The Public Health Film Goes to War
By Michael Sappol
Public health and war have long been close companions. In the first terrible round of “modern wars”—the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War and World War I—military officials and civilian leaders called on health professionals and volunteers to help mobilize and protect military forces and civilian populations. Health experts in turn viewed these conflicts as a sort of laboratory to test and implement their theories, and an opportunity to use fresh knowledge and nascent technologies. They boarded the bandwagon to advance their professional, scientific, political, and ideological goals—and film was a medium with which to do so.
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- “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
The Reward of Courage sought to transform public ideas about cancer by encouraging people to seek help from a recognized physician at the first sign of the disease or its possibility: early detection and treatment being the ASCC’s main approach to cancer control.
- Air Pollution Is a Human Problem: Mary Catterall’s Campaign for Clean Air in Leeds, England - By Angela Saward, BA, MTA, Wellcome Collection
Dr. Mary Catterall (1922-2015), doctor and sculptor, script and medical adviser to the film, It Takes Your Breath Away, became concerned with lung health when she was appointed Senior Registrar in Respiratory Medicine at Leeds General Infirmary, England in 1960. The film won a Silver Medal at the British Medical Association annual film competition in 1964.
- 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.
- Challenge: Science Against Cancer or How to Make a Movie in the Mid-Twentieth Century - By David Cantor, PhD Instituto de Desarrollo Económico y Social (IDES), Buenos Aires
In 1949 the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Canadian Department of National Health and Welfare (DNHW) commissioned a cancer educational film, eventually called Challenge: Science Against Cancer. It was to be one of the first of a new form of film. The urgent task was to induce young scientists to think of cancer research and biomedicine as careers, and Challenge was to be a key part of the response.
- 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 and Michael Sappol, PhD
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.
- Darkening Day: Air Pollution Films and Environmental Awareness, 1960–1972 - By Jennifer Lynn Peterson, PhD
The 1960s represent a turning point in popular awareness about environmental problems. The modern environmental movement that emerged in the mid-1960s and early ‘70s focused on a new set of concerns such as air pollution, water pollution, and pesticides. More federal environmental bills were signed in the 1960s and early 1970s than at any other period in U.S. history.
- Disease Vectors of Cartoon Modernity - By Kathy High and Michael Sappol, PhD
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, Birgit Nemec, and Katrin Pilz
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).
- Screening the Nurse: Film, Fear, and Narrative from the 1940s to the 1970s - By David Cantor, PhD
In the early twentieth century, American nursing leaders came to see the motion picture as a quintessentially modern instrument of education, training, and recruitment. In their view, movies were a powerful tool to transform public opinion, to instruct new recruits in the mysteries of nursing practice, and to keep the qualified nurse abreast of new developments in the field.
- Shared Suffering Onscreen: Animal Experiments and Emotional Investment in the Films of O. H. Mowrer - By Benjamín Schultz-Figueroa, PhD, Assistant Professor in Film Studies, Seattle University
The history of animal testing and the history of the life sciences go hand in hand. Donna Haraway describes the emotional and ethical complexities with this work as the “shared suffering” of the lab. This argument is premised on the recognition of animal agency in the lab, a space where animals, apparatuses, and scientists are all responding and responsible to each other, though in very different ways.
- 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.
- The Films of Virologist Telford Work -
By Dwight Swanson
The National Library of Medicine is home to 83 films created by virologist Telford H. Work documenting his life’s work and travels. The films supplement Work’s manuscript collection, which covers his education, career, hobbies, and achievements. Captured between 1942 and 1988, the films were primarily shot on 16mm film, with video copies made later.
- The Public Health Film Goes to War - NEWEST ESSAY & FILM
By Michael Sappol, PhD
Public health and war have long been close companions. In the first terrible round of "modern wars"—the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War and World War I—military officials and civilian leaders called on health professionals and volunteers to help mobilize and protect military forces and civilian populations. Health experts in turn viewed these conflicts as a sort of laboratory to test and implement their theories, and an opportunity to use fresh knowledge and nascent technologies. They boarded the bandwagon to advance their professional, scientific, political, and ideological goals—and film was a medium with which to do so.
- VD at the Movies: Public Health Service World War II Venereal Disease Films -
By John Parascandola, PhD
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.