3 November 2019 | robfollower
Remembering a Creative American Giant
Who was America's greatest industrialist? Westinghouse, Mark Bussler's latest documentary, makes a compelling case for George Westinghouse, the only man who went up against Thomas Edison and won. Presented in Bussler's splendid visual style, this feature-length film focuses on the life and times of Westinghouse, his companies, legacy, personality, partnership with Nikola Tesla, and conflict with Edison. It emerges as a fitting follow-up to Bussler's previous historical documentaries, especially EXPO - Magic of the White City.
Before watching Westinghouse, I was in the dark concerning the conflict between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, so I found it very interesting to learn about the "Battle of the Currents" waging during their heyday. The result of that struggle actually set the stage for "the entire future of electric power." Westinghouse's victory over Edison was a major accomplishment indeed.
Although famous for the massive companies he created as well as for such important inventions as the air brake, automobile shock absorbers, and railroad signaling, Westinghouse seemed to go out of his way to treat his employees with respect. In fact, most of them called him "Uncle George." He certainly doesn't fit the stereotype of those robber barons we learned about in high school history classes.
Westinghouse includes revealing interviews with Edward J. Reis, David Cope, Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr.. James Sutherland, and William H. Terbo. Reis was executive director of the George Westinghouse Museum from 1998-2007; Cope is a World's Fair historian; Southerland worked at Westinghouse Electric as an engineer; Skrabec is author of George Westinghouse, Gentle Genius; and Terbo is the grandnephew of Nikola Tesla as well as executive secretary of the Tesla Memorial Society.
Bussler admits it would have been impossible to do a film about George Westinghouse without including extensive information on Tesla. Therefore, being able to interview Terbo practically saved the day. "His insight into Nikola Tesla's life is invaluable," the filmmaker declares. "The combination of Tesla's visionary genius and Westinghouse's business and manufacturing genius are what won the Battle of the Currents and brought us electricity as we know it today." (Sorry to say, but the only knowledge I had about Tesla prior to this documentary came from David Bowie's intriguing portrayal of "the man who invented the 20th Century" in The Prestige. It seems my tongue-in-cheek mantra, "All I know is what I see in the movies," may not be so farfetched after all.)
I'm pleased that Bussler, as in all his excellent documentaries, packs this one with fascinating rare footage and photographs. By combining all the elements above with TV/radio host Carol Lee Espy's elegant narration, Westinghouse turns out to be a film even "Uncle George" would be proud of.