Between Photography and Film: Early Uses of Medical Cinematography

by Scott Curtis

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Fig. 1: The Hyrtl Skull Collection (George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

Imagine a medical museum, such as the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia (fig. 1). Any one of the many specimens on display might at one time have found a place in a variety of different spaces and performed a range of different functions in the nineteenth and twentieth-century hospital. In the museum, of course, the specimens function as an archive of medical history, a museum of the pathological that emphasizes rarity and spectacle. But before the specimens came to the museum we might have found them in a laboratory, where researchers tested the imaginary line between the normal and the abnormal, or in a lecture hall, where those same researchers trained interns.

In fact, in addition to their clinical wings, most major hospitals at the turn of the twentieth century had spaces devoted to experiment and exploration, such as a lab or dissection room; or devoted to documentation and archiving, such as a museum or a records room; or to education, such as an amphitheatre. So we can picture a melancholy history of any one of these specimens as it circulated through these different rooms, from bedside to morgue, from laboratory to amphitheatre to museum.

This history emphasizes the transitory nature of the medical specimen: not only its perishable quality, which the museum struggles to counteract, but its passage or circulation through different spaces of expertise. It also emphasizes the multiple functions of the specimen, depending on who is using it in what context, and the status of each specimen as a “working object”- as something that is worked upon until it becomes a representation of a particular medical concept. The idea of the “working object” is to create something that is no longer merely one of the many abundant and stubbornly individual samples of the natural world, but is instead an exemplar, a thing that can help the researcher forge a general principle from the phenomenon. To put it in theatrical terms, the object is staged, arranged, and rehearsed until it “performs” its concept. That “performance” changes, of course, depending on the venue; or, to be more precise, the specimen becomes a stable example only after multiple performances in transition.[1]

Medical photographs and films also function as working objects for the medical professional. Photos and films are not simply taken, of course, they are made, and as they circulate throughout the medical community and the spaces of the hospital, they perform a variety of medical concepts and functions. In what follows I will offer a very selective sketch of the uses of film and photography in the turn-of-the-century hospital, and I’d like to focus on three specific but overlapping functions: the use of film and photography as an experimental or exploratory device, as a document and archive, and as an educational tool. I have chosen to organize this survey by function because so much medical imaging is re-purposed; some footage might start as a document of a case, but it may then be examined experimentally, before it’s borrowed again for part of an educational film. To understand any given image, it might be more helpful to think of the room in which we find it, or to trace the circulation of that image through the hospital.

The exploratory function. Let’s begin with the relationship between film and experiment, often instantiated in the hospital or university laboratory. Even before the turn of the twentieth century, a variety of stalwart medical researchers latched on to motion pictures as a potentially valuable exploratory technology. For example, in Vienna, Austrian cardiologist Ludwig Braun used a motion picture camera in 1897 to record the beating heart of a dog (fig. 2). A specialist in cardiac dynamics and mechanics, Braun employed frame-by-frame analysis to gauge changes in the size and position of the heart as it beat by measuring the shape and displacement of shadows and other markings on his filmed images. From these short strips he was able to extract conclusive information about the nature of the heartbeat.[2]

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Fig. 2: Frames from Ludwig Braun’s film of the beating heart of a dog. From Ludwig Braun, Über Herzbewegung und Herzstoss (Jena: Fischer, 1898).

When Braun filmed a beating heart he was counting on that film to help him solve questions he did not already have the answer to, or at least the full answer. Film therefore functioned as an exploratory tool that could extend perception and manage data. In this particular instance, Braun used a film camera in a way that instruments are often used in scientific experiments, that is, to test a theory, to measure constants and variables, or to explore that which is imperceptible to the naked senses.[3] Braun’s experimental use of motion pictures certainly had precedent in the chronophotographic research of Étienne-Jules Marey, but also in the increasingly frequent use of photography in medicine, such as the well-known work of Jean-Martin Charcot and Albert Londe, who provoked and photographed symptoms of hysteria in patients at La Salpêtriere in Paris in the 1880s (fig. 3).[4] Rather than simply observe and document, Londe often used the flash of his camera to startle Charcot’s patients into an unselfconscious performance of the symptom. In this way, the camera functioned not simply as a recording device, but also as a prod that intervened, rather than just observed. Braun on the other hand would use motion pictures to document the beating heart, but then extract quantitative data by comparing the individual images to one another; specifically, he used the displacement between frames to measure the size and position of the heart. He therefore used film as an experimental gauge, like a thermometer.

