Maggie Hennefeld

Tuesday 06/21/2022, 6:00 pm

Maggie Hennefeld (University of Minnesota)

The “Movie Cure”: Hysterical Laughter, Silent Cinema, and Neurodivergent Spectatorship

A video recording of this lecture will be available after the event.

“Motion Pictures, the latest and best cure for insanity!” Along with the golf cure, the color cure, and the Yuletide department store cure, cinema promised to provide a salve for modernity’s shock-addled sensorium. More than a neurological metaphor, the “movie cure” was widely adopted across the US as the federal government threw money at the film industry to install projection equipment in asylums, which were riddled with scandals of abuse, overpopulation, and dehumanizing treatment. Slapstick comedy had pride of place over all other genres, celebrating the cathartic display of unruly bodies to mitigate cinema’s own implication in mass moral panic about destructive modernity. Meanwhile, neurologists such as Theodore Weisenburg and Arthur Van Gehuchten cultivated empirical uses of moving images to capture wayward symptoms for the purpose of research and teaching. In this presentation, I draw on early film historiographies of medical cinematography, critical theories of slapstick laughter, and recent scholarship in disability studies on mad rights methodology. To invoke the eponym of this whole shebang, Kracauer (and his interlocutors) had complicated views on whether laughter itself was “sufferable” in hysterical times of nervous upheaval and escalating despair. These formative entanglements between film aesthetics and neurodivergent experience, I argue, hold vital implications for our current conjuncture of non-stop spectacle, crisis-ridden politics, permanent carnival, and mad rights awakening.

Workshop 21.06.2022 14 Uhr IG Farben 1.301

Maggie Hennefeld is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature and McKnight Presidential Fellow at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She is author of Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes (Columbia UP, 2018), co-editor of the journal Cultural Critique (UMN Press), co-editor of two volumes: Unwatchable (Rutgers UP, 2019) and Abjection Incorporated: Mediating the Politics of Pleasure and Violence (Duke UP, 2020), and co-curator a 4-disc DVD/Blu-ray set, Cinema’s First Nasty Women (Kino Lorber, 2022). She is currently writing a second monograph about the history of women who allegedly died from laughing too hard.


Lecture in English language.

Room 1.314, Eisenhower-Saal
Campus Westend, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main