at Medical Film Symposium
/ by melinda shopsin

January 22, 2010.
Medical Film Symposium at the Surgical Ampitheatre of the Pennsylvania Hospital
Philadelphia, PA

A collaboration with Greg Pierce (The Orgone Archive).

Greg and I were miraculously allowed to stage a multi-projector event in the nation's oldest surgical amphitheatre, which served as an operating room from 1804 through 1868. We simultaneously ran 14 projectors and only blew the electricity once. Many thanks to Dwight Swanson, Joanna Poses, John Pettit (who made the video above), Rachele Rahme and Adam Abrams.

“Projecto Dysfunction: Acute Projections by the Orgone Archive & Public Opinion Laboratory” You might know a thing or two about Philadelphia’s place in the history of the birth of the United States, but did you know it also opened the first public hospital? The only evening of screenings not open to the public took place in the original Surgical Amphitheatre of the Pennsylvania Hospital, a behind-the-scenes spot unavailable to most tourists. In the early days of medical school education, people learned surgical techniques by watching actual surgeries. The education of would-be doctors relied on the availability of the sick, who would be operated on in “operating theatres,” tall, round rooms with stadium seating. The procedure took place in the center of the room, and members of the medical profession (and sometimes the general public) looked on. The medical film helped put this teaching procedure out of business. It was an apt venue for an evening of experimental projection of medical film (1950s-1970s, 8mm, super 8, 16mm, color, B&W, sound, silent, TRT 70 minutes) by Greg Pierce (Orgone Cinema Archive) and Andrew Lampert (Public Opinion Laboratory). This event was certainly the most photographed occasion of the week, and with good reason. The Surgical Amphitheatre itself is quite beautiful — simple, Georgian. The audience sat and stood in the upper balconies of the theatre. Once the lights went down, the space became a 360-degree screen, as the projectors were set up at ground level (where the surgeons and patient should have been), except for one on the third level. They pointed up and around, all over the room. The projectionists wore white lab coats, which became screens as well. A Pageant Analyzer projected near the ceiling, at a very slow frame rate, a reel of women’s faces pre-surgery. At times it was difficult to discern what their future procedures might entail, but frequently their expressions mimicked those of the audience watching gruesome surgery films on the tiers below. This screening contained many of the kinds of films that had first sprung to my mind when the symposium was announced. Educational and procedural films made for medical students, surgical films that replaced the operating theatre, guts galore. The faded color glory of many of these prints did nothing to minimize the gore factor nor to minimize the discomfort some of the audience members experienced. A cat was induced to vomit in the film Vomiting Control (re-named by Andy Lamptert, The Act of Puking with One’s Own Mouth). An inscrutable film showed something to do with cows. Other projections included a live human birth, brain surgery, cartilage removed from a chest, and the dissection of a rat. Audio recorded by Alan Lomax in operating theatres and hospitals was played at some points. The audience was invited to move about to get different views of the films. Just when the performance seemed to have reached perfection, the projectionists upped the ante, pulled out small disco balls, and planted them in front of Super 8 projectors. Multitudes of tiny frames traversed the room at vomitous speed. Hundreds of digital photos were snapped, many films were viewed, the operating theatre revived as a cinema in the round. The gang retired, only to meet the next morning for the academic portion of the symposium.”
— Liz Coffey, THE MOVING IMAGE Vol. 10, #2