Fig. 3: Pages from the photographic journal of La Salpêtriére, where Charcot and Londe used the camera as a tool to provoke performances of hysteria.

But not all exploratory uses of film in medicine are connected to experiment. Motion picture technology was also used diagnostically, as a way of searching for clues that aid the identification of a disease or injury. The most prominent example of this use of film was X-ray cinematography.[5] As we know, the discovery of X rays generated incredible enthusiasm—in 1896 alone there were over 1000 articles published on the phenomenon.[6] Much of this excitement came from the medical community, which immediately recognized benefits. In 1897 Scottish physician John Macintyre used a cinematograph to take several X-ray exposures of a frog’s leg on motion picture film to create the first moving X-ray image (fig. 4).[7] Even while Macintyre and others lauded its potential, the actual diagnostic value of X rays and X-ray cinematography remained in doubt for many years.[8] In 1912, one prominent leader in radiology said of X-ray cinematography, “Of that, I don’t expect too much. It will be didactically valuable, explain some processes, but it will not be able to serve diagnostic purposes in every instance.”[9] Nevertheless, researchers and engineers put considerable energy into crafting X-ray images that moved. Despite the inherent difficulties, X-ray cinematography promised at the very least the possibility of viewing hidden processes and movements that would help understand and diagnose illness and injury. Indeed, what distinguishes the exploratory function, whether manifested in experiment or diagnosis, is the possibility of discovery—the image presents a view that reveals something hidden from human perception.

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Fig. 4: John Macintyre, “X-Ray Records for the Cinematograph,” Archives of Skiagraphy 1, no. 2 (April 1897).

The documentary function. If the exploratory function charts new domains and reveals hidden spaces in order to help with understanding processes or identifying disease, at some point the domain has been identified and the diagnosis agreed upon. At that point, film serves as an illustration of that which is already known; it becomes equivalent to the statement, “here is an example of X.” This is the documentary function of medical cinema. In 1897, German neurologist Paul Schuster utilized the resources of Berlin clinics to create a series of short films of patients with a variety of neurological diseases. These single-shot films, between three and ten seconds each, emphasized pathological movement and were designed primarily to illustrate Schuster’s lectures without having to rely on live demonstration of the patients. He also hoped that these films and others like them would someday form an archive of material for medical educators.[10] In Louvain, neurologist Arthur Van Gehuchten similarly started using motion pictures in 1905 to illustrate his lectures on pathological movement, as did many nerve specialists around Europe.[11]

This aspect of film was especially helpful in medical demonstrations, for which the use of live patients was always troublesome. Photography was particularly popular in this regard. While it would never replace patients in bedside instruction of course, medical educators were pleased to substitute photographs, slides, and films for patients in lecture, if not to alleviate the obvious ethical concerns, then at least to present all the students with a larger, projected view.[12] These same films could be used to further analyze pathological movement, or to document intervention outcomes (as in “before and after” records of corrective surgeries) (fig. 5).[13] Films and photographs were projected or circulated at conference presentations to persuade other physicians of a given diagnosis and therapy, or they were presented to students as examples of a particular surgical strategy.

Fig. 5: A typical use of medical photography: the “before and after” pair. From L. Minor, “Ein Fall von Spina bifida,” Internationale Medizinisch-photographische Monatsshrift 1, no. 1 (1894).

Medical films, like medical photographs, appealed to researchers and educators also because they could be part of a disciplinary archive of images. As Schuster and others called for medical film archives (which would become standard only in the 1920s and 1930s), hospitals such as the Saint-Louis in Paris, the Bellevue in New York, and the Charité in Berlin had already established photographic departments for just this purpose. A report from Bellevue in 1869 indicates that a photographic archive and department could be a magnet for the discipline: “Members of the medical profession begin to visit the Department periodically, for the purpose of obtaining such photographs as pertain to each one’s more especial class of investigation. Many interesting cases of skin disease, fractures, and results of important surgical operations have been fully illustrated by series of photographs, which give opportunity for comparison and study not offered by any other means.”[14]

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Fig. 6: A series from Charcot and Londe’s photographic investigations of hysteria.

