The Human Disease Show

Curated by Richard Manning

“The Human Disease Show,” designed and printed by Pippi Zornoza

“The Human Disease Show,” designed and printed by Pippi Zornoza

How does cinema inflect our understanding of disease? In the more familiar disease genres – mainstream features, educational films, and military training films – one can see a narrative, step-by-step approach to “explaining” disease that parallels the clinical method employed in the Merck Manual, medical websites, or the physicians’ office, and whose informational efficacy is often reassuring. While mainstream cinema certainly stretches this narrative convention (the melodramatic frenzy of Magnificent Obsession, the fatally erotic song-and-dance numbers of All That Jazz), films and television shows such as The Country Doctor, Symphony of Six Million, The Interns, Ben Casey, General Hospital, The Doctor, and Patch Adams are the norm.

Can an independent artist working within the medium of 16mm celluloid provide an alternative, insightful take on disease? And how have experimental filmmakers sought to borrow from other media (painting, phone conversations, medical imagery, etc.) to examine the experiential and cultural dimensions of being “diseased”? Combining deeply personal, abstract, and humorously erotic avant-garde films, this show takes a small step toward answering such vague, grasping questions, assuming that, even if definitive answers are impossible, the project of developing other, peculiarly-visioned understandings of human disease is not.


“Secure the Shadow,” Kerry Laitala, 1997, 16mm, color, sound, 8 min.
Using Victorian-era medical stereoscope images, Laitala’s film “reveal[s]… the overwhelming quality of disease to render us ultimately mute, immobilized within a corporeal shell that has succumbed to imminent forces beyond our control.” –KL

“Line of Fire,” Dominic Angerame, 1997, 16mm, b&w, sound, 9 min.
Traces intersections existing between the coronary arterial disease survived by Angerame and an apartment fire he narrowly escaped to explore “the temporal nature of the lives we live.” –DA

“Site Visit,” Maia Cybelle Carpenter, 1999, 16mm, color, sound, 10 mins.
A hand-processed, hand-painted film that “evokes a series of fantasy maps and visited imaginary ‘sites’… [to depict] the impossibility of concretely mapping disease in the human body.” –MCC

“Enthusiasm,” Gordon Ball, 1979, 16mm, color, sound, 13 mins.
Ball’s account of his mother’s death after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s.
“Enthusiasm… makes you cry for life itself.” – Allen Ginsberg

“An Individual Desires Solution,” Lawrence Brose, 1991, color, sound, 16 mins.
“A structural cinepoem concerning the mystery of death through the struggle for answers and survival of my boyfriend Kevin, who passed away on my birthday in Sussex, England. Before Kevin died, he asked me to redefine the acronym AIDS as An Individual Desires Solution…” –LB

“Sanctus,” Barbara Hammer, 1990, 16mm, color, sound, 19 min.
Using rephotographed moving x-rays, ‘Sanctus’ “reveals the skeletal structure of the human body as it protects the hidden fragility of interior organ systems… portray[ing] a body in need of protection on a polluted planet where immune system disorders proliferate.” –BH

“The Demise of Doctor Petronius,” Herb De Grasse, 1980, b&w, sound, 17 mins.
“Doctor Petronius was a physician who in 1895 discovered that sex cured every disease known to man. In this film the good Doctor does a lot of curing until he gets offed by a furious clergyman. Rated R. Lots of fun.” –Canyon Cinema