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11 Creative Film Interpretations You Probably Hadn't Considered

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Every once in a while, a movie comes along that has tons of people scratching their heads. Memento, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mulholland Drive ... what was going on there? But according to film theorists, even the movies you thought were totally straightforward may have had a little more to them. From Disney to horror to superhero flicks, here are 11 creative film analyses that will either blow your mind or leave you shaking your head.

1. The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s confession of staging the moon landing

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Theorist: Jay Weidner, who appeared in a 2012 documentary featuring four theories about The Shining called Room 237.

Plot: The Shining is Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel in which a family watches over a hotel for the winter and events go amiss.

The Supporting Evidence: Many people already believe that the moon landing was staged, with help from Kubrick, and that The Shining is Kubrick’s way of expressing guilt and dropping hints regarding his help in the conspiracy. Room 237 is relevant to the plot of The Shining. The room is constantly mentioned and it is the location for one of the most horror-filled events of the movie. The moon is a little over 237,000 miles from the Earth, and Weidner believes that the moon landing was shot on a soundstage numbered 237. What’s more, the little boy in the film, Danny, wears a sweater showing the Apollo 11 rocket (the first craft to land on the moon). He also plays on a carpet patterned with red hexagons that mirror Launch Pad 39A, where Apollo 11 was launched. Theorists don’t see these as coincidences.

2. Ferris is imagined by Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (also known as the “Ferris/Fight Club Theory”)


Theorist: Jeff Roda, among many

Plot: High school senior Ferris Bueller skips school and goes on an adventure, with help from his best friend Cameron.

The Supporting Evidence: This theory involves entertaining the possibility that Cameron never even leaves his bedroom over the course of the film. Roda believes that Ferris was invented by Cameron to cope with both his parents inattentiveness as well as his own insecurities. Ferris seems to be everything that Cameron would want to be (adventurous, assertive, has a girlfriend), so it makes sense that he might be a projection of Cameron’s imagination rather than an actual mischievous friend. Like the romance in Fight Club, this theory makes sense if Cameron has a crush on Sloane, so he develops an alter ego, so he can experience a relationship with her.

3. Aladdin is Set in a Post-Apocalyptic Future

Aladdin Wiki

Theorist: Popular on the Internet

Plot: A poor boy falls in love with a princess and uses wishes from a magical genie to court her.

The Supporting Evidence: Based on the Genie’s comment to Aladdin that his clothes are “so last century,” fans have pieced together that he probably became trapped in the lamp during the third century. The Genie also claims to have been trapped in the lamp for 10,000 years, which means that the film would have to take place in 10,300 AD or later, therefore the film must be set in some post-apocalyptic future time. Language has become muddled, as it so often does in the post-apocalyptic future, so “Arabia” became Aladdin’s home of “Agrabah.” The Genie makes references to modern day figures, such as Jack Nicholson and the Marx brothers, which supports the argument that the film is set in the future rather than the past. People have even looked beyond the film with this theory, noting that an anachronistic stop sign is buried in the sand of the Aladdin video game for Sega Genesis.

4. Doc is Suicidal in Back to the Future

Theorist: People of the Internet, particularly on Reddit

Plot: After accidentally travelling back in time to the 1950s, Marty McFly must figure out how to return to his own era.

The Supporting Evidence: This theory primarily tackles the beginning of the film, wondering if Dr. Emmett Brown (Doc) could be suicidal and planning to use his latest invention to kill both Marty and himself. Rather than testing the DeLorean time machine, as he claims to be doing, perhaps Doc assumed there was no way his new invention could possibly work, so he was prepared to kill himself by setting the car in motion. Before the test, Doc acknowledges that all of his inventions up until this point have not been successful. Considering that, a time machine seems like a pretty elaborate invention. In the scene, Doc sets the DeLorean up so that it is headed straight for himself and Marty, yet is still shocked when it actually works.

