The Flame and the Glow

Loie Fuller appears in the film Radioactive. A reoccurring theme of light within the film. (Wiki image)

Loie Fuller appears in the film Radioactive.
A reoccurring theme of light within the film.
(Wiki image)

Radium – Light the catalyst…

She’s wonderful isn’t she…her dance…her name is Loie Fuller [pioneer of modern dance and theatrical lighting] if you wish to see her again…she calls it… this dance…her fire dance…[Why?]…I believe its because she’s interested in the way flames move.

Henri Curie speaking to Marie Skłodowska from Radioactive. Screenplay by Jack Thorne.

Madame Marie Curie. (Wiki image)

Madame Marie Curie.
(Wiki image)

Last night, during the earlier dark hours, I scanned through the available films on offer. Despite my constant click about I chose Radioactive, a biopic of Madame Marie Curie (nee Skłodowska) the discoverer of radium (Ra) and polonium (Po). Released in 2019 the film was directed by Marjane Satrapi whose story, starring Rosamund Pike as Curie, set me on a path of questioning and curiosity. Did Madame Curie really sleep with radioactive material near to her? Did Madame Curie offer to melt her Nobel prizes – Physics (1903) shared with her husband Pierre Curie and in Chemistry (1911) – for the war effort? Why have I not thought about Madame Curie and the Great War previously? How interested was Madame Curie in spiritualism? Has a Great War Petite Curie survived, to be cared for in a museum?

Though these questions I leave, for the most part, for my readers to explore…the film’s time sequences reminded me of my own interests in the history of X-ray. I first encountered Madame Curie in 1967 when upon my return to Canada my family’s possessions stored for some time came home. Amongst the items the Golden Book Encyclopedia. Within Volume 4 Chalk to Czechoslovakia…Madam Curie…the first I read of her. I was seven years old.

In 2000 I wrote a short history of Chilliwack’s first X-ray machine delivered in 1924 and first operated by George Bradley the janitor of Chilliwack General Hospital. Chilliwack’s machine was one of the new models specifically designed for use in smaller hospitals and cost $2136.15 equivalent to $32,018.78 today. Prior to the arrival of Chilliwack’s first X-ray machine, area patients requiring X-rays were required to travel to hospitals on the coast.

The X-ray machine at the Malta National War Museum. (P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

The X-ray machine at the Malta National War Museum.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

In 2005 a visit to the National War Museum, Fort St. Elmo, Valletta, Malta led me to an encounter in the exhibition galleries with an early X-ray machine. No doubt I wondered at the time how similar the machine before me was to Chilliwack’s 1924 machine. Was Malta’s machine an earlier model, of the same vintage to Chilliwack’s? Or had it been on the island some time previous, throughout the Great War, when Malta was known as the nurse of the Mediterranean?

X-rays are a standard form of medical diagnostic tool. First invented in 1895 by German scientist Wilhelm Roentgen, Madam Curie’s discovery and implementation of radium as the gamma ray source for Roentgen’s machine made for more accurate and better X-ray imaging. Radium as the catalyst allows for the use of high energy electromagnetic radiation to create medical images. This penetrative form of imagery allows medical practitioners to discover the physical hurt and complications within our injured and ill persons.

Madame Marie Curie and one of the Petite Curies on the Western Front. (Wiki Image)

Madame Marie Curie and one of the Petite Curies on the Western Front.
(Wiki Image)

With the onset of the Great War Marie Curie recognized that the use of radiology would be instrumental in the detection of shrapnel, bullets and fragments as well as the shards of broken bones within the wounded. Her work with the French Red Cross Radiology Service saved untold lives and through her connections Curie created a fleet of 20 mobile vehicles, which became known as Petite Curies and supplied another 200 radiological units to field hospitals. The mobile radiology units were instrumental in saving countless lives as being designed for use closer to the battlefields meant that diagnostic time was considerably reduced. Informed decisions could be made quicker without the complications of travel time to hospitals far back from the fields of conflict.

In 1924 Madame Curie died from aplastic anemia likely stemming from her long-term work with radiation. Her remains, clothes, furniture, cookbooks and laboratory notebooks, the latter considered to be national and scientific treasure remain radioactive. The laboratory archives are stored in lead lined boxes at the Bibliothèque nationale France, Paris.


About The Author

pferguson
Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.

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