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Medical cinematography in the silent film era

Examples of early medical films, used to educate and investigate.

March 12, 2013

The advent of cinematography (1895) thanks to the Lumière brothers was quickly seen as a tool of great potential for medicine.

In fact, many physicians made use of this tool for research and training. Among them we find names like Arthur Van Gehuchten, L Braun, Paul Schuster, Robert L Watkins, or Gheorghe Marinescu.

For example, L Brau used cinematography, in 1897, short after its invention, to study the action of a mammalian heart and Marinescu used this technique to study neurology (between 1899 and 1902).

Van Gehuchten also gave his contribution to medical cinematography since 1905, by making his own films for neurological studies.

Although medical cinematography has been important in research and medical education, “the vast majority of these films are not seen and are unknown today “(website of “The Medical Film Symposium”).

Thus, I hope to contribute to the dissemination of these films by choosing some examples of medical films freely available on the internet.

Some of them have a more educational purpose, while others were more used in medical investigation (made in order to increase the knowledge of symptoms of diseases and illustrating their evolution)

 – Movies  with educational purpose:

1. Exercises for orthopedic correction of spinal curvature (1925)

Illustrates several exercises to correct the curvature of the spine and spinal muscles development.


2. Management of normal delivery in a Continental Clinic (1925)

Illustrates the technique to take care of a newborn.


3. Indirect inguinal hernia: operative technique (1926)

Illustrates the steps to operate an indirect inguinal hernia.


4. Movement control (1927) – Part 1

Illustrates the difference between veins and arteries and presents factors responsible for the change in blood volume.


– Films used for the purpose of research:


1. Neurological studies of Marinescu (several videos here)


2. Bacillus typhosus (thyroid and cholera bacilli) (191?)

“Movement and agglutination of thyroid and cholera bacilli, probably one of the earliest surviving movie bacteriological research” (description – youtube)


3. War Neuroses: Netley Hospital (1917)

Illustrates a case of neurosis, the symptoms and progress due to implementation of treatment.


4. Gestation of an egg (1924)

Illustrates the earliest stages of embryonic development.


5. Lethargic acute encephalitis (1925)

This video is a case study of a patient showing symptoms and the disease evolution over time.


These are only a few examples of films that, in the early decades of cinematography, contributed to the education and research in medicine.

The techniques have evolved, but this tool continues to be of great importance in this area.

Written by Susana Pereira

Susana Simões Pereira, maths teacher and PhD in science teaching and communication. I enjoy games and photography and I'm passionate for science and art, specially when together in the same context. You can follow my updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.