Here I want to stress the importance of the use of a series of photographs for comparison. Photography’s ability to isolate, frame, and repeat similar cases is a powerful aid in the standardization and multiplication of observational views. The arrangement of photographs in a series allows not only their sequential organization, but also their simultaneous presentation (fig. 6). Georges Didi-Huberman has argued that Charcot’s arrangement of his patients into living tableaux functioned like tables of data by organizing their signs into simultaneous events.[15] Photography allows this same organization, and much more easily. In series photography the sequence is important because it suggests a causal order or chronology, but the simultaneous display of images is arguably equally essential to the process of comparison and correlation so important for diagnosis. Frame-by-frame analysis of motion picture film worked in a similar way: Braun laid two images over each other, aligning their similarities; from this alignment, the salient differences emerged. This is akin to what happens in the hospital, where the repetition of cases over time creates a cumulative, collective “image” of the disease, in which the more or less constant aspects of the entity are stabilized and the variations are set aside for further study, then re-integrated into the “picture” of the malady.[16] Medical photography abstracts and accelerates this process; the number of photos of a particular affliction accumulate and create something of a “virtual” clinic, an archive of cases to be aligned and compared. Indeed, of all the possible hopes the medical community had for photography and film, the dream of a universal and portable archive of cases is the most persistent.

The educational function. Before we explore the educational function, it’s worth noting that showing films in the hospital around the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century was not as easy as it might seem. Despite the obvious suitability of motion pictures for demonstration or reference, film was simply not used in the lecture hall during the early period as often as magic lantern slides. Most universities or hospitals lacked projection equipment, finding it expensive, cumbersome, and difficult to master.[17] The films themselves, despite dreams of a ready archive, lacked reliable distribution outlets; other than the lists of films available from the major producers (Pathé, Gaumont, Eclipse, Urban), there existed no systematic information about available films on medical topics. The large firms generally distributed only the films they produced, so researchers had few options to distribute their films; procuring copies of someone else’s usually involved a personal connection of some sort. Or often the films just didn’t exist anymore. One researcher complained, “for a learned institute it is nearly impossible to obtain a film for an important learned lecture: we know of the film’s existence, but in the meantime it has become a victim of destruction or oblivion.”[18] This is why the calls for an archive were so common: educators just wanted a reliable source of scientific and medical cinema. So if the use of film as an experimental tool or as a document attracted the interest of just a few dedicated (and historiographically visible) pioneers—usually attached to well-funded research institutions in centers such as Berlin and Paris—we cannot say the same for the clinical or educational applications of medical film, which were scarce, geographically scattered, and sparsely documented.

Photographs, on the other hand, were more mobile. Physicians often used photographs to demonstrate a diagnosis and persuade others of the chosen therapy. For example, after the 1880s, the discussions of individual cases filling the proceedings of the Berlin Medical Society were often accompanied by photographic images that circulated among the participants.[19] These photos were frequently the basis for demonstration and debate. From the 1860s onward, there arose a number of periodicals and publications designed to present these findings in photographic form. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, for example, established the Photographic Review of Medicine and Surgery in 1870, which would present a photograph and a clinical explanation of the case in each issue. Montméja started the Revue Medico-Photographique in Paris along the same lines in the 1880s, and Ludwig Jankau founded the Internationale Medizinisch-Photographische Monatsschrift in Berlin in 1894 (fig. 7). The kinds of photographs we find in these pages include case documentation, diagnostic aids, and testimonials of intervention outcomes, all testifying to what André Gunthert has called photography’s “heuristic function.”[20] We should also remark on the rise of technical books on the subject, such as Albert Londe’s La photographie médicale,[21] and, of course, the photographic atlas.[22] Each of these venues widened medical photography’s circle of influence and transmission.

picture 7apicture 7b.pngpicture 7c.png

Fig. 7: Examples of the many nineteeth-century medical journals that emphasized photography.

Still, film’s potential for pedagogy was its most intriguing feature for the medical community. Beyond its obvious function as a projected image for lectures, physicians—especially surgeons—were also excited about what they could learn from the moving image. The classic case in early medical cinematography is that of Eugène Louis Doyen, a maverick French surgeon known for his innovative techniques and disdain for the academy (fig. 8).

In fin-de-siècle Paris, Doyen employed two cameramen to film his surgeries. These films were meant to illustrate and publicize Doyen’s tools (which he crafted himself) and techniques, but they were also intended to serve as training films for surgeons and, through his study of himself on screen, as a means to improve Doyen’s own performance.[23] Doyen explains, “When I saw for the first time one of my operations reproduced on the screen, I recognized how far I fell short of my ideal. Many of the details of technique that had seemed satisfactory I now saw to be defective, and the cinematograph has thus enabled me considerably to correct and simplify, and to perfect my operative technique.”[24] Doyen used film to study and correct the performance of work in the name of production efficiency: “The surgeon can assist at and calmly study his own operations. . . . Unnecessary gestures and movements may be noted and avoided.” With film, “Each step can thus be studied analyzed, criticized,” and, we imagine, copied or rehearsed.