5. Fight Club is a Sequel to the Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip

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Theorist: Galvin P. Chow

Plot: A bored man creates a more adventurous friend and the two form a violent, rogue fight club.

The Supporting Evidence: The character played by Edward Norton is never given a name, therefore his name could be Calvin. At the end of the film, it is revealed that Tyler Durden is not his own man, but rather part of Norton’s character’s split personality. This twist reveals similarities to the comic strip. Calvin’s stuffed tiger, Hobbes, is completely different from Calvin, with his own unique personality, but is entirely created by Calvin’s imagination. Both Durden and Hobbes stir up mischief so that Norton’s character and Calvin don’t have to feel the blame or consequences of their actions. As Chow writes, “Calvin often blames broken lamps ... on Hobbes, and Jack is inclined to believe that Fight Club and other various anti-society mischief is brought about by Tyler, not himself.”

Those who support this theory believe that Hobbes became a repressed part of Calvin’s imagination, which reemerges as Durden in later years. The fight club created in the film is a grown up version of Hobbes and Calvin’s club G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS), as both are exclusive male-oriented clubs.

6. Toy Story 3 is an Analogy for the Holocaust

Disney/Pixar

Theorist: Jordan Hoffman at UGO.com

Plot:
Toy Story 3 is the final installation of Pixar’s Toy Story franchise in which the toys, thanks to their owner’s upcoming departure for college, are donated to a local daycare.

The Supporting Evidence:
There are parallels between moments in The Pianist (about the Holocaust) and moments in Toy Story 3 (including Woody’s speech, “No, we won’t just be abandoned. Surely we can be useful to them somehow. Yes, we’ve lost friends, but surely that can’t happen to us,” which closely echoes a speech given at a train station in The Pianist). There's more: Buzz Lightyear recommends they safely remain in the attic, eerily paralleling the story of Anne Frank. Sunnyside Daycare, where the toys end up, can be seen as a work camp. And towards the end of the film, the protagonists are almost burned alive. Though they manage to escape, the implication is clear that they are the lucky survivors—the exception, not the rule.

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich says the movie "has absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust...The Holocaust was never anything that was discussed in the making of [Toy Story 3]." 

7. The Wizard of Oz is about Populism in the United States

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Theorist: Originally a high school teacher in the 1960s named Henry Littlefield

Plot: A Kansas girl named Dorothy gets caught up in a tornado and ends up in a fantasy land from which she must find her way home.

The Supporting Evidence: Like The Shining, The Wizard of Oz is a book adaptation that sparked a lot of politically oriented theories. Many still believe that the film is about Populism, a political movement which supported the common majority versus the elite minority in the 1890s. Dorothy lives on a farm in Kansas with her aunt and uncle, and the state of Kansas historically had a huge amount of support for Populism. Depictions of Dorothy’s farm life are also the black and white portions of the film, which makes sense as Populism was about how the majority was suffering.

Theorists go further than this though, attributing a connection to the Populist movement for each character and location in the film. For example, Dorothy represents the everyday person who struggled in Kansas, which led to the rise of Populism. The Scarecrow would be a farmer, the Tin Man shows industrialism (his lack of heart is a not-so-subtle metaphor), the Cowardly Lion provides a stand-in for Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. Gold is measured in ounces, abbreviated "oz," which could correspond to Oz, and the Emerald City might reflect the green of money.

8. Willy Wonka of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory makes candy from children

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Theorist: Popular on the Internet

Plot: Candy maker Willy Wonka holds a contest in which five children are allowed to take a tour of his ultrasecret chocolate factory.

The Supporting Evidence: The film makes the point that Willy Wonka is weirdly secretive about his recipe. His factory originally shut down because he couldn’t trust his workers to not be spies for other companies, which is why the Oompa Loompas were brought to work for the factory. Theorists find it strange that the pipe Augustus Gloop flies into is the perfect size for a child to fit. Additionally, in the Nut Room, there is a similar tube, but this one connects to an incinerator. Both tubes seem to be the invention of a Freddy Krueger-type rather than a kindly candy maker. Later in the film, when Wonka's candy literally turns Violet into a blueberry, he has her “juiced,” which is the least subtle hint at cannibalism. Finally, based on the transportation the group uses to get around the factory, it is clear that Wonka knew they would lose members along the way. Though they lose people along the tour, there are never empty seats in future transportation that they use.

