The “Pavlovian bell” (a conditional stimulus or CS) was made famous by this 1926 footage of “Mechanics in the brain” as well as a 1906 Science article quoting a Huxley lecture at Charing Cross Hospital in London. It was also mentioned in 1923 publications of The Scientific Monthly & the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology. In it’s March 1928 issue Time magazine further popularized it by describing this movie
“The process of changing unconditioned reflex into a conditioned reflex was clearly demonstrated to an audience of psychiatrists at the Academy of Medicine last week in a cinema titled “the Mechanics of the Brain.” The cinema showed dogs which dripped saliva at the sound of a bell…
The film was directed by the famous Vsevolod Pudovkin. The movie itself shows experiments involving conditioned reflexes of a child that were conducted by Prof. Krasnogorskii in the 1st paediatric clinic of the Leningrad Medical Institute. At the time of this production Ivan Pavlov was the director of the Institute of Physiology. Recordings of children in ordinary conditions were performed by Prof. A Durnov. The other physiological experiments and demonstrations were performed by Prof. D. Fursikov in the laboratory of Ivan Pavlov and in the Institute of Brain of the Academy of Sciences of USSR. The recording of animals was performed in the Leningrad Zoo with the assistance of it’s director I.Banilov.
It was claimed that “this film was prepared under the direction of Ivan Pavlov and was projected by him at the 14th International Consists of Physiology in Rome in 1932.” It is true that after the congress, Pavlov donated the film to Carla Fab who was then Professor and Chairman of the Department of Physiology at the University of Milano Medical School and that the film was used in Foil’s course of medical physiology in Milano and in Son Paulo, Brazil until his retirement. It is also true that given the political climate in the Soviet Union at the time, Pavlov’s liberties were restrained and he had to comply to the demands of those in power (the Bolsheviks, a Marxist faction founded by Vladimir Lenin).
In his biography, Daniel Todes presents us with evidence that suggests that Pavlov needed funding to run his laboratories from the Bolsheviks and endured some of their demands. This movie was tolerated by him but in fact, he did not routinely use the bell. Most often he used a “buzzer, black square, mechanical stimuli, rotating object, “hooter”, whistle, lamp flash, electric shock, or the more exacting sound of a beating metronome. But rarely ever —a bell.
Where and when did I stumble upon this film? Pune is a very culturally rich city, and housed on the junction between Law College Road and Prabhat Road, was (and still is) a quaint bungalow called the Jaykar bungalow which was established in 1910. M.R.Jaykar was the first Vice Chancellor of Pune University. The National film archive of India (NFAI), India’s central, state supported repository of films which was set up in 1964 and prior to the fire of 2003 held almost 10,000 film titles, film posters and a gorgeous film screening space. We had to take out our shoes/chappals/footwear outside and watch special movies at a time when Netflix and the internet was non-existent. In 1998 I was 18 years old, and my mother proposed that I accompany her for a film festival at the archives. Samosas and hot cutting chai was promised during the interval. It would showcase a Japanese filmmaker called Akira Kurosawa. Neither had I ever heard of, nor seen any of his films. Besides, I did not have the attention span of a 40-year-old (which I am now). The films being shown, over three days were (if my memory serves me well) (1) I live in fear (2) Rashomon and (3) Red Beard. I did not just sit through the entire film, but really enjoyed it.
What do I (now) know about Akira Kurosawa during the making of this film? One must remember that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had happened 10 years earlier in 1945 and had killed over two and half lakh civilians. In his autobiography, Kurusowa writes how as a young child in Tokyo he witnessed the Kanto earthquake that killed over a lakh people. He and his brother Heigo witnessed gruesome and macabre scenes. Whereas young Kurusowa wanted to look away, his brother instructed him to keep looking. He told him to look fear in the eye in order to not be afraid. If you look away, his brother said, fear will consume you.
Whats the film about? A wealthy foundry owner, Kiichi Nakajima is fearful of another nuclear attack. He has already invested heavily in underground dwellings. But now, he wants to go one step further and decides to move his entire family from Tokyo to a safe farm in Brazil to escape this imminent Holocaust. He is a stubborn man and hellbent on selling all his family assets (which ironically he has accumulated from scratch)and his family, afraid of losing their status and inheritance take him to court and try to have him declared mentally incompetent. What a wonderful film, and how well it represents what I see in everyday life. The individual, the family and society. It is not a feelgood film. It does not have a stereotypical Bollywood happy ending. It is “art” more than film, and I can see so many of my friends completely rejecting it. But if you ask me, a must watch especially if you are part of a Department of psychology and want a movie to dissect and debate.
Does intention matter? Did you judge the protagonist? Why? Did you feel good when he was sent to an asylum ? Why ? What is your opinion about the relationship between children and parents in the Indian society ? What about the wife of the protagonist ? Is everyone happy in the end ? The questions can go on and on.
What were Kurosawa’s feelings about this film? Despite this being one of the least commercially successful films for him, Kurosawa said it was one that made him very proud.
Where can I watch the film in India? which charges a subscription of approximately USD 100 or INR 7500/- a year.
Sidney Poitier, passed away this month at the ripe old age of 94. Most of us know that he was the first black person to win the Academy award for Best actor. What very few know however is that he was also the movies’ first Black psychiatrist.
