Charming Augustine

Zoe Beloff

This video is no longer available

Zoe Beloff, Charming Augustine (still), 2005.

An Other Cinema: Apparatus and Histories Charming Augustine
Zoe Beloff

38 Minutes

September 6–20, 2021

The film is inspired by a series of photographs and texts on hysteria published by the Salpêtrière insane asylum in Paris in the 1880s under the title of the Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière. It is an experimental narrative based on the case of Augustine—a young patient admitted to the asylum at age fifteen with hysterical paralysis. The doctors at the time were captivated by her frequent hysterical attacks, that appeared extraordinarily theatrical and photogenic. Augustine thus became the star, the ”Sarah Bernhardt” of the asylum, and was extensivley photographed. At the same she was deeply disturbed. She had visions and heard voices. She hallucinated. The film explores connections between attempts to document Augustine's mental states and the prehistory of narrative film. The role of the motion studies by Marey and Muybridge in the birth of cinema is well known. However while they attempted to study the mechanics of the body, the doctors at the Salpêtrière, working with similar cameras, aimed to unlock the secrets of their patient's minds. Here, Beloff attempts to show how patients like Augustine supplied the psychic drive that would come to flower in the works of D.W. Griffith. Thus the language of the film changes: At first it is simply a medical document, then it becomes an indication of Augustine's interior perceptions—her hallucinations. Finally she becomes “disenchanted” both in the contemporary sense of that word and in its original meaning of being awakened from a magnetic sleep or hypnotic trance. Beloff shot the film in a stereoscopic format to suggest a different direction that cinema might have taken had it been invented in the 1880s—to convey a fragile, spectral “what if” moment when the moving image was on the brink of existence in a form not yet standardized.

Charming Augustine is presented as part of the program An Other Cinema: Apparatus and Histories, curated by Lukas Brasiskis and designed to precede the online symposium The State of the Moving Image (September 17–19).

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Film, Contemporary Art, Psychology & Psychoanalysis
Video Art, Experimental Film
Return to An Other Cinema: Apparatus and Histories

Zoe Beloff is a filmmaker and artist based in New York. She aims to make art that entertains, educates, and provokes discussion. Her projects often involve a range of media including films, drawings, and archival documents organized around a theme. Charming Augustine is one of a series of works that include Beyond, The Infernal Dream of Mutt and Jeff, and Emotions Go to Work, that explore relationships between technology, desire, and the unconscious. Zoe’s work has been featured in international exhibitions and screenings, including at the Whitney Museum Biennale, Site Santa Fe, the MHKA museum in Antwerp, and the Pompidou Center in Paris.

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