Medical Projections: Surgery, Disease, Physiology, and Health in Early Cinema (1892-1909): Block Museum - Northwestern University
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Medical Projections: Surgery, Disease, Physiology, and Health in Early Cinema (1892-1909)

Black and white close up image of eyes glaring, one more open than the other
7 PM

Event Details

Date & Time:

Thu April 6, 2023
7 PM


The Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208


Open to the public


Medical Projections: Surgery, Disease, Physiology, and Health in Early Cinema (1892-1909)

(Multiple Artists, 1892-1909​​, multiple formats, approx. 55 min)


This program assembles a rich selection of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century films that reflect the medical community’s growing interest in using cinema as a tool for documentation, diagnosis, and self-promotion, and the general public’s interest in the human body as a site of spectacle. 

The use of film as a tool to study human motion and physiology began in the 1890s with the chronophotographic films of Étienne-Jules Marey, the French physician and scientist whose inventions helped forge the emergence of cinema and modern cardiography alike (and who was a primary inspiration for artist Dario Robleto’s current Block exhibition, The Heart’s Knowledge). From documentations of neuropathological disorders to surgical demonstrations, cinema soon allowed medical professionals to train students, to spread awareness of new techniques to peers, and to further the public exposure to advancements in medicine.

The films in this program, drawn from archival collections across the US, Europe, and Latin America, reveal the many ways that early cinema shaped popular awareness around medicine and health. Exercise and bodybuilding films promoted emerging cultures of hygiene and fitness; short comedy films depicted new and improved medical technologies in x-rays and surgery; the scientific films of microbiologist Jean Comandon were financed and released by commercial distributor Pathé—examples that attest to the public’s fascination with science, and to the spectacular (and visceral) appeal of the cinema at the dawn of the 20th century.

With introduction and commentary by guest curator Patrick Friel.

Viewer advisory: some of the films in this program include graphic and potentially disturbing content. 

Films include: 

Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze [a.k.a. Fred Ott's Sneeze] (W.K.L. Dickson, 1894, 1 min, U.S., Edison) 

Selected Chronophotographic Films (1892-1900, Étienne-Jules Marey and Associates, 5 min total, France)

First X-ray Cinematograph Film Ever Taken, Shown by Dr. Macintyre at the London Royal Society, 1897 (John Macintyre, 1897, 13 sec, Scotland)

X-Rays (G.A. Smith, 1897, 1 min, U.K.)

The Merry Skeleton [Film Lumière n°831- Le Squelette joyeux] (Unknown Director, 1897, 1 min, France, Lumière)

The Operation of Dr. Posadas [La operación del Dr. Posadas] (Alejandro Posadas, doctor, and Eugenio Py, cameraman, 1899-1900, 4 min, Argentina)

Amputation of the Lower Leg [Unterschenkelamputation] (Ernst von Bergmann, doctor, [Unknown Cameraman], 1903, 3 min, Germany)

La Séparation des sœurs siamoises (Eugène-Louis Doyen, doctor, and Clément Maurice, cameraman, 1902, 4 min, France)

Turn-of-the-Century Surgery [Chirurgie fin de siècle] (1900, 2 min, France, a Gaumont production, © Gaumont)

La Neuropatologia Films (Camillo Negro, doctor, and Roberto Omegna, cameraman, c.1906-1908, 7 min selection, Italy)

Films by Gheorghe Marinescu and Constantin Popescu, including Walking Difficulties in Organic Hemiplegia [Tulburarile mersului in hemiplegia organica] (Gheorge Marinescu, doctor, and Constantin Popescu, cameraman, ca. 1898-1904, 8 min total, Romania)

Epileptic Seizures 1-8 (Walter G. Chase, 1905, 22 min, U.S., American Mutoscope and Biograph Company)

The Municipal Hospital - A Boy with a Seizure [Kommunehospitalet - en dreng med krampe] (Peter Elfelt, 1907, 1 min, Denmark)

Spirochaeta Pallida (Agent de la Syphilis) (Jean Comandon, 1909, 4 min, France, Document GP archives, Collection Pathé)

M. Lavelle, Physical Culture No.1 (Frederick S. Armitage, 1905, 1 min, U.S., American Mutoscope and Biograph Company)

Dr. Clod-Hansen (Peter Elfelt, 1909, 1 min, Denmark)


Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, Epileptic Seizures 1-8, and M. Lavelle, Physical Culture No.1 courtesy of Library of Congress; First X-ray Cinematograph Film Ever Taken, Shown by Dr. Macintyre at the London Royal Society, 1897 and X-Rays courtesy of British Film Institute; The Merry Skeleton courtesy of Institut Lumière; The Operation of Dr. Posadas courtesy the Fundación Cinemateca Argentina (additional thanks to Gotika Foundation); Amputation of the Lower Leg courtesy of Wellcome Collection; La Séparation des sœurs siamoisescourtesy of Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée (CNC); Turn-of-the-Century Surgery and Spirochaeta Pallida (Agent de la Syphilis) courtesy of GP Archives; La Neuropatologia Films courtesy of Collection Museo Nazionale del Cinema – Torino; Films by Gheorge Marinescu and Constantin Popescu courtesy of Romanian Film Centre [Centrul Național al Cinematografiei] and National Film Archive [Arhiva Nationala de Filme]; The Municipal Hospital - A Boy with a Seizure and Dr. Clod-Hansen courtesy of Danish Film Institute. Selected Chronophotographic Films courtesy of Cinémathèque française.

About the speaker: 

Patrick Friel is a Chicago-based educator and film programmer. He is currently an Adjunct Instructor at Columbia College Chicago and has previously taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is the former Program Director at Chicago Filmmakers (1996-2007) and the Festival Director and Programmer of the Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival (2001-2015). In 2008 he founded the independent alternative film screening series White Light Cinema. He has presented freelance programs at many venues and festivals, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the University of Chicago, the Block Museum of Art (Northwestern University), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Chicago Underground Film Festival, Pacific Film Archives, Cinematheque Ontario, and Anthology Film Archives. He was the Managing Editor of the on-line Chicago film resource Cine-File from 2008-2021. Friel has also served as a festival judge, festival pre-screener, film festival panelist, grant review panelist, guest speaker, symposium co-organizer, and has written for Film Comment, Cineaste, Afterimage, Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, and Senses of Cinema. He has an M.A. from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Indiana University.


An initiative of the COOLIDGE CORNER THEATRE, with major support from the ALFRED P. SLOAN FOUNDATION.


Science on Screen: Inner and Outer Space

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto, this series explores representations of the inner workings of the human body and the celestial mechanics of the cosmos throughout the history of cinema. Across our Winter and Spring calendars, Block Cinema will present a range of screenings, from cult classics to silent treasures and contemporary blockbusters, that resonate with the key themes of Dario Robleto’s artwork: the role of new technologies in expanding humanity’s spatial and perceptual reach; the emotional consequences of scientific discovery; the role that art can play in transcending boundaries that separate us. 

Supported by the Sloan Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Cinema’s Science on Screen program, each of the screenings in the “Inner and Outer Space” series will feature extended introductions by scientists, historians, and scholars, who will shed light on the themes and histories depicted on screen. 


Contact The Block Museum of Art for more information: (847) 491-4000 or email us at