Jana Glovocav’s entertaining documentary on the life and incredible inventions of Nikola Tesla leans towards the popular treatment of an astounding genius while sticking steadfastly to its core message: that humanity ignores his legacy at its peril.
The man whose pioneering work in wireless transmission and genius for combining the scientific and the mystical is today all but forgotten, his name known to most people only by association with Elon Musk’s electric car.
But the scores of incredible inventions he patented – and battled to protect for much of the second part of his long life – form the very basis for today’s globally connected world.
Tesla, who worked through some kind of direct communion with the intrinsic intelligence of the universe, foresaw a world in which we could speak – and see – others at the touch of the button on the other side of it. He even predicted this would be possible on a device that could «fit into your pocket.»
As with so many visionaries born before their time, Tesla’s ideas threatened those with less imagination and those who stood to lose money from inventions he was felt should give free energy to people across the world.
Glogovac’s film covers this ground thoroughly, opening with Edison’s notorious attempt to steal Tesla’s ideas, after promising him big money to work with him and then breaking his word. Tesla knew his own value and swiftly patented his work and soon teamed up with George Westinghouse, and later, J.P. Morgan.
That did not stop Edison running a campaign to discredit Tesla that included electrocuting an elephant on a New York street to demonstrate the dangers of Tesla’s electrical current. (Edison himself was so afraid of being electrocuted, the film claims, that he maintained his lighting networks at a steady 100 volts.)
Glogovac, who studied at Prague’s famous film school FAMU – where she was a student of the veteran Czech director Otakar Vavra and is Slovenian by birth, does not neglect Tesla’s Balkan roots, with inventors, engineers, and an actress from the region are among the eclectic cast of characters (Serbian-American performance artist Marina Abramovic even gets a look) found in the film.
As with so many visionaries born before their time, Tesla’s ideas threatened those with less imagination
There is enough science and technical information to satisfy engineers and electricians, though many viewers are likely to be more comfortable with (admittedly esoteric) statements such as Tesla’s research into the natural electro-magnetism of the human body and its individual organs, where he found that the earth vibrates at a frequency that is the same as the brain.
The sense that the world missed a massive opportunity to avoid the global warming that is today pushing it into irrevocable climate crisis, suffuses the film. Tesla certainly foresaw the dangers of burning fossil fuels and railed against the insanity of digging fossilised solar energy trapped in carbon deposits, when all the electricity one could ever wish for was available by tapping into the atmosphere and the earth.
Backed by wealthy benefactors, he built an experimental station, complete with his intriguing Wardenclyffe Tower that was designed to pulse energy wirelessly around the world. But when investors pulled the plug after Marconi demonstrated that wireless messages could be sent from Europe to America (basing his work on Tesla’s pioneering discoveries), Tesla hit hard times. Debtors eventually demolished the tower for scrap to recover money he owed them.
The sense that the world missed a massive opportunity to avoid the global warming that is today pushing it into irrevocable climate crisis, suffuses the film
And, although the Nobel Prize committee recognised Tesla’s genius, in 1937 they declined to make him a laureate, arguing that his patents – stretching back 40 years – were too old and had not been developed. Again, blinkered, narrow-minded people vastly inferior to Tesla’s brilliance thwarted the visionary.
«I don’t care that they stole my idea,» Tesla once said. «I care that they don’t have any of their own.»
Perhaps in telling Tesla’s story in a popular, accessible way, Teslafy Me, which has already got U.S and Canada distribution deals, can refresh attention on the value of his inventions. And, as Tesla said on another occasion: «The energy of a single thought may determine the motion of an entire universe.»