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American Experience: The Lobotomist
American Experience The Lobotomist
Actor: Narrated by Campbell Scott
Director: Barak Goodman and John Maggio
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
NR     2008     1hr 0min

The lobotomy was hailed by The New York Times as a "surgery of the soul", a landmark medical procedure promising hope to mentally ill patients. Championed by neurologist Walter J. Freeman, this "last resort" caught on fast...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Narrated by Campbell Scott
Director: Barak Goodman and John Maggio
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Educational, Biography, History
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
DVD Release Date: 02/12/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 0min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 6
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Hailed as the cure for mental illness.Was it more damaging t
KerrLines | Baltimore,MD | 01/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Until the 1930's,mentally "unstable" or "depressed" or "insane" people were often institutionalized,forgotten or considered an embarrassment to the family.Walter Freeman,the son of an American leading doctor,Dr.Keene, with much to prove and ambition for fame,began to "rescue" the mentally troubled by working on and seeking to perfect the bi-orbital frontal lobotomy- a technique whereby an simple ice pick is tapped into the frontal lobe of the brain and render the patient docile,relieved of all anxiety, thus "cured".The medical community and psychiatric community at first was skeptical,but within the shortest period of time began hailing Freeman.s lobotomy as standard medical procedure,so much so, that many unqualified people began to perform this simple five minute procedure!!!This "cure" would potentially end psychiatry (which carries it's own baggage) as we knew it.

If you want to watch this 60 minute special from PBS' 'American Experience", your hair will stand on end and questions will be raised in your minds about how quickly people search for "miracle cures" and how haphazardly the revered medical community can toss aside all good and correct scientific practice in the light of continued evaluation over a period of time! People flocked in droves to have this procedure done.Families,burdened with a loved one who was mentally imbalanced made decisions under a doctor's advice to have the lobotomy done.

This documentary explores Walter Freeman,and at times villaifies and at times praises his work.This is how he was viewed by two camps in his lifetime.Was he a sane and rational scientist,or was he a egotistical maniac bent on fame?

I first became aware of lobotomy when as an 11 year old I was driven through a Mental Institution near Philadelphia where you could view lobotomy patients caged in yards in full view! This was legal in 1966! I have NEVER forgotten it.The next time lobotomy was presented to me was in the famous film Frances starring Jessica Lange (nominated for an Oscar) concerning the actress Frances Farmer who was forced against her will to be lobotomized.The other famous person that I recalled was Rosemary Kennedy,(yes of THE Kennedy's) who was lobotomized at 23 in order to avoid political scandal that might keep the Kennedy boys from being elected!(Kennedys of Massachusetts

In his 70's, Freeman,discredited and forced not to practice medicine by the very community that once hailed him as saviour,sought atonement or vindication by tracking down his thousands of patients seeking to verify that his work WAS scientifically successful.Crushed by his findings, he died a short while later in 1972.

I recently wanted to have lazer surgery performed on my eyes.My physician advised against it with one brief statement: "There simply has not been enough time to evaluate scientifically if this procedure is a cure or if it will have serious repercussions down the road".I respected his scientifically conservative opinion and still wear glasses and contacts!!
Thank God, also, that therapists are still around instead of lobotomy (although the postscript of this DVD states that lobotomies are still performed in "most extreme cases" who decides that?)

Walter Freeman-villain or saint?...Oh did I forget that lobotomy was awarded the 1963 Nobel Prize? Now reason that one out if you are in YOUR right mind!Did you take your VIOXX,CELEBREX or THORAZINE today?"
Disturbing and sad--but a story that needs to be told
Matthew G. Sherwin | last seen screaming at Amazon customer service | 11/13/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"American Experience: The Lobotomist tells the not so pretty story of the rise and fall of Dr. Walter Freeman and his surgical lobotomy procedure, a controversial treatment even when it was done in large numbers in an attempt to treat patients with chronic and severe forms of mental illness. This type of surgery took place, for the most part, back in the 1930s, 1940s and even the 1950s when psychiatric hospitals were little more than warehouses for people with mental illness; the best of the best simply had no idea how to treat them besides observation.

Enter Walter Freeman. The grandson of a doctor who was famous for the fist successful removal of a brain tumor on a living patient, Dr. Freeman wanted to prove himself a God. This wasn't all too hard at the time since doctors were generally regarded as Gods and almost nobody ever questioned their authority. In Dr. Freeman's time patients simply complied and there was no such thing as "informed consent." Freeman wanted solutions for chronic mental illness and he wanted them fast just as he also wanted fame and fortune for his efforts. He read so much that he finally discovered a crude form of lobotomy and after a few years of making this procedure a bit more sophisticated (not that it ever was an answer nor did it turn out to be sophisticated in any true way), lobotomies across the nation were occurring more and more frequently. Eventually thousands of people were having lobotomies and despite the fact that the results weren't really all that positive Dr. Freeman continued his surgery which was sometimes done outside a hospital in a most unprofessional way.

Even then, when some of his medical peers strongly disapproved of the procedure, Freeman was able to do lobotomies because at that time doctors simply didn't badmouth a peer in public and they had to admit they themselves lacked any other way to try to help very ill people. The story moves on from here to examine other angles of the story (I don't want to spoil it for you) and we see and learn in detail what eventually happened to Dr. Freeman and his now infamous lobotomy procedure.

The movie flows along well and the interviews with relatives, professionals and even one man who was lobotomized at the tender age of 12 really make this program on DVD fascinating. The archival footage is very well presented although some of it will be a bit tough to take for sensitive people.

In addition, the DVD comes without extras unless you count the referral to the PBS website for more information on this topic. I would have loved a few extras; but the film is so well done with its interviews that I can overlook this disappointment.

This film tells quite a story and I highly recommend it for students of psychology. People in any other field who interact with or treat mentally ill persons would do well to add this to their collections."
The Lobotomist
Sue | Houston, TX | 12/05/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Very good short history of lobotomies. It was rather short in length and left me wanting to learn more. It is also pretty graphic and I had to look away at times."
The Reserve by Russell Banks
Malcolm Young | Minneapolis, MN United States | 03/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

""The Reserve" by Russell Banks uses the lobotomy as a plot device. It is an excellent book. The audio version, narrated by Tom Stechschulte, is one of the best performances I have heard."