Filming epileptic and hysterical seizures before 1914: American and European pioneers' achievements

Geneviève AUBERT
Department of Neurology, Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, Université Catholique de Louvain, Bruxelles, Belgium


The potential of moving pictures for diagnosis and teaching in epileptology was immediately acknowledged by the pioneers of cinematography. However, the difficulties of this undertaking were emphasized by the early users of the new medium. The high expense involved was considered by some to be prohibitive. The technical problems of operating the cumbersome material and the need for good lightning were complicated by the brevity and unpredictability of occurrence of seizures. Nevertheless, as early as 1905, Chase succeeded in capturing seizures at the Craig Colony for epileptics (NY). He would be followed by Weisenburg in Philadelphia, who underlined the scientific value of moving pictures, for instance in the fine analysis of the succession of muscular twitching in Jacksonian convulsions. However, despite a great deal of patience and ingenuity, the beginning of epileptic fits remained difficult to capture. Hysterical seizures were much more easier to record because of their usually longer duration. Furthermore, filming hysterical patients was facilitated by their cooperation and suggestibility. A short sequence of an hysterical attack was filmed by Londe and Richer in Paris around 1900. In Van Gehuchten's film corpus, completed in Belgium before 1914, hysterical seizures are much more numerous and of a higher quality than the few epileptic seizures. In this presentation, a particular attention will be paid to the operating setting of medical cinematography before 1914 and to the physician-patient relationship in this context.


Session IX -- Epilepsy Seminar
Monday, 28 June 2004, 2:30 -5:00 pm

Ninth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Montreal, Quebec, Canada