Film: 1719

Personalities | 1940 | Sound | B/W

Synopsis:

A short history of the life and practices of Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) a doctor and hypnotist, acclaimed faith healer. Historical reconstruction.

Sign on wall, it reads: Clinic of Mesmerism, Dr. Anton Mesmer. The voiceover begins as an horse-drawn carriage stops outside a building in a city street somewhere. A man jumps down from the front of the carriage. We see a variety of jars and beakers filled with liquids, and a host of other scientific instruments. We move to a large drawing room where people are sitting at tables whilst servants move to and fro. We see a close up of four people sitting on a couch--two women and two men--they are dressed in clothes which date from the eighteenth century, the women have large wigs on, with curls down the sides of their necks, the dress is elaborate but not very visible as they are sitting. Another woman--the voiceover says she is a Duchess--sits in a chair dressed in similar clothes, also with a large white wig. A servant stands behind her and a lady-in -waiting sits away to her right, facing the camera.
We see a close up of the Duchess. The voiceover says that such people would pay a fortune to be treated by Dr. Mesmer, but the poor, one of whom we see being treated by the doctor, were seen for free. We move to another poor couple, a girl who is blind and her father, who stands behind her. We see a close up of the blind girl's face. We then return to the drawing room where servants are placing candles.
A curtain, which hangs at the head of a staircase, is swept aside and an elaborately dressed man--Dr. Mesmer--enters the room and makes his way down the stairs. He is followed by a footman.

The doctor is seen in close up, he holds an object that looks like an horseshoe or magnet except for the fact that it is a solid ring with no breaks in it. Someone shouts, "doctor", and bangs a walking stick on the ground, it is the Duchess. Dr. Mesmer approaches the old lady who complains, "I will not be kept waiting till I die!" The camera remains stationary as the doctor and the Duchess, both with servants surrounding them, converse. The Duchess demands she be given the "magnetic shock" and in the meantime a servant retires and then returns bearing a flask of something. The doctor announces the "aqua shock" and clicks his fingers at which point the servant empties his flask of water by throwing it in the Duchess's face! She screams and gets out of her chair and moves towards the doctor who catches her as she falls. She complains but the doctor points out that she has just walked, a remarkable feat for a cripple, which is how she described herself. We move to a close up of the blind girl, she takes hold of her father's hand. We return to a sobbing Duchess as Dr. Mesmer lifts her in his arms and places her back in her chair. He covers her with a shawl as she repeats that she will make him rich, to which he replies, "You have made me famous". The Duchess is wheeled out.

The doctor continues to look around at the gathered in his drawing room. We see another close up of the blind girl. A close up of Dr. Mesmer, a servant stands behind him and helps him to remove his cloak. Dr. Mesmer approaches the girl, he holds a sheet of paper in his hands and is still flanked by his ever present servants. The doctor kneels before the girl and takes her hands, he begins to hypnotize her. The camera closes in and switches between close ups of their faces. A servant enters bearing a tray which he lays on the floor beside Mesmer. The servant then touches a pole to one and then the other of the girl's hands. Nothing seems to happen. Close up of Dr. Mesmer who looks a little concerned. Return to shot in which all can be seen and then a close up of the girl (who remains unresponsive to Mesmer's questions) and her father.

Back to close up of Mesmer as he shouts, "I command you to wake up!" Close up of the girl as she opens her eyes. Mesmer looks at her and kneels down in front of her. He stands and advises the girl to rest and return tomorrow, promising her that she will get better. A close up of the girl , she is smiling.
The doctor moves away until he stands alone and then looks back at the girl. He delivers a short soliloquy in which he comes upon his idea of 'animal magnetism', he stares at his hands in wonder.

Next we see Mesmer standing on a platform giving a speech to some people, he holds his hands in front of him emphasizing their importance to his healing work. Close ups of Mesmer's hands and eyes follow. We return to the blind girl, meanwhile all we hear is Mesmer's voice repeatedly saying, "You shall see". We see Mesmer take a step backwards, he looks at the girl in wonder. We see the girl smiling and the voiceover informs us that her sight did return. Shots fade in and out which show Mesmer treating more people. Then we see the inside of an impressive building, supposedly the French Academy where Mesmer's methods and results were hotly debated. We see a hooded monk/priest painting a white cross on a wooden door. The camera then pans across a series of wooden crosses that mark graves, the voiceover, meanwhile, informs us that while many were helped by mesmerism many were also killed by it due to ignorance of its true nature and workings. We return to a close up of the blind girl and the voiceover says that even Mesmer's cure for blindness failed when the treatment was discontinued.

We return to the initial title page which slowly melts away. Mesmer is seen talking to his followers and then disappears behind a curtain. The camera closes in on a small woodland cottage, the lights are on. We move inside the cottage where we see a man sitting by the fire, we cannot see his face. The voiceover says that this man's name is Mesmer but suggests that it may not be the Dr. Mesmer. We see a closer shot of this Mesmer, his face is still obscured though. Finally the man talks to the camera and we see that this is Dr. Mesmer after all. We see the outside of the cottage once again and the camera slowly pulls back.


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