Documenting intriguing history of the movie industry — in the medical profession

A still from “The Reward of Courage” (1921), one the many movies in the National Library of Medicine’s website collection called Medicine on Screen. This silent film probably is the first cinematic representation of a breast examination for cancer. (National Library of Medicine)By Erin BlakemoreMay 4 at 8:00 AM

“Frigid” women and contagious men. Anatomical animations and nefarious quacks.

Those are just a few of the topics covered by the National Library of Medicine’s gigantic collection of medical movies — often-rare films that explore all facets of medicine, including documenting scientific advances and telling people how to behave.

A new site, Medicine on Screen, highlights those films in all their instructive glory. It documents the history of the medical movie industry and draws attention to particularly intriguing films with context-rich essays.

The essays are written by scholars, but they’re accessible when combined with the films themselves.

Many medical movies were made for training or educating the public about communicable diseases, occupational hazards and other issues. The history of the industry runs parallel with that of Hollywood cinema, and the collection includes everything from silent movies to cartoons.

●There’s “Rodney,” a cartoon kid who comes down with a terrifying case of tuberculosis. A new media expert and a medical historian reveal how the film uses Cold War fears of the other to make people aware of the possible invasion of infectious disease.

●“Easy to Get” features another kind of othering: racist and misogynistic tropes that uphold a 1940s film depicting soldiers threatened by diseases transmitted by sexually promiscuous women.

●There’s a film about psychiatry starring Gene Kelly, of all people, and one created by a Disney animator who was fascinated by human anatomy.

The movies go beyond shock value and hilarity, of course: The collection traces the allure, growth and perils of modern medicine on film.

Visit http://bit.ly/NLMfilms to find more than 900 films digitized by the NLM, or delve into Medicine on Screen’s information on medical movies’ creators and their techniques.

And there’s a YouTube playlist at http://bit.ly/MedHistMovies.

Source: Washington Post

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