The Arm Needs to Come Off… Again
If you emailed me a few weeks ago, you would have received the following reply: “I will be out of the office on Thursday, April 22, 2010, filming an amputation. I look forward to responding to your message when I return.” As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir among those who had the pleasure of emailing me that day.
I wasn’t in a hospital operating room but instead on the stage of the American Theater in Hampton, Virginia. With actors behind a scrim and a camera crew filming the shadows from out front, we captured the silhouette of a Civil War-period amputation.
We hired Cinebar Productions to produce the video and tapped Dr. T. Adrian Wheat, a retired medical doctor and expert on Civil War–era surgery, to simulate the procedure.
Dr. Wheat’s colleague John Pelletier served as assistant surgeon and Brian Musselwhite, a research assistant at the VHS, had his arm removed about twenty times over the course of five hours of filming. The trio needed an anesthetist, and because I was there anyway, I stood in for the part.
We received a copy of the footage at the VHS last week, and because it’ll be projected on a tent-like piece of canvas in the exhibition, we rigged-up a bed sheet to see how it would look. A few staff members who stopped by to watch had quite a reaction when the patient’s amputated arm was disposed of. Everyone agreed that it was very cool!
Funny thing is we got the same two questions from nearly everyone who saw it.
“Why does the patient calmly lay on the table while those guys are cutting his arm off?”
“Why isn’t there blood spurting all over the place?”
I anticipated the first question and mentioned the regular use of anesthetics throughout the war in the text that appears with the “tent.” The second one came as more of a surprise. Maybe it shouldn’t have. After all, isn’t that what we’ve all seen in the movies?
Remember the scene about seven minutes into the movie Glory where Captain Shaw is having his neck bandaged (after perhaps the best Civil War–era combat sequence ever committed to film). He looks over to see a fellow screaming in agony and struggling against one surgeon while another one is sawing off his leg. Blood is spurting all over the “privacy screen” shielding the actual procedure from our view (you can see the scene by clicking here). It’s dramatic for sure, but it is not at all accurate.
What are some other Civil War–era movie faux pas that you love to hate?