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Fig. 8: Doyen (far left) engaged in one of his most notorious surgeries, the separation of conjoined twins Radica and Doodica. From the Library of Congress.

Doyen presents a good illustration of the multiple functions of the medical film because he used cinematography to document his technique, but also to train himself and others. He attempted to harness the power of the moving image to evoke a mimetic, bodily response in his audience. Yet it was precisely this power that alarmed so many professionals at this time. Indeed, Doyen is also a good example of the limits of the categories and uses I’ve described. Around 1903, one of Doyen’s cameramen allegedly copied his surgical films and sold them as attractions to exhibitors, who screened them at fairgrounds, theaters and other public venues, causing something of a scandal in the French medical community.[25] Medical professionals were outraged that these films were shown to the lay public, not only because of their sensitive nature, but because Doyen was well known for mixing the professional and the promotional side of the business.

The cinematic image documents, but it also moves, lending a touch of carnival to even the most boring research film, so film has always crossed that imaginary line between the purely scientific and the spectacular. In fact, most medical images have a disturbing, spectacular quality, a voyeuristic appeal that exceeds the boundaries of their professional implementation. Like pain itself, which is so elusive and hard to describe or express that it is beyond language, almost ontologically illegible, these images escape the categories physicians and historians set for them. They circulate beyond the walls of the hospital and end up in educational films or at the fairgrounds. And if somehow the protocols within the professional community try to contain their spectacular charm, or if in that process they lose some of their visceral power, maybe by escaping those boundaries and wandering into the public sphere, their return to the hospital is met with renewed respect for their rhetorical power.

Scott Curtis ( is associate professor of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University, director of the Program in Communication at Northwestern University in Qatar, and past president of Domitor, the international society for the study of early cinema. The author of The Shape of Spectatorship: Art, Science, and Early Cinema in Germany (Columbia UP, 2015), Curtis has published extensively on scientific and medical uses of motion picture technology.


[1] On the importance of transmission and communication in the history of science, see James A. Secord, “Knowledge in Transit,” Isis 95, no. 4 (2004): 654-672. On “working objects,” see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, “The Image of Objectivity,” Representations (1992): 81-128.

[2] Ludwig Braun, Über Herzbewegung und Herzstoss (Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1898). On Braun, see Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body: Tracing Medicines Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 20-24. On his method of frame-by-frame analysis, see my section on Braun in The Shape of Spectatorship: Art, Science, and Early Cinema in Germany (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 110-125. For other early attempts to film the action of the heart, see also Étienne-Jules Marey, Le movement (Paris: G. Masson, 1894), 271-283; and Charles François-Franck, “La Chronophotographie simultanée du coeur et des courbes cardiographiques chez les mammifères,” Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances et mémoires de la Société de Biologie 54 (8 November 1902): 1193-1197.

[3] On the nature of scientific experiment, see Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997); Ian Hacking, Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983); and Hans Radder, The Material Realization of Science (Assen and Maastricht: Van Gorcum, 1988), 59–69.

[4] For overviews of the origins of medical photography, see Alison Gernsheim, “Medical Photography in the Nineteenth Century,” Medical and Biological Illustration (London) 11, no. 2 (April 1961): 85-92; Renata Taurek, Die Bedeutung der Photographie für die medizinische Abbildung im 19. Jahrhundert (Köln: F. Hansen, 1980); Daniel M. Fox and Christopher Lawrence, Photographing Medicine: Images and Power in Britain and America since 1840 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988); Andreas-Holger Maehle, “The Search for Objective Communication: Medical Photography in the Nineteenth Century,” in Non-Verbal Communication in Science Prior to 1900, edited by Renato G. Mazzolini (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 1993), 563-586; Monique Sicard, Robert Pujade, and Daniel Wallach, À corps et à raison: Photographies médicales, 1840-1920 (Paris: editions Marval, 1995); Gunnar Schmidt, Anamorphotische Körper: Medizinische Bilder vom Menschen im 19. Jahrhundert (Köln: Böhlau, 2001). On the impact of photography on medical practice, see Stanley Joel Reiser, Medicine and the Reign of Technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978). On the photographic work of Charcot and Londe, see Ulrich Baer, “Photography and Hysteria: Toward a Poetics of the Flash,” The Yale Journal of Criticism 7, no. 1 (1994): 41-77; and Georges Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière, translated by Alisa Hartz (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003).

