Les dents du singe (The Monkey’s Teeth) is the directorial debut of René Laloux, the animator who made Fantastic Planet and Time Masters. This, his first short, came out of the experimental La Borde clinic at Cour-Cheverny. As supervisor of artistic activities at La Borde, Laloux staged therapeutic puppet shows with the resident malades mentaux during the years before he gave them their big break in the motion picture business.
According to his obit in Positif, Laloux and his patients were aided in writing the screenplay for Les dents du singe by Félix Guattari, later the co-author of a number of influential books with the philosopher Gilles Deleuze; the group’s screenwriting method was something like a combination of “automatic writing, exquisite corpse, and Jung’s tests.” In 1960, Guattari was working at La Borde as a therapist. He had been drawn to the clinic by its founder, the Lacanian psychiatrist Jean Oury.
The biography Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives conveys a sense of life at La Borde:
Oury baptized his clinic as soon as it opened in April 1953, writing a constitution that he dated Year I (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the French Revolution) and that defined the three guiding principles for this collective therapeutic undertaking. The mangers were protected by democratic centralism, reflecting the Marxist-Leninist ideal that was still popular in the year of Stalin’s death. The second principle reflected the idea of a communist utopia whereby each staff member would alternate between manual labor and intellectual work, which effectively made any status temporary. Tasks were assigned on a rotating basis: everyone in the clinic switched from medical care to housekeeping, from running workshops to preparing theatrical activities. The last principle was antibureaucratic, so things were organized in a communitarian way whereby responsibilities, tasks, and salaries were all shared. Although the term “institutional psychotherapy” had not yet been coined, many of its themes were already in evidence: spatial permeability, freedom of movement, a critique of professional roles and qualifications, institutional flexibility, and the need for a patients’ therapy club.
Hollywood has not yet produced many tales about bike-riding simians meting out justice at the dentist’s office, but I expect we’ll see a “reboot” of The Monkey’s Teeth before long.