I was reading a N.Y. Times Manohla Dargis piece this morning called “Pushing Grisly Boundaries Since 1895” (which is part of a bigger ensemble piece called “Big Bang Theories: Violence on Screen.” She writes that “execution films” were a popular subgenre in the early days of cinema, and mentions “Executing An Elephant” (1903), which shows poor Topsy, an Indian elephant who had killed three men, getting zapped with 6600 volts.
For whatever reason I’d never seen the Topsy death short before this morning. So less than 60 seconds after reading about Topsy’s fate in Dargis’s piece…you guessed it. The guy who not only filmed the execution but turned on the juice? Thomas Alva Edison. Topsy was going to be killed anyway (she had probably been mistreated and had reacted with appropriate hostility) and Edison wanted to show how lethal alternating current electricity could be.