Homo Sapiens 1900

  • 2000
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Watch Peter Cohen's documentary about the "science" of eugenics and you'll think twice before sneering fitness nazi at some annoying exercise guru — not because the term is tastelessly excessive, but because it's so unnervingly apropos. Using archival footage mixed with photographs, newspaper articles, scientific papers and other materials, Cohen...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Watch Peter Cohen's documentary about the "science" of eugenics and you'll think twice before sneering fitness nazi at some annoying exercise guru — not because the term is tastelessly excessive, but because it's so unnervingly apropos.

Using archival footage mixed with photographs, newspaper articles, scientific papers and other materials, Cohen finds disturbing connections between theories of race hygiene and everything from nudist philosophy to the cult of physical culture and beautiful baby contests. Cohen begins at the turn

of the century, amid concerns that the human race is rushing headlong into a degenerative spiral; combined with Charles Darwin's theories on evolutionary biology, Gregor Mendel's research into genetics — already put into practice in the field of animal husbandry — seemed to offer a

solution. If people could only be persuaded to breed selectively, with an eye toward intelligence, strength and harmony of form, how civilization could be improved! No one needs to be reminded that Germany embraced eugenics and went to horrifying lengths to purge its gene pool of "degeneracy". But

Cohen also examines the notion's hold on Sweden, the United States and revolutionary Russia. Ironically, Russian scientists investigated eugenics as a way of jump-starting the creation of the ideal Soviet citizen; the theory foundered on ideological conflicts between Mendelians, who held that

heredity is destiny, and Lamarchists, who preferred to believe that characteristics acquired by one generation could be passed on to the next. Cohen also draws careful attention to the split between Russian researchers, whose primary goal was perfection of the mind, and German scientists, who

focused their attention on the improvement of the body along strictly defined Aryan lines. Cohen's earlier documentary, THE ARCHITECTURE OF DOOM, examined the connection between Nazi aesthetics and ideology; this film is an equally provocative companion piece.

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  • Released: 2000
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Watch Peter Cohen's documentary about the "science" of eugenics and you'll think twice before sneering fitness nazi at some annoying exercise guru — not because the term is tastelessly excessive, but because it's so unnervingly apropos. Using archiv… (more)
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