsden, PhD
“Fall, 1972. Scenes Include Last Survivors.” This is the text on the opening slate. What have we missed? For now, it’s enough to know we’ve arrived late in the game. This is not the event, but its aftermath. This is post-apocalypse.
- VD at the Movies: Public Health Service World War II Venereal Disease Films - NEWEST ESSAY & FILM
By John Parascandola, Ph.D.
The United States Public Health Service (PHS) released several education films in the 1930s and 1940s as part of a broader campaign against venereal-disease (VD). The agency had been operating a VD program since World War I, when concern over the number of Army recruits infected led Congress to enact a law that created a Venereal Disease Division in the PHS.