The Pulitzer prize-winning critic Wesley Morris wrote of him
“The greatest American movie star Sidney Poitier. You mean the greatest black movie star? I don’t…. Who did more with less? Of whom was less expected as much as more? Who had more eyes and more daggers, more hopes and fears and intentions aimed his way, at his person, his skill and, by extension, his people? Race shouldn’t matter here. But it must, since Hollywood made his race the matter. Movie after movie insisted he be the Black man for white America, which he was fine with, of course. He was Black.”
Why did I choose this film? The overarching theme of this film is the feelings of countertransference between doctor and patient. An added layer of complexity is the dynamics of religion and race in the therapy-patient relationship.
What’s the film about? The film is based on American psychologist Robert Lindner’s casebook “The Fifty-Minute Hour.” The plot of the movie is misconceived and most unsound, and precisely why I would use it with therapists-in-training. Sidney Poitier plays the senior psychiatrist in a “mental institution.” An unnamed young psychiatrist (Peter Falk) enters and demands that he should be taken off the case of a hostile black patient who has been the victim of white hatred. After seven months of treatment, he believes they are stuck in an impasse. He (Falk) wants the case transferred to a Black psychiatrist. The film goes back and forth, to the senior psychiatrist (Poitier) recounting his own similar experience of a psychopathic, Nazi, white supremacist client from 20 years ago. The film bordered on the absurd. I don’t do so well with absurd films. In the film, Poiters character is portrayed as noble and idealist to a fault (sigh). This created a major conflict for me. It is highly entertaining to watch and deconstruct alongside a group of university students of psychology or sociology- and this is primarily why I recommend it. Fair warning though – the music is a tad bit grotesque and I suspect that the cinematographer was grossly underpaid. The movie certainly did not do justice to the talented actors.
Where can I watch the film in India? You can watch it for free (at least for now) on YouTube, or pay for a subscription and stream it.
Why did I choose this film? I find it interesting how cinema portrays mental health professionals over the years. One of the earliest portrayals of a mental health professional in cinema was in this movie in the year 1922. Whereas the film is not that great, it is worth noting for this very reason. The same year is also when the first 3-D feature film was shown to an audience; it is the year Anna Wong, the first Asian-American leading lady debuted; the year Nosferatu, our beloved vampire made his appearance and the year Rin tin tin the German Shepherd became famous as the first canine star. It happens to be the year the first Walt Disney Cartoon (Little Red Riding Hood) was released (couldn’t resist mentioning all that).
What’s the film about? This movie is about a man (the hero) who goes to a psychologist/mesmerist as a result of the agony that he is undergoing. The hero, Mr. Burke, is a well-to-do gentleman from New York, politically inclined, who travels to the South Sea Islands and falls in love with Rita, the daughter of the captain of a contraband ship. He decides to stay longer on the islands. Enter Lady Helen, who likes him and would make the perfect match for him – on paper. Deeply conflicted, he goes to a psychologist, Prof.Jansen to find out which of the two women he should marry. The psychologist hypnotises him and we flashforward to two dream sequences. In one he’s shown a vision of what his life would be with Helen (fame, material comforts, political power but no love) and in the other with Rita (happy but not rich). In his hypnotic trance he also sees Rita’s father’s first mate fire a shot at him. The psychologist is unable to interpret the meaning of this ghastly occurence. Although Burke remains undecided for awhile, on seeing Rita, his decision is at once made and they unite (happily ever after).
Where can I watch the film in India? You can watch the movie on the website of Turner Classic Movies
Why did I choose this film? Ingmar Bergman has been the topic of many dinner conversations at my home. His cinematic reflections and eurocentric depictions of the human condition are paralleled by very few (maybe Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Kurosawa, Sergei Eisenstein). The peer pressure at home to watch a Bergman film was high, and I finally caved.
What’s the film about? This movie is the first work in Ingmar Bergman’s trilogy on faith and the loss of it. It won an Academy Award for best foreign-language film. The story is about a father, his daughter and son, and the daughter’s husband vacationing on a remote Swedish island. While the sickness of the daughter, Karin (Harriet Andersson) is alluded to – it is never mentioned. You realise after awhile that she must be in recovery or remission from a psychotic episode (most likely schizophrenia). During this vacation she discovers that her father David (Gunnar Björnstrand), a well-respected intellectual and an author has been using her illness for his own literary ends. She reads in his journal that he thinks she is incurable and how he wants to use her narrative in his work. While all this is happening you get to see the boundaries between her different realities blur. At one point, Karin narrates to her brother Minus (Lars Passgard) how she can hear voices calling to her and how this once the wallpaper opened a door and that she thought it might have been God. She goes on to say, she has seen God, and he was a spider. There is a scene later in the movie, where you see her brother look for her and find her in a boat-wreck. Here, you assume an act of incest occurs, but you never know for sure. Throughout, her husband seems to love her but looks like a helpless caregiver. Eventually, Karin relapses and is taken to a hospital by helicopter, which she experiences as a spider descending from the sky.

I must warn you, the film is rather depressing and for someone like me (Shrek-animation is more my genre) – but it is a good study for psychologists interested in cinema (and vice versa). I would read some historical (phenomenological) works by CS Mellor or Schneider’s first rank symptoms if I were to use the movie in a college / university lecture.
Where can I watch the film in India? You can watch the movie on the website of The Criterion Channel, iTunes and Amazon.