Deathwatch : American Film, Technology, and the End of Life (Film and Culture Series)
While cinema is a medium with a unique ability to "watch life" and "write movement," it is equally singular in its portrayal of death. The first study to unpack American cinema's long history of representing death, this book considers movie sequences in which the process of dying becomes an exercise in legibility and exploration for the camera and connects the slow or static process of dying to formal film innovation throughout the twentieth century.
C. Scott Combs analyzes films that stretch from cinema's origins to the end of the twentieth century, looking at attractions-based cinema, narrative films, early sound cinema, and films using voiceover or images of medical technology. Through films such as Thomas Edison's Electrocuting an Elephant (1903), D. W. Griffith's The Country Doctor (1909), John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941), Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (2004), Combs argues that the end of dying occurs more than once, in more than one place. Working against the notion that film cannot capture the end of life because it cannot stop moving forward, that it cannot induce the photographic fixity of the death instant, this book argues that the place of death in cinema is persistently in flux, wedged between technological precision and embodied perception. Along the way, Combs consolidates and reconceptualizes old and new debates in film theory.