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American Imago 61.1 (2004) 35-58
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Smoking, Laughing, and the Compulsion to Film:
On the Beginnings of Psychoanalytic Documentaries
Sigmund Freud Foundation
"The projectionist has informed us that the pictures would be enjoyed much more and would be clearer if fewer people were smoking."
—Announcement made by Philip R. Lehrman during the screening of the film Sigmund Freud, His Family, and Colleagues, 1928-1947
Scene: The cigar is thrown away with a hasty, almost annoyed gesture—smoking is prohibited during the shooting, but only for the "star." He complies with the injunction unwillingly and only after it has been repeated several times. The tribute that he must pay to the camera is nothing less than the renunciation of the insignia by which the public identifies him. Contrastingly, the "supporting actors" smoke continually, as if their cigarettes had to compensate for this lost signifier. The forbidden cigar and the rising clouds of smoke that blur the images are among the most important props of the film. When one follows the blue haze back into the history of psychoanalysis, the impression arises that the film has taken as its model Wilhelm Stekel's "Conversations on Smoking," a 1903 account in dialogue form of the first psychoanalysts at the Wednesday Society meetings in the Prager Tagblatt in which an unbreakable connection is posited between psychoanalysis, tobacco, and the disappearance of metaphysics: "Could not the decline of the metaphysical sciences, the retreat of philosophy before the other sciences, be attributed to the widespread vice of combining mental exertion with smoking?" (1926, 543), [End Page 35] asks an unnamed psychoanalyst, who is the only one present to have renounced the habit.1
Although the film containing the miniature episode of the cigar does not reenact Stekel's primal scene of the psychoanalytic movement, it does possess the distinction of being the first known documentary about Freud and the early psychoanalysts. It was made by Philip R. Lehrman, who with his family journeyed from New York to Vienna in 1928 for the purpose of undergoing a didactic analysis with Freud. Using footage shot in the course of that year, Sigmund Freud, His Family, and Colleagues, 1928-1947 was later edited by Lehrman with the help of his daughter Lynne Lehrman Weiner. It has in the interim become commonplace for scholars of both film and psychoanalysis to draw attention to the synchronicity of these epiphonemena of modern culture and to seek in the latter a method for dissecting the former. It is likewise conventional to note the absence of comments by Freud himself regarding film and for the parallels to be explored on a purely theoretical level, often with the aid of The Interpretation of Dreams.2
In the present paper, however, I am primarily concerned with elucidating how a detailed historical perspective that makes use of new sources and extends beyond Freud can open up a whole host of illuminating questions. Utilizing Lehrman's "psychoanalytic documentary" as a springboard, a consideration of the convergence of the histories of film and psychoanalysis, which has long been centered on feature films, can be expanded to include films in whose creation psychoanalysts were involved not only in front of but also behind the camera. By reconstructing the conditions under which these cinematographic products came into existence, I hope to give a new theoretical accent to the lively discussion already in progress regarding the relations between psychoanalysis and film.
Having emigrated from the Russian city of Plissa at the age of nine, Lehrman studied medicine in New York. In 1920 he started a medical practice there, and a short time later he began training as an analyst under Abraham Arden Brill, who [End Page 36] provided the connection to Freud. Lehrman had already been to Vienna in 1926, but without his camera and without the opportunity to have analysis sessions with Freud, who wrote to him on April 6: "it is commendable that...