Perfect Blue
Kona Macphee
 
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Commentary: The invention of the electric chair

While I'm no fan of instantly forgettable cinema, there are a couple of films I've seen that have proved so memorable, in an uncomfortable way, that I've come to regret seeing them. The first of these is the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", which was shown at a party I attended 25 years ago; I only saw the final 20 minutes or so, but a particularly repulsive scene involving meat-hooks is still etched into my head.

Another, quite different film that had the same effect is "The Green Mile", starring Tom Hanks and based on a novel by Stephen King. It's a rather good film, set on Death Row in a 1930s American prison; the "green mile" of the title refers to the final march of the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber and the electric chair. Certain execution scenes in the film are distressingly brutal, and have stayed with me; perhaps it's the combination of violence and deliberate cruelty that I find so disturbing in both films, the thing that I find so "deeply less than human".

"The Green Mile" is certainly the main inspiration for this poem, but it actually started with thoughts about Topsy the Elephant, who was electrocuted to death in 1903 with the help of Thomas Edison. Edison was battling with George Westinghouse for control of the US power infrastructure, and had been waging a long propaganda war by electrocuting cats and dogs in public to show the perils of Westinghouse's "deadly" AC electricity (omitting to mention that an equivalent delivery of DC electricity would be just as fatal). The chance to electrocute a full-grown elephant was an unprecedented publicity opportunity, and he captured it in a grim little film called "Electrocuting an Elephant". Needless to say, Topsy didn't make it, and in this case she didn't make it into the poem either.

A Pietà (Italian for "pity") is the Christian symbol of Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus in her arms: an image of grief that transcends vengefulness. I oppose the death penalty - but could I hold calmly to my principles if one of my loved ones were tortured and murdered? This poem would like to hope so, but in truth I'm not entirely sure.

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