Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

“Disruptive Energies”

Electrotherapy and Early Fiction Films in Europe and America, 1907–1911

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2015), 9, (3), 295–312.

Abstract

This article analyzes a selection of short silent fiction films released by European and American companies between 1907 and 1911 that feature the application of electricity to the body in a variety of contexts. It reads the visual trope of the electrified body in relation to institutional formations of physical ability and social utility implicit in contemporary medico-commercial electrotherapeutic treatments and the practices of scientific management. The argument is that these films depict electrified subjects characterized not by the passivity or incapacity of impairment, but by a vital excess energy that undermines symbolic authority and temporarily disrupts the social order. This cinema constitutes one form of early twentieth-century visual culture that registered, and resisted, the ableist logic underpinning capitalist growth. The commercial expansion of the cinema in both the US and the UK during this transitional period of early film-making made these alternative discursive formations of the human body newly visible to an emerging mass audience.

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Stott, Andrew. Comedy: The New Critical Idiom. Routledge, 2004. Print. Comedy: The New Critical Idiom Google Scholar

Singer, Ben. “Manhattan Nickelodeons: New Data on Audiences and Exhibitors.” Cinema Journal 34.3 (1995): 5–35. archive.org. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. Google Scholar

Starr, M. Allen. “Electricity in Relation to the Human Body”. Scribner’s 6 (1889): 589–99. Web. 31 Aug. 2014. “Electricity in Relation to the Human Body” Scribner’s 6 589 99 Google Scholar

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. New York, London: Harper and Brothers, 1911. archive.org. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. Google Scholar

The Electric Policeman. Dir. Unknown. Gaumont, 1909. Accessible print held by the National Film Archive, London. Film. Google Scholar

“We published on Wednesday an abstract of a paper.” Times (London, England). 2 January 1880: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. “We published on Wednesday an abstract of a paper.” Times Google Scholar

Whissel, Kristen. Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology and the Silent Cinema. Duke UP, 2008. Print. Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology and the Silent Cinema Google Scholar

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Abel, Richard. Encyclopaedia of Early Cinema. Routledge, 2004. Print. Encyclopaedia of Early Cinema Google Scholar

Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Red Shoes.” New Fairy Tales, First Volume, Third Collection. C.A. Reitzel. 1845. Print. “The Red Shoes.” New Fairy Tales, First Volume, Third Collection Google Scholar

Beard, George M. American Nervousness: Its Causes and Consequences: A Supplement to Nervous Exhaustion. New York: J.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1881. archive.org. Web. 31 Aug. 2014. Google Scholar

Beard, George M. and A.D. Rockwell. A Practical Treatise on the Medical and Surgical Uses of Electricity. New York: Wood, 1878. archive.org. Web. 31 Aug. 2014. Google Scholar

Cartwright, Lisa. Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995. Print. Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture Google Scholar

“D’Arsonval Cage for electrotherapeutic auto-conduction, Paris, France, 1890-1910.” sciencemuseum.org.uk. Web. 31 Aug. 2014. Google Scholar

Davis, Lennard J. “‘Nude Venuses, Medusa’s Body, and Phantom Limbs’: Disability and Visuality.” The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability. Eds. David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Synder. Ann Arbor: The U of Michigan P, 2000. 51–70. Print. “‘Nude Venuses, Medusa’s Body, and Phantom Limbs’: Disability and Visuality.” The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses of Disability 51 70 Google Scholar

Dusty Dick’s Awakening. Dir. A.E. Coleby. Cricks and Martin, 1911. Print held at the National Film Archive, London. Film. Google Scholar

Electric Insoles. Dir. George K. Spoor. Essanay Manufacturing Company, 1910. No surviving print identified. Film. Google Scholar

“Electric Insoles.” Moving Picture World 6.3. 22 Jan. 1910: 93. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. “Electric Insoles.” Moving Picture World 6.3 Google Scholar

Electricity for Nervousness. Dir. Unknown. Gaumont, 1909. No surviving print identified. Film. Google Scholar

“Electricity for Nervousness.” The Bioscope 136 (20 May 1909): 27. Print. “Electricity for Nervousness.” The Bioscope 136 27 Google Scholar

Electric Transformation. Dir. Percy Stow. Clarendon Film Company, 1909. Print held at the National Film Archive, London. Film. Google Scholar

Electrified Humpback. Dir. Unknown. Lux, 1909. No surviving print identified. Film. Google Scholar

“Electrified Humpback.” Moving Picture World 5.23 (1909): 799. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. “Electrified Humpback.” Moving Picture World 5.23 799 Google Scholar

Foucault, Michel. 1975. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012. Print. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison Google Scholar

