Tesla; Master of Life is an ambitious biography documentary that tells the story of Tesla’s life and his long-reaching effects on the world. Using a combination of period photographs, vintage footage, animated examples of Tesla’s inventions at work, historical recreations, and filmed interviews, the documentary covers Tesla’s early years, his productive period of invention, and his waning years where he fought popular opinion and lack of funds to continue exploring and creating in the field he loved.
The documentary does a wonderful job in introducing Tesla, and in showing the audience why he is one of the most important influencers, if the also the most forgotten, of modern technology. A number of Tesla experts (biographers, relatives, scientists, historians, etc.) recounted stories, explained rivalries, and explained Tesla’s eccentricities. Despite our knowledge of Tesla as a forgotten genius, the film managed to create some tension as to the question of whether Tesla would ever be successful in his endeavors. By overlapping created narration by Tesla himself, quotes from writings of the time, snippets from interviews, and guidance from an omniscient narrator, the film tells the story of Tesla’s life, in each of his triumphs and defeats.
Though the film was divided into subsections, I feel like it could have been more clearly or easily divided, as the events of Tesla’s life seemed to run together, especially as he had many triumphs and defeats. However, this could have been intentional, as brilliance darkened by failure seems to be the main theme of Tesla’s life. He had no drive or interest in business, at least not any that compared with his passion for technological innovation, and so despite his early discoveries in electricity, radio, remote control, extra-terrestrial transmissions, and large-scale wireless transmissions of electricity, Tesla remained penniless, and without any significant scientific recognition or support.
Often, the visuals of the documentary reinforced the wonders of electricity that Tesla explored. Photographs and films of experiments of the time, along with the requisite shots of lightning, visually elucidated the concepts that Tesla spoke of. The original patent designs and diagrams were a nice inclusion, as they illustrated the inventions we were later shown in period photographs.
Overall, this was a nice documentary, though I felt like it didn’t quite take advantage of its rich subject matter. Tesla is a compelling figure, and he lived in an incredibly interesting time period, yet I felt myself occasionally being bored with the film. There is nothing the filmmakers did specifically wrong, and I’d happily give the film a B+ for a job well done, but no ideas or incidents stood out, captured my imagination, or made me want to know more, three things I expect from an excellent documentary.