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The documentary "De Humani Corporis Fabrica" explores the landscape of the human body mostly from the inside.
Grasshopper Film
The documentary "De Humani Corporis Fabrica" explores the landscape of the human body mostly from the inside.

Micro cinema offers alternatives to new Marvel film

With the latest "Guardians of the Galaxy" getting all the press, I wanted to steer your attention to what is playing this weekend at Digital Gym’s micro cinema.

'De Humani Corporis Fabrica'


If you ever wanted to explore the human body from the inside then "De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On The Fabric of the Human Body)" is the film for you. For some, this may be the ultimate body horror film for others it will be a bold exploration of our internal organs and modern surgery.

The film's title takes its inspiration from Andreas Vesalius' "De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem," a set of books published in 1543. Vesalius performed his own dissections and challenged accepted ideas of human anatomy. His text was accompanied by more than 200 illustrations and is considered a work that advanced the understanding of human anatomy.

The new documentary by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel wants to offer a modern and cinematic take on anatomy but instead of dissecting the human body to uncover its mysteries as Vesalius did, they let medical cameras do the exploration for them.

I have to say that the film fascinated and annoyed me in equal parts. Some of the medical footage is absolutely amazing and serves up landscapes that the 1966 film "Fantastic Voyage" could only imagine. We travel inside intestines and hearts, detect a baby's features through sonograms, see twisted vertebrae in x-rays, and are dazzled by beautiful slides of dissections. These are all images that we don't often have access to, and we can marvel at the technology that permits us to see the body in such vivid detail.

A human fetus as seen in the documentary "De Humani Corporis Fabrica."
Grasshopper Film
A human fetus as seen in the documentary "De Humani Corporis Fabrica."

Yet, I also feel like the filmmakers slapped the footage together with no sense of craft. I can imagine they had hours and hours of footage to cull through, yet I also feel like they might have just stitched every inch of footage together and exercised no editorial judgement in regards to fine tuning any of it.


The film opens — and intermittently resorts to — unnecessary shakycam footage from outside the body. The opening follows what appears to be a security guard and dog through a maze of doors and hallways in a manner that feels like you're watching the most aggravating found-footage film. The filmmakers explain nothing and provide no context for any of the footage. Sometimes we can deduce what we are seeing by the comments we hear from doctors or surgeons but other times we are just left wondering what it is we are actually viewing.

The filmmakers also interrupt the journey through the inside of the body to check in with a pair of women who are wandering through perhaps an alzheimer's or dementia ward. We follow them for an extended time as they endlessly repeat phrases like "hurry up." At one point we hear something that turns out to be an elderly woman screaming from her room. The camera follows the sound and then holds on the woman in close up as she cries out in obvious pain and distress. Maintaining an objective distance and not interfering with what is unfolding might be acceptable in a nature documentary but the fact that the filmmakers simply record the patient's agony without any compassion or attempt to help her is somewhat disturbing.

In addition, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel find doctors and surgeons who distinctly lack any comforting bedside manner and sometimes even lack basic professionalism. At one point a surgeon has a tantrum as he seems to be engaged in prostate surgery. Each time he rants about something we witness him angrily jamming tubes up the anesthetized patient's penis. The scene is worse than any horror film.

Even the supposedly compassionate maternity team doing an emergency C-section (recorded in graphic detail) seems oddly insensitive. The nurse tells the mother her baby is a "shrimp" and keeps repeating what a "shrimp" the infant is. Then the baby is whisked away for a check up and no one ever takes a moment to hold the crying child in a comforting embrace.

The press notes include this description: "As places of care, suffering and hope, hospitals are laboratories that connect every body in the world." But that's not the perspective that comes through the film to me. On a certain level the film feels coldly dispassionate and casually critical of these medical professionals. It's surprising that these people even agreed to appear in the film when they come across so badly.

The end result is a film that I can only recommend in part. The sections that most replicate the detailed sense of anatomy that Vesalius conveyed in his books are the best and worth seeing. These sections offer rare visions of the human body from birth to death. But I could do without the rest of the film.

Musician Little Richard is the subject of the documentary "I am Everything."
Magnolia Pictures
Musician Little Richard is the subject of the documentary "I Am Everything."

'Little Richard: I Am Everything'

If you want a safer viewing option at Digital Gym Cinema, then the fabulous documentary "Little Richard: I Am Everything," has been held over for another week.

It is an insightful, layered, and celebratory look at the musician’s life and work. The film includes interviews with Little Richard himself as well as a host of people sharing different perspectives on his life, his influence on music, and the impact he made on pop culture.

So those are a pair of film options if the lines for that new Marvel film are too long.

I cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.
What do you wonder about that you’d like us to investigate?