[5] Excellent reviews of the subject include Hans A. Jarre, “Roentgen Cinematography,” in The Science of Radiology, edited by Otto Glaser (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1933), 198-209; and L. J. Ramsey, “Early Cineradiography and Cinefluorography,” History of Photography 7, no. 4 (October-December 1983): 311-322.

[6] See the bibliography in Otto Glasser, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen and the Early History of the Roentgen Rays (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1934).

[7] John Macintyre, “X-Ray Records for the Cinematograph,” Archives of Skiagraphy 1, no. 2 (April 1897): 37; and the report of his screening for “Ladies Night” of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in “The Royal Society Conversazione,” The Lancet 149 (19 June 1897): 1706.

[8] On doubts about the clinical application of X rays, see Andrew Warwick, “X-rays as Evidence in German Orthopedic Surgery, 1895-1900,” Isis 96, no. 1 (March 2005): 1-24.

[9] Friedrich Dessauer, Die neuesten Fortschritte in der Röntgenphotographie (Leipzig: Otto Nemnich Verlag, 1912), 15.

[10] Paul Schuster, “Vorführung pathologischer Bewegungscomplexe mittelst des Kinematographen und Erläuterung derselben,” Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte 69, I (1898): 196-199. For more on Schuster and his context, see Bernd Holdorff, “Die privaten Polikliniken für Nervenkranke vor und nach 1900” and “Zwischen Hirnforschung, Neuropsychiatrie und Emanzipation zur klinischen Neurologie bis 1933,” in Geschichte der Neurologie in Berlin, edited by Bernd Holdorff and Rolf Winau (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2001), 127-137, and 157-174.

[11] Geneviève Aubert, “From Photography to Cinematography: Recording Movement and Gait in a Neurological Context,” Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 11, no. 3 (2002): 255–264; Geneviève Aubert, “Arthur Van Gehuchten Takes Neurology to the Movies,” Neurology 59 (2002): 1612-1618. See also Juliet Clare Wagner, “Twisted Bodies, Broken Minds: Film and Neuropsychiatry in the First World War” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2009).

[12] For discussion of the projection of images in medical education, see Sigmund Theodor Stein, Das Licht im Dienste wissenschaftlicher Forschung: Handbuch der Anwendung des Lichtes und der Photographie in der Natur- und Heilkunde (Leipzig: Spamer, 1877); and Sigmund Theodor Stein, Die optische Projektionskunst im dienste der exakten Wissenschaften: ein Lehr- und Hilfsbuch zur unterstützung des naturwissenschaftlichen Unterrichts (Halle: W. Knapp, 1887). See also Henning Schmidgen, “Pictures, Preparations, and Living Processes: The Production of Immediate Visual Perception (Anschauung) in late-19th-Century Physiology,” Journal of the History of Biology 37, no. 3 (October 2004): 477-513.

[13] Albert E. Stein, “Ueber medizinisch-photographische und -kinematographische Aufnahmen,” Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift 38 (20 June 1912): 1184-1186. For early reviews of the use of photography and cinematography for the study of pathological movement, with implications for therapy, see Ernst Jendrassik, “Klinische Beiträge zum Studium der normalen und pathologischen Gangarten,” Deutsche Archiv für klinische Medizin 70 (1901): 81-132; and James Fränkel, “Kinematographische Untersuchung des normalen Ganges und einiger Gangstörungen,” Zeitschrift für orthopädische Chirurgie 20 (1908): 617-646.

[14] J. Frey, “Report of the Photographic Department of Bellevue Hospital for the Year 1869,” in Tenth Annual Report of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of the City of New York for the Year 1869 (Albany: van Benthuysen, 1870), 85.

[15] Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria, 24-25.

[16] Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Vintage, 1973), esp. 107-123.

[17] See the assessment in Karl Wilhelm Wolf-Czapek, Die Kinematographie: Wesen, Entstehung und Ziele des lebenden Bildes (Berlin: Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1908; 2d enl. ed., 1911).

[18] Franz Goerke, “Proposal for Establishing an Archive for Moving Pictures (1912),” trans. Cecilie L. French and Daniel J. Leab, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 16, no. 1 (March 1996): 9-12, here 9-10. Originally published as “Vorschlag zur Einrichtung eines Archives fur Kino-films” in Der Deutsche Kaiser im Film. Zum 25 jährigen Regierungs-Jubiläum Seiner Majestät des Deutschen Kaisers Königs von Preußen Wilhelm II, ed. Paul Klebinder (Berlin: Klebinder, 1912).

