Autopsy: Life & Death
January 21, 2006 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Autopsy: Life & Death. Following on from Anatomy for Beginners which concentrated on the anatomy of life, anatomist Dr Gunther von Hagens and pathologist Professor John Lee now turn to the process of understanding death. Full video clips.
posted by srboisvert (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Fantastic. Even if Gunther von Hagens is among the people who most creep me by mere looks, he did contribute to reduction of fear of looking at dead humans.

People who haven't seen any of Von Hagens video before, be forewared they can be slightly disturbing if you never saw an autopsy...YET even if he's a creepy individual his fascination with the beauty and perfection of any human body is evident and he communicates that well.
posted by elpapacito at 8:11 AM on January 21, 2006

Anyone interested in what an artist in film can make of an autopsy should see The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes by Stan Brakhage (available in the superb Criterion set By Brakhage). From this review:
The third of what have become known as his Pittsburgh films, "The Act of Seeing"—which takes as its title the literal translation of the Greek word autopsy—was shot in an autopsy room. Brakhage takes as his subject this time the literal dismantling of the human body. I had never seen this, one of Brakhage's most notorious films, though I had read quite a bit about it and seen a number of stills, all of them distressing enough in black and white. I was a little dismayed to learn that the 32-minute film was actually shot in color.

One of the things that Brakhage showed his film students was medical footage shot, in the early part of the 20th century, of patients in the throes of epileptic seizures. The films were hard to watch, but that wasn't the point. What Brakhage really wanted us to see was the heartbeat of the anonymous cameraman, evident in the way he frames the shots, the way he moves the camera, and in the way you could tell, as the reel went on, that although his function was purely documentary, he began making what could be described as aesthetic decisions. A photographer of such things came to terms with the suffering he faced, Brakhage said, by making art of it. Similarly, "The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes" is a grueling, fascinating experience only made bearable by our sense of the real human being gripping the camera for dear life. There's a moment when Brakhage brings the camera around to take in the newly emptied cranium of one of the autopsied corpses, peering down into the gaping skull, where I felt that he and I were experiencing exactly the same great and horrible feeling of dumbstruck awe at what had become of a human life. It's enervating but surprisingly humanist in its aspirations -- if it's ultimately despairing, it remains clearly the work of a master exploring the human condition in every facet.
posted by languagehat at 8:15 AM on January 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ah i was hoping someone would post this, i watched most of it on the box over the last few weeks, and i was indeed somewhat creeped out at the autopsies. (it was a pretty good show though). I agree with you elpapacito that Gunther is a creepy looking character, i think its partly the fact that he insists on wearing that stupid hat during the autopsies.
Maybe i live in a cave or something, but i had never heard of the process of plastination, which Gunther apparently invented back in 1978.
posted by kev23f at 8:32 AM on January 21, 2006

Yeah, downloaded the episodes a few days ago.
posted by Dean Keaton at 9:05 AM on January 21, 2006

Anyone know where to find direct links to the videos?
posted by aceyim at 12:18 PM on January 21, 2006

Curiously, it never bothered me to see dead people or to witness autopsies, in fact in my early youth I worked in surgery and later I held a camera for instructional films on autopsy --they were dead bodies of strangers, but lately, as my own physical apparatus is falling apart, I cannot look at bodies being hacked up like chicken's without seeing myself on the table annulled in this undignified destruction as valuable as it may be for the medical science.
posted by semmi at 12:24 PM on January 21, 2006

He is a bit of a creepy looking dude alright, but I understand that he wears the hat to honour Dr. Nicolaes Tulp who was painted by Rembrandt.

If this show teaches us anything, it is that smoking is very, very bad for your organs!
posted by snailer at 12:53 PM on January 21, 2006

FYI, episode one of "poison" is NSFW--not sure about other episodes.

Really great stuff though--I like the demystifying nature of it all. Neat.
posted by bardic at 5:48 PM on January 21, 2006

(NSFW because of a nude and rather hot live woman, not because of gore. There's that too.)
posted by bardic at 5:49 PM on January 21, 2006

A second on the call for real links, it completely doesn't work for me (Mozilla/Linux). I can't even see it attempting to fetch a media file when I look at my proxy logs. If I could but get the data, I could view it thanks to the magic that is mplayer.

If there's someone here from Channel 4: tell your webmaster they're a wanker for building such a broken video-viewing website.
posted by polyglot at 12:41 AM on January 23, 2006

I've watched all the "blood" episodes, and find the show incredibly compelling in spite of the unnecessary sensationalism (e.g. blood spurts, camera pans to audience member averting eyes). The set, though simple, somehow seems overly dramatic, too. And von Hagens is incredibly creepy, he reminds me of Judge Doom in Roger Rabbit. If you can get past all that (and the fact that a cadaver is front and center in the screen for the duration of the show) you'll learn an immense amount about the human body. Thanks for the post.
posted by tidecat at 2:18 PM on January 23, 2006

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