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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.
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on July 21, 2011
This is an excellent watch for those interested in mental illness or the history of medicine. Not something that you typically come across for rentals, but very much enjoyed. I recommend!
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on January 22, 2008
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"....now 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?
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on February 13, 2015
I've been watching this PBS series since it began in the late 1980s. I'm very pleased that Amazon has episodes available of the later ones. They are always of the highest quality and cover many topics, ranging from history, to science and technology, war, biographies, popular culture -- the list goes on!

And you can pick and choose which episodes you want to buy. I've bought and watched several of those in Volume 1, and learned a lot from each. I was especially pleased with the ones on Dolley Madison, the history of Earth Day and the environmental movement, and the one on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer. I've long been interested in the history of science and technology and have read quite a number of books about Oppenheimer, his career and the building of the atomic bomb. This one talked to people who knew him, and several who have written about him, including the author of "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", Richard Rhodes -- a work that is itself excellent and one that I've read several times.

I'm in the middle of the episode on the polio crusade and look forward to many others. They're all good and I always learn something new, no matter how much I thought I knew beforehand.

Highly recommended.
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on September 29, 2015
I watched the New York : A documentary film. It was really well made. Extremely educatonal, lots of quotes from people in the times. The narrator was well picked, and the whole thing is amazingly well written. Musical Score is another huge plus. On the downsides, if you aren't into documentaries, this will probably not change your mind, as the episodes are extremely long. I put them on in the car on a long trip, and listened to them.
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on December 11, 2014
Season 1, episode 9 on the history of Whaling in America was very well done. My students were riveted, having just read a kid's version of the history of the whaling ship Essex. The video did a good job of looking at national, local, and personal economics. It addressed the cruel treatment of those who worked on the ships, their food, clothing, and shelter. The video also spent time on Herman Melville, the initial failure of Moby Dick, and reasons why the book found a new life in its representation of the American way of life. Finally, it described the work of a whaling ship as a factory, and in terms of costs and benefits. It will make you ask why the whaling industry isn't more prominent in the students' American History books.
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on September 2, 2013
Sad story of generals in the high offices ordering mass bombings of Vietnam civilians with napalm and other nasty horrors, ignorant of the results, bomb a people so much and they become united. The dumb grunt then get nasty snipers, trust of villagers disappear and minds crack. Sad thing, seems the generals sons have become generals for the country again and repeat the fathers sins in Iraq, sad and frustrating, make you feel for the grunts.
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on March 6, 2014
Whew. Hard to believe this s*** was happening into the 60's. As my friend commented after viewing it: There's a reason they call it "practicing" medicine. NOT for the faint of heart - there is some graphic footage.
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on July 24, 2014
This rating is based on having seen the first two episodes: "The Lobotomist" and "The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer". Both episodes deal with complex, tragic characters who left their marks on American and world history. Must sees for history buffs as well as for anyone who appreciates a moving story.
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on September 16, 2013
25 February 2014: This series review was among my first. Periodically I view an episode or a documentary a second time and read the review. This series includes some of the most controversial issues of the American Experience. I did view the entire series and still the three episodes listed remain as a reminder of how easily an event or events can go terribly wrong. Perhaps that is a lesson to be learned from history!
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Another interesting and informative series that is well presented and narrated. Recommended for those with a sense of curiosity and an interest in US history. There are those who frequently think that they know more than they do, this is a good reminder of what you just might not know!

The Lobotomist: To manage what was not completely understood is a grim reminder within the history of medicine. Carried to an extreme by a single man's obsession for curing the mentally ill, Dr. Walter Freeman almost defines the limits between physician and surgeon. Faced with the wretched situation of those committed to facilities for the mentally ill, one can but wonder how he was affected by those circumstances. Lobotomy was not an unprecedented procedure and was included in medical literature, observed as the result of an accident or in other documents. The ocular technique required little expertise/training and offered a simple approach to the frontal lobe of the brain. This documentary presents multiple facets and it is graphic in the extreme. Unfortunately, all mental diagnoses cannot be treated with a single procedure. With the advent of thorazine, the necessity for a frontal lobotomy became a nightmare from the past.
Exceptionally well presented and narrated with original footage and interviews. A lesson to be learned within the concept of modern medicine.

The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer: J. Robert Oppenheimer was beyond a doubt the essence of a genius. His understanding and moral attitude, his concern for the potential of atomic energy came at a great cost. His life was fraught with contradictions and an uncertainty about himself as an individual. He represented the higher moral ethic of the use of atomic/hydrogen energy as a weapon of mass destruction.
A most compelling documentary of power and knowledge, a recognition of the ultimate chaos these weapons would cause and a visionary of future events. A fascinating narration combined with interviews and original footage that give meaning to an earlier time and a simple question: What if? Don't miss this episode!

My Lai: My Lai is gruesomely accurate. How could this have happened? Any answer has to recognize the psychological effect of killing, being killed and more importantly the devastating horror of seeing one's comrades killed and militated. Guilt can be collectively assigned or action taken to lessen the impact on individuals. War encourages the best and the worst within humankind. Listen very carefully and learn.

There are many lessons to be learned from history . . . recommended for original footage and the profiles that are portrayed!
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