Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sickest YouTube video ever?

I'm not going to embed this. In fact, I don't know if it'll work as an embed. This particular video has age verification enabled, so you've got to be a registered YouTube user and click through the agreement that yes, you're old enough and you do want to watch.

No, it's not pornography. But it's not for the squeamish, either. And it is legit. I first heard about this clip two years ago, and if a friend hadn't passed it along I never would have known that it was available for public viewing.

You've probably seen enactments of this in movies and television. But this - a very rare and early film shot in a prison in Hanoi, Vietnam - depicts the real thing.

What is it?

The executions of two prisoners by guillotine... with the camera showing the heads falling into the basket.

Two things that strike me as I watch this. The first is how rapidly each execution is carried out (in consideration of how fast the film is progressing). Various dramatic presentations have it as something of a drawn-out affair of bringing the condemned to the guillotine, then lowered into position and a wait of several moments before the blade drops. Here we see how it usually happened: from the time the prisoner was brought to the machine, execution usually took place less than 30 seconds later. Which I assume was a good thing, and didn't give the prisoner much time to dwell on being placed inside such a contraption... especially one with a razor poised to slice off his or her noggin.

The second thing which surprised me very much is how much of a recoil there is from the blade after it finishes dropping. Every time I've seen the guillotine used in a movie, the blade descends and then stops abruptly as if there were no real inertia. But as we see in this footage, the blade bounces quite a few times before finally coming to rest. Probably indicates some kind of "shock absorbing" mechanism, 'cuz otherwise the guillotine would likely tear itself apart after a small amount of use.

It's not the most gruesome thing that I've seen as a historian (I've looked at stuff from the Nazi era that most people don't even know exists and for their sake I hope they never do) but I'll admit: there's some horrible fascination at seeing such a legendary device carrying out its function.