Galvanic Fluid; Or, More Fun with Liquid Electricity. Dir. J. Stuart Blackton. Vitagraph, 1908. Surviving fragments held in the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection, Washington, D.C. Film. Or, More Fun with Liquid Electricity Google Scholar

“Galvanic Fluid; or, More Fun with Liquid Electricity.” Moving Picture World 2.6 (1908): 103–104. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. “Galvanic Fluid; or, More Fun with Liquid Electricity.” Moving Picture World 2.6 103 104 Google Scholar

Gritzer, Glenn and Arnold Arluke. The Making of Rehabilitation: A Political Economy of Medical Specialization, 1890–1980. Oakland: U of California P, 1989. Print. The Making of Rehabilitation: A Political Economy of Medical Specialization, 1890–1980 Google Scholar

“Interviews with Manufacturers.” Moving Picture World 2.6 (1908): 95. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. “Interviews with Manufacturers.” Moving Picture World 2.6 95 Google Scholar

Irvine, Martin. “Introducing Visual Culture: Ways of Looking at All Things Visual.” Georgetown U, n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. “Introducing Visual Culture: Ways of Looking at All Things Visual.” Google Scholar

Kamin, Dan. The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2008. Print. The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion Google Scholar

Keil, Charlie. Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style and Filmmaking, 1907–1913. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2001. Print. Early American Cinema in Transition: Story, Style and Filmmaking, 1907–1913 Google Scholar

Landes, David. S. The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print. The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present Google Scholar

Liquid Electricity; Or, The Inventor’s Galvanic Fluid. Dir. J. Stuart Blackton. Vitagraph, 1907. Print held at the National Film Archive, London. Fragments also held in the Library of Congress Paper Print Collection, Washington, D.C. Film. Or, The Inventor’s Galvanic Fluid Google Scholar

Low, Rachael. The History of the British Film 1906–1914. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1949. Print. The History of the British Film 1906–1914 Google Scholar

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. An Introduction to Visual Culture. Routledge, 1999. Print. An Introduction to Visual Culture Google Scholar

Morus, Iwan. “Batteries, Bodies and Belts: Making Careers in Victorian Medical Electricity”. Electric Bodies: Episodes in the history of medical electricity. Eds. Paola Bertucci and Guiliano Pancaldi. Bologna: Universita di Bologna, 2001. 209–238. Print. “Batteries, Bodies and Belts: Making Careers in Victorian Medical Electricity” Electric Bodies: Episodes in the history of medical electricity 209 238 Google Scholar

Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1994. Print. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Oliver, Michael. The Politics of Disablement: A Sociological Approach. London: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Print. The Politics of Disablement: A Sociological Approach Google Scholar

Paterson, Kevin and Bill Hughes. “Disabled Bodies.” The Body, Culture and Society: An Introduction. Eds. Philip Hancock et al. Open UP, 2000, 29–44. Print. “Disabled Bodies.” The Body, Culture and Society: An Introduction 29 44 Google Scholar

Rabinbach, Anson, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue and the Origins of Modernity. Oakland: U of California P, 1992. Print. The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue and the Origins of Modernity Google Scholar

Shaw, George Bernard. 1906. “The Doctor’s Dilemma: A Tragedy.” The Doctor’s Dilemma, Getting Married, and the Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet. Blue Ridge: Wildside P LLC, 2003. 1–116. Print. “The Doctor’s Dilemma: A Tragedy.” The Doctor’s Dilemma, Getting Married, and the Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet 1 116 Google Scholar

Siebers, Tobin. Disability Aesthetics. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2010. Print. Disability Aesthetics Google Scholar

Stott, Andrew. Comedy: The New Critical Idiom. Routledge, 2004. Print. Comedy: The New Critical Idiom Google Scholar

Singer, Ben. “Manhattan Nickelodeons: New Data on Audiences and Exhibitors.” Cinema Journal 34.3 (1995): 5–35. archive.org. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. Google Scholar

Starr, M. Allen. “Electricity in Relation to the Human Body”. Scribner’s 6 (1889): 589–99. Web. 31 Aug. 2014. “Electricity in Relation to the Human Body” Scribner’s 6 589 99 Google Scholar

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. New York, London: Harper and Brothers, 1911. archive.org. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. Google Scholar

The Electric Policeman. Dir. Unknown. Gaumont, 1909. Accessible print held by the National Film Archive, London. Film. Google Scholar

“We published on Wednesday an abstract of a paper.” Times (London, England). 2 January 1880: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 30 Aug. 2014. “We published on Wednesday an abstract of a paper.” Times Google Scholar

Whissel, Kristen. Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology and the Silent Cinema. Duke UP, 2008. Print. Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology and the Silent Cinema Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

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Oakley, Catherine