9. Drag Me to Hell is About a Girl Suffering from Bulimia

Universal Pictures

Theorist: An IMDb user, as reported on SlashFilm

Plot: A girl gets cursed by a gypsy and her life becomes progressively terror-filled.

The Supporting Evidence: Though this seems like a standard horror film, the events can all be read as eating disorder induced hallucinations. For example, a picture is shown of Christine as a young girl, posed in front of a sign that says “Pig Queen.” She has clearly lost weight since the photo was taken, and way too much weight to have been unintentional. She also claims to be “lactose intolerant,” but is later seen eating ice cream. It is a strange thing to lie about, and even stranger to randomly insert into a horror film, but this would make sense as an excuse for not eating food therefore a reason for hallucinations. Christine is rarely seen eating, whereas the film makes a point to show other characters eating. Many of the horror elements are oriented around food, including a cake that she’s eating, which turns rotten. And, of course, many characters throw up on her throughout the movie.

10. Spider-Man is about Peter Parker hitting puberty

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Theorist: Among many, Gaye Birch of “Den of Geek”

Plot: In the 2002 version of Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker, who gets bitten by a spider and becomes a superhero.

The Supporting Evidence: Peter Parker gets bitten by the spider as he’s photographing his crush, Mary Jane Watson, which will lead to his eventual transformation. The spider bite is a pretty clear metaphor for what commonly happens during puberty when boys start to discover their sexual interests. Throughout his transformation into a superhero, Parker often stares at himself in the mirror. He continues to be shocked by his body’s changes and new abilities, another symptom of puberty. At one point in the film, his Aunt May comes to the door of Peter’s room and suspiciously asks what he could possibly be doing in there. It isn’t hard to imagine this conversation being about a more R-rated discovery. And as for the sticky white stuff that starts coming out of Peter’s hand ... again, the metaphor isn’t that much of a stretch.

11. Inception is About Movie-Making

Warner Bros.

Theorist: Maria Bustillos and Devin Faraci

Plot: A group must invade someone’s dream in order to plant an idea in his subconscious.

The Supporting Evidence: Star Leonardo DiCaprio may be one of the supporters of this theory, as he compared Inception to Fellini’s 8 ½, which is a movie about making movies. For this theory to make sense, DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, is the artistic director, who must abandon his muse, Mal, in order to create a comprehensive work. Maria Bustillos refers to this as the question of “Who are you doing this for? For your own vision, or for the audience?” Each character fits into a role within the movie-making process as well: Arthur as a producer, Eames as an actor, Yusuf as special effects, and Ariadne as a screenwriter.

These roles make sense within the plot, but also have presence in the film’s imagery. Eames changes the way he looks while looking into a mirror, just as an actor would. And, as Jacopo della Quercia and J.F. Sargent point out, Yusuf is responsible for “the coolest special effects moment in the movie...and the movie specifically points out that he gets no credit for it,” as production design and special effects rarely do in the film world. Some of the movie’s tricks for dreams are pulled straight from movie sets as well, such as the infinite staircase.
* * *
In comments, let me know which theories you’re buying and whether you have more supporting evidence for them!

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


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Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


Columbia Pictures

Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


Columbia Pictures

To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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10 Treasures From the New York Academy of Medicine Library
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
A urine wheel from Fasciculus Medicinae
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Tucked away on a side street near Central Park, the New York Academy of Medicine Library is one of the most significant historical medical libraries in the world. Open to the public by appointment since the 19th century, its collection includes 550,000 volumes on subjects ranging from ancient brain surgery to women's medical colleges to George Washington's dentures. A few weeks ago, Mental Floss visited to check out some of their most fascinating items connected to the study of anatomy. Whether it was urine wheels or early anatomy pop-up books, we weren't disappointed.

