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DeathwatchAmerican Film, Technology, and the End of Life$
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C. Scott Combs

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231163477

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231163477.001.0001

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An Elusive Passage

(p.1) Introduction

C. Scott Combs

Columbia University Press

This book explores the theme of death and dying in American cinema. It situates cinema along a specific technological trajectory in order to understand its death sign by looking at some of the earlier moments in medical history and popular culture when experimentation and doubt converged around machines. Two different but related ambiguities stand out in this history: one, the overlap and confusion between machine and human mobility (and vitality); two, the understanding of electricity as both a vital and lethal force. Through readings of films such as Electrocuting an Elephant, The Country Doctor, and How Green Was My Valley, the book examines the relationship between embodied human perception and mechanical surplus. In particular, it considers two supplemental devices that are thought to be capable of immediately visualizing death as occurring in time: the electric chair and the heart monitor. The book concludes by considering recent recordings (film and video) made in hospital or at home that structure real death “cinematically”.

Keywords:   death, dying, American cinema, medical history, popular culture, machine, electricity, film, electric chair, heart monitor

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