Tuesday, September 12, 2023 at 7:30pm
Through the Image of an Animal

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

Presented by Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa

Comparisons between humans and animals are foundational to the experimental branches of medicine and psychology. Yet converting the bafflingly complex bodies and behaviors of nonhuman animals into scientific models is not a straightforward process. From testing apparatuses to spreadsheets of findings, from textbooks on animal handling to published journal articles, such a transformation requires an intricate system of interlocking media. Film has been an essential, yet largely overlooked, element within this process. Often treated as purely transparent scientific recordings, the films produced out of animal research are in fact deeply formalist works that tested what film could capture through the image of an animal—variously proposing that they could visualize pure thought, the processes of history and culture, and the influence of environment on an organism. In this capacity, scientific filmmakers often advanced their own theories of media and their relationship to living organisms, theories which overlapped with and influenced figures like Marshall McLuhan.

Tonight’s screening will take us through a survey of historic animal research films—media that I title “celluloid specimens” in my book by the same name. We will see filmed examples of primate insight and creativity, Alfred Kinsey’s experiments into animal sexuality, lab rats made to live in a model of a dystopian future, animal recreations of Marxist theory, and more. These works were produced to simulate mental states and social structures, transforming such diverse subjects as ethnic identity, maternal behavior, and class consciousness into empirically testable subjects that could be mapped onto animal bodies. Watching them uncovers a dynamic field of scientific looking, where the distinctions between nature and culture are inscribed and reinscribed into animal images, generating concepts that broadly shaped the politics of immigration, labor relations, educational practice, and gender identity, well beyond the walls of the lab.


Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Seattle University and the author of The Celluloid Specimen: Moving Image Research Into Animal Life, copies of which will be for sale at this evening's event.

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.