Heads-Up on a Heads-Off

· 8 February 2016 ·

Feast or famine – a pair of posts today. Too bad it’s not the 13th of October, the feast day of Saint Edward (that’s the Confessor, a man slightly more saintly than I). Today’s another sort of anniversary, one that almost escaped my recollection.

Four hundred and twenty-nine years ago, on the 8th of February 1587, near my 37th year’s end, Mary Stuart met her life’s end at the sharp end of a large axe, on the block at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.

I didn’t see her execution, but as I described just a couple of posts ago, I was the senior peer of the realm and Lord Great Chamberlain of England at that time, and I had procedural and judicial responsibilities as one of the judges at Mary’s treason trial, held in October 1586.

The anniversary of Mary’s death is noteworthy in history as well as for me personally, but it was brought to my attention today by a short piece of digitized cinematic film dating to 28 August 1895 (almost as far back as cinema goes), portraying Mary’s beheading. The scene was filmed at the New Jersey laboratory of the famous American inventor Thomas Edison, whose Kinetoscope company was one of the early developers of motion-picture camera technology.

Edison was one of history’s great publicity hounds, eager to take the credit (and the money) for the 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration of others. My thoughts on this require 0% explanation. All you need to know about Thomas Edison you will learn by reading about Nikola Tesla. One of these days I’ll blog about these two. Perhaps a limerick. Just because I’ve been dead for 412 years doesn’t mean I haven’t kept up with technology. Obviously.

Here’s the film.

The video I saw was a slight variant of this one, and was posted at The Public Domain Review.

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PDR is a sublime website (philosophically, intellectually, visually) which you should absolutely check out, so do go have a look around. The page with the Edison film includes historical notes, and there are links to download the video to your hard drive or device should you wish to do so. (If you really want to explore the film’s details, the original archive is at the Library of Congress’s website.)

PDR are the folks who tweeted the anniversary heads-up in the first place, and so I can no other answer make but thanks, and thanks, and ever thanks, for both the reminder and the pun.

Not only does this brief Edison film contain the first example of an edit being used to create a special effect (replacing the live Mary with a dummy just before the axe falls), but it is also the very first death scene in all of cinematographic history. There has been a plague’s worth of death on the screen ever since, to which I have contributed more than a few corpses. Maybe I’ll write my version of Mary, Queen of Scots someday. Stranger things have happened.

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I’m aware that I included this video in my earlier post, but it needs to be here also, on this of all days. There is no such thing as too much Python.

 

VERO NIHIL VERIUS

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