1. FASCICULUS MEDICINAE (1509)

The Fasciculus Medicinae is a compilation of Greek and Arabic texts first printed in Venice in 1491. While it covers a variety of topics including anatomy and gynecology, the book begins with the discipline considered most important for diagnosing all medical issues at the time: uroscopy (the study of urine). The NYAM Library's curator, Anne Garner, showed us the book's urine wheel, which once had the various flasks of urine colored in to help aid physicians in their diagnosis. Each position of the wheel corresponded to one of the four humors, whether it was phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, or melancholic. The image on the left, Garner explains, "shows the exciting moment where a servant boy brings his flasks to be analyzed by a professor." Other notable images in the book include one historians like to call "Zodiac Man," showing how the parts of the body were governed by the planets, and "Wound Man," who has been struck by every conceivable weapon, and is accompanied by a text showing how to treat each type of injury. Last but not least, the book includes what's believed to be the first printed image of a dissection.

2. ANDREAS VESALIUS, DE HUMANI CORPORIS FABRICA (1543)

Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Frontispiece of Andreas Vesalius's Fabrica
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Andreas Vesalius, born 1514, was one of the most important anatomists who ever lived. Thanks to him, we moved past an understanding of the human body based primarily on the dissection of animals and toward training that involved the direct dissection of human corpses. The Fabrica was written by Vesalius and published when he was a 28-year-old professor at the University of Padua. Its detailed woodcuts, the most accurate anatomical illustrations up to that point, influenced the depiction of anatomy for centuries to come. "After this book, anatomy divided up into pre-Vesalian and post-Vesalian," Garner says. You can see Vesalius himself in the book's frontispiece (he's the one pointing to the corpse and looking at the viewer). "Vesalius is trying to make a point that he himself is doing the dissection, he believes that to understand the body you have to open it up and look at it," Garner explains.

3. THOMAS GEMINUS, COMPENDIOSA (1559)

Flap anatomy from Thomas Geminus's Compendiosa
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

There was no copyright in the 16th century, and Vesalius's works were re-used by a variety of people for centuries. The first was in Flemish printer and engraver Thomas Geminus’s Compendiosa, which borrowed from several of Vesalius's works. The first edition was published in London just two years after the Fabrica. Alongside a beautiful dedication page made for Elizabeth I and inlaid with real gemstones, the book also includes an example of a "flap anatomy" or a fugitive leaf, which was printed separately with parts that could be cut out and attached to show the various layers of the human body, all the way down to the intestines. As usual for the time, the female is depicted as pregnant, and she holds a mirror that says "know thyself" in Latin.

4. WILLIAM COWPER, THE ANATOMY OF HUMANE BODIES (1698)

Illustration from William Cowper's The Anatomy of Humane Bodies
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

After Vesalius, there was little new in anatomy texts until the Dutch anatomist Govard Bidloo published his Anatomia humani corporis in 1685. The work was expensive and not much of a financial success, so Bidloo sold excess plates to the English anatomist William Cowper, who published the plates with an English text without crediting Bidloo (a number of angry exchanges between the two men followed). The copperplate engravings were drawn by Gérard de Lairesse, who Garner notes was "incredibly talented." But while the engravings are beautiful, they're not always anatomically correct, perhaps because the relationship between de Lairesse and Bidloo was fraught (Bidloo was generally a bit difficult). The skeleton shown above is depicted holding an hourglass, by then a classic of death iconography.

