By Sarah Eilers
Last month, I had the privilege of collaborating with Dr. Oliver Gaycken, professor of film studies at the University of Maryland-College Park, to present several rarely-seen films from the National Library of Medicine’s historical audiovisuals collection. The occasion was the 11th Orphan Film Symposium held at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, which this year included participants from 15 nations.
Narrowly defined, an orphan film is a motion picture abandoned by its creator, owner, or caretaker. More broadly, the term has come to refer to films outside the commercial mainstream, including amateur, industrial, experimental, home, and medical films. Even if not abandoned, the origins of these films are often hard to trace.
Orphans—as attendees call the event—is a biennial four-day gathering of film scholars, historians, archivists, collectors, students, and technical experts. While some Orphans attendees are familiar with the NLM’s collection of 10,000+ historical audiovisual productions, many are not. Our presentation provided an opportunity to share the richness of NLM’s collection and the promise it holds for research and education across the disciplines.
Orphans chooses a different theme for each meeting, and all sessions embody that focus in some fashion. The 2018 theme? Love.
Archivists, Scholars, and Love Doctors
As an archivist in the NLM’s History of Medicine Division, I opened our joint presentation with an overview of the mission of the NLM and its historical audiovisuals program. Dr. Gaycken then presented his paper, titled “Love Doctors and Medical Media.” Gaycken discussed four NLM-held training films dating from the 1970s and showed excerpts from each. The films were intended to educate physicians and psychologists in couples-counseling, particularly in the area of sexual dysfunction.
Dr. Gaycken played selected clips and guided the audience through the pedagogy demonstrated in each production, noting that at least two of the films are part of a series called Aspects of Sexual Interviewing. Gaycken observed that the films “employ a similar form, presenting an interview followed by a ‘replay analysis’ of key moments presented with voice-over commentary.” Dr. Harold Lief, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist and psychotherapist who advocated the integration of sex education into the medical school curriculum, provides the films’ guiding presence. Dr. David Reed, a younger colleague of Lief’s, is the interviewer who interacts directly with couples or individual patients. Replay analysis, said Gaycken, puts us all in mind of sports, but it’s just a “then-contemporary word for an old educational technique, that of guided recapitulation,” which Lief oversees.
The fourth title Gaycken presented, Bill and Sue: A Co-Therapy Team Approach, features two real-life therapists, Drs. Avinoam and Beryl Chernick, who are married to one another. Curiously, the doctors also play the roles of the couple they are counseling, Bill and Sue. They change their clothes, affects, and tones of voice as they pretend to be troubled newlyweds Bill and Sue, and then confident, professional Avinoam and Beryl. “Their self-awareness here is not just a gag to lighten the mood,” said Gaycken. “By playing themselves as counselors as well as patients, the Chernicks literalize the therapists’ tools of mirroring and modeling.”
Medical Media at NLM
During the last portion of our session, I introduced the audience to the planned redesign of NLM’s Medical Movies on the Web, which has been informed by user feedback received over the past several years. Connected to NLM Digital Collections and frequently featured in this blog, Medical Movies on the Web offers curation of rare and sometimes unique film content in the NLM collections. Original scholarly essays accompany the films, often supplemented with images and other archival material drawn from within and outside NLM collections. We anticipate a reimagined site that will offer additional context about the films and information about medical movie-making, appeal to a range of audiences, improve groupings of film, link and layer descriptive content, and allow users to more easily search the site. After hearing about it, several conference participants kindly volunteered to contribute essays, while others expressed interest in specific content (e.g. more silent films).
All Kinds of Love
Our presentation about NLM’s training films was in good company, as Orphans presenters interpreted the Love theme inventively. Some showed long-hidden film fragments depicting romantic or familial love. Others emphasized their own love of a particular subject. Several speakers showed home movies that depicted the interests of their creators, ranging from helicopters to travel to political independence movements. One historian introduced the audience to footage by an amateur filmmaker, Walther Barth, who filmed all aspects of his life, from the 1920s through the 1960s.
An archivist from the China Film Archive traveled from Beijing to present a beautifully restored 1922 film titled Laborer’s Love, which featured a medical angle of its own. A Chinese fruit-seller wishes to marry a young lady whose father is a healer. Business has been slow lately for Father, so he advises the young man to send more business his way, and in return he’ll grant his permission for the marriage. What’s a fruit-seller to do? Why, rig up a flight of stairs that go flat when someone steps upon them. A dozen people slide down the stairs and land in heaps, bruised and sore. All make their way to Father for treatment. Permission granted.
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