Sigmund Freud was born 150 years ago this weekend. He’s certainly pop culture’s most-cited psychoanalyst, but his influence on media doesn’t end there – Freud’s ideas are cinema staples: flashbacks, projection, not to mention the sexual stuff. Brooke speaks with Andrea Sabbadini, a psychoanalyst and chairman of the European Psychoanalytical Film Festival.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sigmund Freud was born 150 years ago this weekend. He's certainly the most cited psychoanalyst in pop culture, but his influence on media doesn't end there. Freud's ideas and psychoanalysis in general are cinema staples. Think flashback or even projection, not to mention the sexual stuff. Andrea Sabbadini is a London-based psychoanalyst and chairman of the European Psychoanalytical Film Festival. He thinks some of the convergence between Freud and film can be chalked up to timing.
ANDREA SABBADINI: They were both born around the same time, in the year 1895. At that time, the Lumiere brothers in France, in Paris, were showing the first film, and in the same year, Sigmund Freud and Joseph Breuer were publishing the first psychoanalytic book, called Studies on Hysteria, Freud himself not wanting to have much to do with this new medium.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Freud, in fact, was actively uninterested in [LAUGHS] film.
ANDREA SABBADINI: He was skeptical about cinema and, in fact, there is a nice story about the Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn who wanted to produce a big film on love. He believed Freud was the biggest expert in the world on love and offered him, in fact, something like 100,000 dollars, which was a lot of money for those days. You are talking about 1925, I think. And Freud didn't even want to meet him or have anything to do with it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You've said that film and psychoanalysis share a language of sorts.
ANDREA SABBADINI: Well, they share quite a lot. Dreams, which are very central to psychoanalytic work, are very much part of films. Some people could, in fact, read films as if they were dreams. Psychoanalyst Freud himself discussed a concept which is called "the uncanny," which is that sense of something which appears to be familiar but it is a bit different from familiar, and therefore can be quite frightening. But it's certainly something that many filmmakers put across in their films. Something else that films and psychoanalysis have in common is, for instance, the interest in characters. People like Truffaut would characterize their characters in the film in much psychological detail, and very often borrowing ideas from psychoanalysis.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Psychoanalysts themselves have been depicted frequently in film.
ANDREA SABBADINI: There's a film by John Huston called "Freud." It's a kind of biography of the early years of Freud's work. An interesting thing about it is that the script was originally written by the great French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Who got into a shouting match, I understand, with [LAUGHS] John Houston and walked off the set.
ANDREA SABBADINI: Absolutely. And apparently, Sartre sent the first script and Houston complained because it was too long. It would have made a film of about five or six hours.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
ANDREA SABBADINI: So he had started to rewrite it, and Sartre rewrote it and then wrote one which was [LAUGHING] even longer than that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Huston should have understood what he was getting into. We all know that Freudian analysis takes an awful long time.
ANDREA SABBADINI: Yes, absolutely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS]
ANDREA SABBADINI: That's one of the problems, I think, in representing psychoanalysis in films. In films, you want fast, easy answers and so on. And, of course, that's not what psychoanalysis is about.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dr. Sabbadini, thank you very much.
ANDREA SABBADINI: All right. Very good.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Andrea Sabbadini is a London-based psychoanalyst and chairman of the European Psychoanalytical Film Festival.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.