[19] An example, picked more or less at random, is Adolf Magnus-Levy, “Ueber Organ-Therapie beim endemischen Kretinismus,” Verhandlungen der Berliner medicinischen Gesellschaft 34, Part II (1903): 350-357. See especially the discussion of this presentation on 22 July 1903 in Part I, pp. 246-249. No photos are published with the paper, but they discuss the photographs that were passed around among the audience. Many such uses of photographs can be found in the Verhandlungen and similar proceedings.

[20] André Gunthert, “La rétine du savant: La fonction heuristique de la photographie,” études photographiques 7 (May 2000): 29-48.

[21] Albert Londe, La photographie médicale; application aux sciences médicales et physiologiques (Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1893). See also Peter Geimer, “Picturing the Black Box: On Blanks in Nineteenth Century Paintings and Photographs,” Science in Context 17, no. 4 (2004): 467-501.

[22] On the scientific atlas, see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone, 2007).

[23] Eugène Doyen, “Le cinematographie et l’enseignement de la chirurgie,” Revue critique de médecine et de chirurgie (15 August 1899), translated as “The Cinematograph and the Teaching of Surgery,” The British Gynæcological Journal 15 (1899): 579-586. Although the films are not mentioned in the British Medical Journal’s proceedings of the July 1898 meeting, there is a letter to the editor that remarks on the strong impression they made: G. P. Coldstream, “The Cinematoscope as an Aid in Teaching,” British Medical Journal (3 September 1898): 658. On Doyen, see Robert Didier, Le Docteur Doyen: Chirurgien de la Belle Époque (Paris: Librairie Maloine, 1962); and especially the work of Thierry Lefebvre, including “Le cas étrange du Dr Doyen, 1859-1916,” Archives 29 (February 1990): 1-12; “Le Dr Doyen, un précurseur,” in Le cinéma et la science, edited by Alexis Martinet (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 1994), 70-77; and La Chair et le celluloid: Le cinéma chirurgical du Docteur Doyen (Brionne: Jean Doyen éditeur, 2004). On the films themselves, see Lefebvre, “La collection des films du Dr Doyen,” 1895 17 (December 1994): 100-114; and Tiago Baptista, “‘Il faut voir le maître’: A Recent Restoration of Surgical Films by E.-L.Doyen (1859-1916),” Journal of Film Preservation 70 (November 2005): 42-50.

[24] Doyen, “The Cinematograph and the Teaching of Surgery,” 582.

[25] Lefebvre, La chair et le celluloid, 39-59.


  1. Thank you for an interesting text! I also wanted to bring to your atention the medical movies of the Romanian neurologist Gheorghe Marinescu, who made in 1898 some of the first such cinematic films in the world, for medical teaching:
    He later published the results, along with consecutive frames, in issues of La Semaine Médicale magazine from Paris, between 1899 and 1902

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scott Curtis

      Oh yes, thanks for the link! Marinescu is quite well known for his early uses of cinematography. In fact, in addition to Gheorghe Marinescu in Bucharest, Arthur Van Gehuchten in Louvain, and Paul Schuster in Berlin, we can count Paul Richer at La Salpetrière in Paris, Walter Chase in Boston, Emil Kraepelin in Munich, Hans Hennes in Bonn, Osvaldo Polimanti in Naples and Perugia, and Theodore Weisenburg in Philadelphia—all used motion pictures to document nervous disorders in the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for all this information, interesting! I had the pleasure to view Marinescu’s films recently (the only medical films I’ve seen so far) and like most early films they confront the viewer with a slightly unfamiliar experience/language; they also trigger thoughts on the use and staging of bodies on/off camera. (Alexandra Ion)


  2. Great post, Scott. Many thanks. Intrigued to know what a a “ladies night” at the RCS was… Macintyre was an interesting guy – entertained (and x-rayed) folk like Conrad and Paderewski –

    Liked by 1 person

    • Scott Curtis

      Thanks, Chris. Yes, Macintyre was a bit of a showman, wasn’t he? A common profile for many of the early researchers who gravitated to film. As you know, institutions such as the RCS often held public lectures as a form of (what today would be called) community outreach and to popularize their staff and findings. “Ladies Night” was just that: a space for intellectually curious members of the public–who happened to be female. 🙂


  3. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Year 2, Vol. #28 | Whewell's Ghost

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