Women and illicit drug use in cinema

After analysing more than sixty films for a MSc in Medical Humanities entitled “Women and Illicit Substance Use in Cinema”, I am starting a series of posts on filmic representations of female drug users.

Part 1 – Female drug users in Woody Allen’s films

After cocaine resurgence in the 1970s, Woody Allen was probably one of the first filmmakers to depict the expensive substance – used at that time by wealthy bohemian people – in a comic scene in ‘Anne Hall’ (1977). Annie, by the way, smokes weed, dresses in an unconventional style, and is open to drug experimentation:

Another interesting reference of cocaine use in the 1980s appears in ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ (1986). The movie depicts Holly (Dianne Wiest), a struggling actress with a former cocaine habit. Holly appears snorting cocaine openly in the audience of a punk rock band in a legendary club in New York,  a reference to 1980s cocaine abuse in that scene. Her date Mickey (Allen) says to her that she will develop ‘a third nostril’, takes her to a jazz club, but she continues restlessly snorting coke there:

Holly wears bold outfits, but is insecure. When she stops using cocaine she has difficulties to adjust to an occupation, has a novelty-seeker nature and a competitive relationship with a female friend. Her parents are alcoholic and narcissistic, and her sister attends Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and has a clandestine affair with Hannah’s husband, showing a complicated family dynamic.

Hannah is apparently a successful woman, who has a co-dependent relationship with Holly, supporting financially her new schemes to make money. However, along her self-analysis and determination, Holly grows up, becomes a successful playwright and marries Mickey. Her former cocaine abuse appears as a rite of passage, as she becomes more integrated with herself


This is the last week to see rare historical photographs taken at Maudsley Hospital in Southwark. The Mausdley hospital was designed in 1907 by the psychiatrist Henry Maudsley and the neuropathologist Frederick Mott. Before its official opening in 1923, the hospital was requested by the Army, and started receiving soldiers in 1916 for the treatment of shell-shock during World War One.


Copyright Museum of the Mind

The pioneering treatment of this soldiers did not involved the traditional method used at the time for treating people with mental disorders, like sedating and/or locking patients. Instead, the treatment of these soldiers was more humanized and focused on relaxation, hot baths,  good nutrition, and physical exercises. In the hospital there was also a carpenter’s workshop and a vegetable patch. The Maudsley treated 12,400 cases of shell-shock in three years, and became famous for its innovative treatment and research of psychiatric injuries.


Copyright Museum of the Mind

Where: The Long Gallery, Mausdley Hospital, Denmark Hill. Till 24th September (9am – 5pm)



(Plan of Mitre Square and Surroundings. Scene of Murder, 1.45am, 30th September 1888 by architect Frederick William Foster, by occasion of the murder of Catherine Eddowes, Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim)

The exhibition “Forensics: anatomy of a crime” has just opened recently at the Wellcome Collection. It focus on the history, science and procedures of forensic medicine: crime scenes, famous crime reports, anatomy and necropsy, identification of victims and investigation of suspects involved in violent crimes, the morgue, the courtroom, and the fascinating evolution of forensic psychiatry. It depicts a rich material, together with artworks and the interface with fiction and public sensationalism.

Some highlights:

Alphonse Bertillon was a French police officer and biometrics who developed a innovative anthropological system in 1870s to measure and record the physical characteristics of each suspect. He also standardized the process of photographing criminals.


Dr Edmond Locard, known as the Sherlock Holmes of France. He also studied  Law and was the pioneer in setting up a criminal laboratory. The criminologist also contributed to the improvement of dactylography (the study of fingerprints).

Wellcome Collection exhibition

Handwritten autopsy index cards and an illustration of pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.


Mexican artist Teresa Margoller transplanted the crime scene: the floor tiles on which her friend was murdered in Mexico.

Wellcome Collection. Opened from Tuesdays to Sunday 10-18h (on Thursday opened till 22h).
183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK.
Free admission. Till June 21st.


freud martha

Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays exchanged over 1,500 love letters from 1882 to 1886 during their long engagement, with its bliss, longing, restrictions and misunderstandings. They wrote very often to each other, sometimes twice a day. The couple was separated while Freud completed his medical studies, as Martha Bernays had to move with her Jewish orthodox family to Hamburg.

The letters were kept secret until last year due to Freud family reticence. Not even Freud biographers, except Ernest Jones, had access to these letters.In April 2011, the first book of a planned five-edition of the complete correspondence between the couple was published by Fischer Verlag in Germany. They reveal a young, passionate and impatient neurologist frustrated to be locked in his laboratory in Vienna, far from his beloved fiancee. Freud would give up a career as a neurophysiologist because of that.

