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6 Degrees Entertainment

'American Experience: Tesla'
(DVD / NR / 2016 / PBS)

Overview: Nikola Tesla has come to be seen by many as a tragic figure, a visionary engineer who died impoverished and largely forgotten--eclipsed by names such as Edison and Marconi. A tireless inventor who registered numerous patents and developed many working prototypes, Tesla would become most famous for his dazzling demonstrations.

DVD Verdict: Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. Of that we all (should) know, but this PBS documentary goes deeper into the man, the myth as they try to discover the answer to: Visionary or Madman?

In truth, everyone knows about Edison and his invention of the Electric light in 1879. It worked using DC (or Direct Current) – sort of like a battery. Less known was Tesla, who believed in alternating current (or AC) which is what we use today to light our houses, streets and buildings. Ask most folks who invented radio broadcasting and they will say “Marconi”, but it was really, again, Tesla.

The reason Tesla is less well-known is because he was – as described in this well-done documentary – as a “idiosyncratic genius”. He was not, as Edison was, a businessman and even gave away his patents to George Westinghouse. He came to America in 1884 to work for Edison in New York City but quit after six months because he didn’t agree with Edison’s research.

In closing, what you thought you knew about Tesla may well be reexamined hear in this American Experience PBS documentary on the man. Sure his ideas ricocheted from tangible inventions to projections of a future with head-spinning possibilities, which all only partly explained his downfall, but there is no knocking the fact that he was still a genius.

For, no matter how those that detract from him will still do so, there is no dismissing the fact that his technology that helped drive the electrical age in the 20th century, and his vision that imagined the wireless world of the 21st century are inventions that still reside with us today. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.