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In 1903 Daniel Paul Schreber published the most celebrated autobiography of madness ‘from the inside’ ever written. Shock Head Soul interleaves documentary interviews, fictional re-construction and CGI animation to portray his story. The film’s mix of forms explores the borderline between religious vision and deluded fanaticism, and the intimate link between family secrets, psychiatric diagnosis, and our societal understanding of mental illness.
"Shock Head Soul," Brit experimental director Simon Pummell's study of mental illness and its treatment at the turn of the 20th century, has all the weirdness, cerebral depth and envelope-pushing style that David Cronenberg's otherwise estimable Jung-Freud faceoff, "A Dangerous Method," lacks. Blending docu elements with fictional reconstruction and trippy CGI, the pic explores the fascinating case of schizophrenic Daniel Paul Schreber, a German judge whose autobiographical account of his own madness, published in 1903, shaped the then-young discipline of psychotherapy. "Soul" reps a truly sui generis work, both moving and intellectually stimulating, which deserves to be seen beyond fest asylums.
Shock Head Soul is a restrained, cerebral piece that will be of interest to anyone who has ever tangled with mental illness. It also has much to contribute to a wider understanding by hosting, as it does, an external commentary on the case from eminent psychiatrists and social commentators, who help contextualise Pummell’s dramatisation of Schreber’s illness.
The British director Simon Pummell's Shock Head Soul explores the strange case of Daniel Paul Schreber (1842-1911), a top German lawyer who thought he was receiving messages from God via a "writing down" machine, and who wanted to become a woman and have a child. His memoirs of his psychosis inspired a famous essay by Freud (in which Freud speculated that Schreber's illness was a consequence of repressed homosexual desires.) Pummell's film is a "hybrid" work, combining documentary, fiction and animation – arguably this is an approach better suited to the complexity of the subject matter than a conventional narrative.