Early American Execution Scenesand the Electric Chair
This chapter examines the transformation of bodies from “alive” to “dead” in early American films by focusing on the way they pictured execution and emulated the structure and logic of the electric chair. Aspiring to shock and titillate with moving images, filmmakers resourced executions for a quick fix. Planned killing appealed as a chance to control time and inspired tricks of the cinematic frame. This chapter first considers the influence of execution on film editing and the importance of timing in editing screen events, as well as the way the electric chair hovers over the cinema of attractions. It then considers the change from “dying” to “dead” in films such as The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895), McKinley's Funeral Cortege at Washington, DC (1901), Execution of Czolgosz with Panorama of Auburn Prison (1901), and Electrocuting an Elephant (1903). It also discusses human executions in American cinema as an illustration of electricity's theoretical instantaneity.
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