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El Dorado Journal of Medicine – April 1, 1987




ABSTRACT. Observations by a number of Psychiatrists suggest that the process of film montage or editing contributes to the development of psychosis in practitioners. The disorder is degenerative. Preliminary study results indicate that the severity of the with the duration and nature of exposure to montage. Recovery is as yet recorded only in those groups where the disorder has been detected in the early stages of development. In groups where the development of the disorder has gone unchecked and film editing has continued there has been no response to treatment. Observations of control groups and examinations of case histories suggest that factors related to narrative structure (or its absence) may bear full responsibility for the development of the disorder. Groups with limited exposure to montage have responded well to the Richler-Porter narrative therapy. A panel concludes that the Richler-Porter therapy is the most viable treatment alternative, offering the most hopeful prognosis. The panel calls for the close monitoring of those in the higher risk groups.

An unusually high rate of psychosis has always been noted the population of Newfoundland, Canada. It has been generally accepted that the prevalence of psychotic disorders on the fog bound island was the result of readily identifiable environmental factors (poor diet, limited exposure to sunlight, isolation,  chronic alcoholism) and hereditary factors (see El Dorado Journal of Medicine, June 12, 1979: FAMILY SWIM AT THE GENE POOL).

This view first came into question in 1982 when Dr. Heinrich Richler noted that societies with a strong oral tradition had an uncommonly high rate of psychotic disorder. Richler travelled to Newfoundland and undertook an exhaustive study of the population in an attempt to establish causality. Richler relied heavily on accounts of psychotic behaviour by the indigenous population. These accounts were recorded and published under the title LOTS OF FOOLISH ONES ‘ROUND HERE. An excerpt follows:

Dr. Richler: You suggested that Heber’s behavior was unusual.
Mrs. Fudge: They was all foolish.
Dr. Richler: The entire Noseworthy family?
Mrs. Fudge: Yes, the lot of ’em. I suspects they got it from their father. We called he Foolish Ned. Their mother now, he was right sensible like, never carrying on. But Ned was always tellin’ the biggest kind of lies, ‘specially to youngsters or any stunned enough to believe he.
Dr. Richter: He was a compulsive liar?
Mrs. Fudge: Not lies like you’re sayin’ now, but stories, and they only for badness.

Only for badness or because of madness? Dr. Richler felt that the compulsive construction and relation of fictional narratives might in some way be linked to Dementia. Richler related these thoughts to Dr. Cameron Porter in St. John’s who, at the time, had several patients in his care who shared an experience in the film medium. Dr. Porter suggested that Richler observe filmmakers in the editing process, where narrative structure was frequently manipulated, in the hope of identifying the development of symptoms. Richter’s subsequent observations were the first step on the road to a clear understanding of the disorder. He noted,

Subject D.N. would quickly become agitated if he perceived even a minor flaw in the continuity of time and/or space in a motion picture sequence. The unedited film offered no promise of resolution for the material he required was not in evidence. Futilely he would attempt to correct the perceived flaw by; manipulating the order of the dialogue, inserting non-relevant photographic material (he called these “cut-aways”), planning to insert new dialogue where there was no record of that dialogue, and so on. The process disturbed his perception of chronology and he freely exchanged the terms “before ‘and “after”. As his frustration increased there was a clear change in his behaviour. He began issuing obscenities and made violent references to the material such as “I’ll cut the head right off that!” and “I’ll kill that in the mix”. Convinced that he could find no resolution he abruptly suggested that we should become intoxicated whereupon the solution to the narrative problem would come to us as in a dream or visionary experience.

Richler saw immediate evidence that prolonged episodes of motion picture montage resulted in more discontinuous narratives in the films themselves. It appeared that the duration and nature of exposure to montage had a direct link to the seriousness of the disorder.

In one extreme case the subject had been editing the same film for almost ten years. His mental condition was widely reported to have deteriorated considerably over this period. The film narrative which finally emerged from this process was disjointed and absurd. The narrative had no proper chronology, with events from the past present and probable future being fused into a singular time frame that clear1y existed only in the filmmaker’s greatly troubled mind. When I brought this to his attention he rambled incoherently about “levels of reality” and his own search for meaning. He said, “I have to prove that I exist”. The filmmaker saw his ten year effort as a personal odyssey with himself as mythical hero. In as sad a case as I have ever studied the filmmaker had plainly mistaken chaos for order, order for chaos. He had abandoned reality and truly gone completely insane.

Control Group Results

After reviewing a number of such cases and working closely with Dr. Porter and his wards, Richler more firmly established the cause of the disorder (by this time termed Cinedementia or Kinodementia) through closely monitored exposure in control groups.

Group A were asked to edit a short sequence in which an enraged man kills his wife’s pet ermine. They were given two working days to assemble the sequence. Richler recorded subtle changes in behaviour and moderate anxiety in this group. Three days after the experience the group’s behaviour returned to normal.

Group B were asked to edit a longer sequence in which an enraged man, recalling his expulsion from Rumania kills his wife’s pet ermine and is later tormented by visions of the dead creature.1 They were given five working days to assemble this sequence. Richler recorded considerable changes in behaviour and extreme anxiety in this group. Violence was reported from one subject. The marked change in behaviour was attributed to the increased complexity of the narrative. The anxiety was the product of the difficult decision making process. Subjects had to decide whether to present the information in chronological order, with Rumania first, then the murder of the ermine and finally the vision; or to “flash-back” to the Romanian past as the man killed the ermine (again followed by the vision); or to begin with the vision and then seek out its roots by returning to the ermine’s death and Rumania. One subject became so distressed that she had to be removed from the experiment after two days. Her roughly edited sequence suggested that the enraged man murdered the ermine and was expelled from Rumania for having done so by the victims gigantic parent (as presented in the dream sequence).

Group C were asked to edit a still longer sequence in which an enraged man, recalling his expulsion from Romania, kills his wife with her own pet ermine during the stage performance of the scenario edited by Group B. A medical ethics committee halted this experiment fearing irreparable consequences for the subjects.

Therapeutic Regimes

Convinced the cause of Cinedementia had been identified Richler, in concert with Dr. Porter, set about developing a therapeutic regime for those suffering from the disorder. The treatment demands that the patients first limit daily activity to a bare minimum and at regular intervals relate their activities to a second party. Should they report events or emotions out of chronological order or with embellishment they are subjected to painful electric shocks from.electrodes attached to their fingers and eyelids. Gradually the environment of the patient is enriched and the demands for objective recall increased. In the final stages of the treatment patients arc deliberately exposed to unlikely occurrences such as bleeding electrical outlets, exploding food, talking furniture and so on. If the patient relates these events without trying to establish a rationale or causality the treatment is judged to have been successful and the patient is released from care. If three months after the termination of treatment the patients imagination appears hopelessly stifled one can say, in all fairness, that he or she has been cured.

1. The vision was photographically realized by employing miniature sets which created the illusion of a gigantic, threatening ermine. The original, unedited motion pictures for the experiment were produced and directed by Dr. Cameron Porter .