It’s safe to say inventor Thomas Alva Edison changed the way humanity heard and saw the world, thanks to his revolutionary contributions to sound recording (the phonograph), electric light, and motion pictures. The documentary American Experience: Edison (PBS Distribution, 120 minutes), written and directed by Michelle Ferrari, is an engaging and illuminating look at the “wizard of Menlo Park.”
Along with his never ending curiosity, competitive streak, and his early love for the inner workings of the telegraph, Edison’s path as an inventor was set in stone. His successes, which included his self-proclaimed prediction of lighting up Manhattan for the first time, capturing sound and developing the phonograph, and his corporate move to buy the Phantoscope patent and transform it to his hugely successful Vitascope, are all chronicled in the documentary. Thankfully, Ferrari doesn’t give us a saccharine, blow-by-blow account of Edison’s accomplishments, but instead portrays a driven man whose workaholic nature fractured friendships and compromised his own relationship with his first wife (Mary Edison died at age 29).
Edison’s failed, financial ventures with iron ore in Ogdensburg, New Jersey is also covered in the doc, and though such a huge setback may permanently humble most inventors, Edison, as the documentary suggests, was reinvigorated from the experience.
The documentary is narrated by Michael Murphy, whose done voice work for previous American Experience installments. For Woody Allen enthusiasts, Murphy is also known for his work in the films Manhattan and the Robert Altman project Tanner ’88.