Jun 09

Flash Of Tedious

Do You See + FT6 comments • 273 views

It is said that everyone has a book in them. BOOK, get with the times GRANDAD – everyone has got a film in them right*? What this misses out however is that these books, or films, may not actually be good ones. Take, for example and because it is the film I am actually talking about here, Bob Kearns. Bob Kearns invented the intermittent windscreen wiper. A small college science teacher and small time inventor he cracked the HOLY GRAIL of the car companies. Or so the film Flash Of Genius tells us, the invention of said windscreen wiper is up there with the invention of flight, or that act of petty larceny Prometheus committed.

Its a film with small ambitions. It shows how Bob invented the wiper. It shows how the dastardly car companies nicked it off him. It shows how he became obsessed, went a bit mad and then sued the car companies, took them to court himself and eventually won. I would have warned you of spoilers except there is only one thing in this film which isn’t predictable and that’s the break-up of his marriage. And even that seems to exist more to prove that this is a true story rather than as anything genuinely cinematic.

You get the feeling that somewhere along the line people were told the Bob Kearns story and they said (and I imagine it said over coffee after a slap up meal) “hey that’s so unbelievable you’d think it was a movie”. But really what they meant was it was as predictable as a TV movie, which also makes it feel unrealistic. The challenge of the little man against the might of corporations never wins in real life (except, sometimes it does). An American story about the triumph of the individual spirit against the (unfortunately equally American story of) The Corporation. But Flash Of Genius does not come across as an anti-capitalist film, indeed it inadvertently questions the sacrifices made for this campaign – ironically the one interesting thing about the whole story. Because whilst it is a nice anecdote, and potentially an interesting book, the film flip-flops like and interminable windscreen wiper. Even the poster is boring. Worthy but dull

*GET WITH IT DAD: everyone has a 3D interactive immersive virtual reality skin-fleshie in them.


  1. 1

    Everyone has a blog post in them and here’s mine:

    I read a brilliant brilliant article on this story in the New Yorker about 20 years ago — it pulled in the entire evolution of the idea of intellectual property as it applied to invention, from Jefferson to Edison to the guys who “came up with” Bob’s idea second… (the judgment hinged on whether his idea wasa natural development of the known and estabiushed, or an actual eureka-moment invention)

  2. 2
    Martin on 4 Jun 2009 #

    I’ve decided the only rational way to deal with Flash of Genius is to treat it as the deepest, stealthiest, straightest parody movie ever made. It’s a parody of the man-vs-corporation, overcomes-odds genre but just happens to have gone to unusual lengths to pull the wool over people’s eyes. It’s the only way the movie makes any sense.

  3. 3
    Pete Baran on 4 Jun 2009 #

    I think you might be right Martin, its a film which just doesn’t make sense as a straight movie. Its too obvious, its out of time, its in the wrong format, with the wrong (right) actors. And Mark, yes, there is a very interesting set of IP issues in this film, which lumbers on to this day, how much latter day invention hinges on things that the inventor may not be able to invent from scratch.

  4. 4

    I’ll have to dig it out and reread it

  5. 5
    Pete on 4 Jun 2009 #

    And then lend it to me!

  6. 6
    Tracer Hand on 5 Jun 2009 #

    We’re all just trying to get out of Winesburg, Ohio.

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