5. 17TH-CENTURY IVORY MANIKINS

17th Century Ivory Manikin
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

These exquisite figures are a bit of a mystery: It was originally thought that they were used in doctors’ offices to educate pregnant women about what was happening to their bodies, but because of their lack of detail, scholars now think they were more likely expensive collector's items displayed in cabinets of curiosity by wealthy male physicians. The arms of the manikins (the term for anatomical figures like this) lift up, allowing the viewer to take apart their removable hearts, intestines, and stomachs; the female figure also has a little baby inside her uterus. There are only about 100 of these left in the world, mostly made in Germany, and NYAM has seven.

6. BERNHARD SIEGFRIED ALBINUS, TABULAE SCELETI (1747)

Illustration from Bernhard Siegfried Albinus's Tabulae Sceleti
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

One of the best-known anatomists of the 18th century, the Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus went to medical school at age 12 and had a tenured position at the University of Leiden by the time he was 24. The Tabulae Sceleti was his signature work. The artist who worked on the text, Jan Wandelaar, had studied with Gérard de Lairesse, the artist who worked with Bidloo. Wandelaar and Albinus developed what Garner says was a bizarre method of suspending cadavers from the ceiling in the winter and comparing them to a (very cold and naked) living person lying on the floor in the same pose. Albinus also continued the dreamy, baroque funerary landscape of his predecessors, and his anatomy is "very, very accurate," according to Garner.

The atlas also features an appearance by Clara, a celebrity rhinoceros, who was posed with one of the skeletons. "When Albinus is asked why [he included a rhinoceros], he says, 'Oh, Clara is just another natural wonder of the world, she's this amazing creation,' but really we think Clara is there to sell more atlases because she was so popular," Garner says.

7. FERDINAND HEBRA, ATLAS DER HAUTKRANKHEITEN (1856–1876)

Circus performer Georg Constantin as depicted in Ferdinand Hebra's dermatological atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

By the mid-19th century, dermatology had started to emerge as its own discipline, and the Vienna-based Ferdinand Hebra was a leading light in the field. He began publishing this dermatological atlas in 1856 (it appeared in 10 installments), featuring chromolithographs that showed different stages of skin diseases and other dermatological irregularities.

"While some of the images are very disturbing, they also tend to adhere to Victorian portrait conventions, with very ornate hair, and [subjects] looking off in the distance," Garner says. But one of the most famous images from the book has nothing to do with disease—it's a depiction of Georg Constantin, a well-known Albanian circus performer in his day, who was covered in 388 tattoos of animals, flowers, and other symbols. He travelled throughout Europe and North America, and was known as "Prince Constantine" during a spell with Barnum's Circus. (The image is also available from NYAM as a coloring sheet.)

8. KOICHI SHIBATA, OBSTETRICAL POCKET PHANTOM (1895)

19th century Obstetrical Pocket Phantom
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Obstetrical phantoms, often made of cloth, wood, or leather, were used to teach medical students about childbirth. This "pocket phantom" was originally published in Germany, and Garner explains that because it was made out of paper, it was much cheaper for medical students. The accompanying text, translated in Philadelphia, tells how to arrange the phantom and describes the potential difficulties of various positions.

9. ROBERT L. DICKINSON AND ABRAM BELSKIE, BIRTH ATLAS (1940)

Image from Robert Dickinson's Birth Atlas
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

Robert Dickinson was a Brooklyn gynecologist, early birth control advocate, and active member of NYAM. His Birth Atlas is illustrated with incredibly lifelike terracotta models created by New Jersey sculptor Abram Belskie. The models were exhibited at the 1939 New York World's Fair, where they became incredibly popular, drawing around 700,000 people according to Garner. His depictions "are very beautiful and serene, and a totally different way of showing fetal development than anything that had come before," Garner notes.

10. RALPH H. SEGAL, THE BODYSCOPE (1948)

The Bodyscope
Courtesy New York Academy of Medicine Library

This midcentury cardboard anatomy guide contains male and female figures as well as rotating wheels, called volvelles, that can be turned to display details on different parts of the body as well as accompanying explanatory text. The Bodyscope is also decorated with images of notable medical men—and "wise" sayings about God's influence on the body.

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