This week the former director of Freud’s Museum, Michael Molnar, gave and interesting talk, “Paper with Sacred Signs: Love Letters of Sigmund Freud”, about the correspondence, as part of the exhibition “Love, lust and longing” at the museum. For Molnar, the letters reveal the other side of the couple: some of Freud letters were accessible to the public, but not Martha’s answers to them. Martha, a beautiful, and clever girl, had a couple of other admirers. Her letters to Freud were warm and affectionate, but also ironic. Freud was jealous about her friendships, and insecure with the distance, as most of the relationship happened in the paper.

Molnar showed an except of a letter of Martha in response to a photography sent in her birthday in 1884 (curiously, somebody pointed at the audience that Martha and Jung shared the same birthday):


“Dearest, you don’t always look so displeased, do you? You can still laugh too?”.

In another interesting letter, Freud write to her: “you must love me as irrationally as other people love”.

Michael Molnar translated some of the letters into English, which can be seen at the exhibition (which was now extended to the public for more a fortnight, until 22th March). The second volume of the letters were out in 2013 in Germany. The rights to publish them are available so far Spanish in Portuguese (still in translation) but not yet in English.

An interesting detail: after their marriage, Freud forbade Martha’s religious practices. One of the most valuable pieces of Freud collection showed in the exhibition is a Hanukkah candle, but it is not known if Martha ever used it. After Freud’s death, she resumed her faith.


(Eros: hellenist period c150-100BC. Image: Freud museum)

This week is the last opportunity to see the exhibition “Freud and Eros: Love, lust and longing” at the Freud Museum in London. The exhibition explores Freud’s idea on love and erotism, and includes his love letters to his wife; items selected of his collection, like images of Eros and Venus and phallic amulets; together with the work of other artists.

Freud museum is the house where Freud spent the last year of his life, after his exile from the Nazis in 1938. His daughter, the child psychologist Anna Freud, lived there until her death in 1982.


The study was preserved carefully by Anna Freud just as Freud left it, with the famous couch, surrounded by book and his fine collection of Greek, Egyptian, Romand and oriental antiques. Freud’s famous patient “wolf man” described it not as a doctor’s office, but rather as an archeologist’s study. The atmosphere is very mysterious indeed. It also contains photographs of Martha Freud, Lou Andreas-Salomé (his first female patient), Yvette Guilbert, Marie Bonaparte, and Ernst von Fleischl.

Anna Freud lived in the upper room, which contains some furniture from her study, together  with her analytic couch.

Love, lust and longing. Until 8 Mar.

Freud museum is opened to public from Wednesdays to Sundays (12h-17h). Address: 20 Maresfield Gardens London NW3 5SX. Tel: +44 (0)20 7435 2002



(Manto da representação, a ceremonial cape)

Arthur Bispo do Rosário (1909-1989) was born in Japaratuba, Sergipe, a small town in Brazilian North-East – a region known for its folk art and religious culture. He joined the navy in 1925, worked as a handyman and was also an amateur boxer. By the time he presented psychiatric symptoms (hallucinations) he was a domestic worker, living with a family in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. According to the history, Bispo do Rosário ‘entered a Rio monastery at 29 while conducting an imaginary army of angels and announced he had come to judge the living and the dead’. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1938, and hospitalized for more than 50 years in a famous asylum in Rio, Colônia Juliano Moreira.

Completely isolated from the art establishment, Bispo do Rosário’s creations were viewed by himself as a spiritual journey to salvation: the mission of his artwork was to reach god and transcendence, a strategy he found to deal with his delirium. His ‘outsider’ art has long been celebrated for its imaginative approach to working with everyday, found materials in textiles and a variety of objects – he made use of all sort of discarded materials and hospital items in his work.




His work became well known after a documentary made by psychoanalyst Hugo Denizart in 1982 at the request of the Brazilian Ministry of Health to investigate the condition at the hospital where Bispo do Rosário lived. During this process Denizaro was so impressed with Rosário that decided to change the focus of his investigation.


The documentary ‘Prisioner of passage’ (see excerpt below) and Bispo do Rosário’s artworks were exhibited in modern art museums and at the Bienal in Brazil, and later at the Venice Bienal and more recently (2012) at the V&A Museum in London.

Virna Teixeira


Giuseppe Maria Mitelli. Il Mondo e per lo più gabbia di matti (1684).

‘The tradition of visually representing madness in the form of various icons, whether physiognomy, or body type, gesture or dress, points towards the need of a society to identify the mad absolutely. Society, which defines itself as sane, must be able to localize and confine the mad, if only visually, in order to create a separation between the sane and the insane.’

Sander L. Gilman

(In: Disease and representation:Images of Illness from Madness to AIDS. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, p. 45)