Homo Sapiens 1900 | Chicago Reader

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This well-researched 1999 documentary by Swedish filmmaker Peter Cohen (who directed the superb Architecture of Doom) charts the rise and fall of eugenics, the effort to create an improved breed of humans through science. Forgoing the usual talking heads for extensive newsreel and movie footage, Cohen shows how the movement took off in the early 20th century (first in Sweden and the U.S., then in Germany and Russia) as the nature/nurture debate intensified with each new biological finding. The most telling contrast is between the Soviets, who aspired to greater mental prowess, and the Nazis, who fantasized about physical beauty; the ultimate futility of their racial determinism is one of the many paradoxes Cohen details. His presentation can be dryly academic (somber narration, portentous piano chords), but his imagery is a potent reminder that such folly persists today. 88 min.

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