Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema
by Lynne Kirby
Duke University Press, 1997
Paper: 978-0-8223-1839-2 | Cloth: 978-0-8223-1833-0
Library of Congress Classification PN1995.9.R25K57 1997
Dewey Decimal Classification 791.43656

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | REVIEWS | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
From its earliest days, the cinema has enjoyed a special kinship with the railroad, a mutual attraction based on similar ways of handling speed, visual perception, and the promise of a journey. Parallel Tracks is the first book to explore and explain this relationship in both historical and theoretical terms, blending film scholarship with railroad history. Describing the train as a mechanical double for the cinema, Lynne Kirby gives her romantic topic a compelling twist. She views the railroad/cinema romance in light of the technological and cultural instability underlying modernity and presents the railroad and cinema as complementary experiences that shaped the modern world and its subjects—the passengers and spectators who traveled through that world.
In wide-ranging and provocative analyses of dozens of silent films—icons of film history like The General and The Great Train Robbery as well as many that are rarely discussed—Kirby examines how trains and rail travel embodied concepts of spectatorship and mobility grounded in imperialism and the social, sexual, and racial divisions of modern Western culture. This analysis at the same time provides a detailed and largely unexamined history of the railroad in silent filmmaking. Kirby also devotes special attention to the similar ways in which the railroad and cinema structured the roles of men and women. As she demonstrates, these representations have had profound implications for the articulation of gender in our culture, a culture in some sense based on the machine as embodied by the train and the camera/projector.
Ultimately, this book reveals the profound and parallel impact that the railroad and the cinema have had on Western society and modern urban industrial culture. Parallel Tracks will be eagerly awaited by those involved in cinema studies, American studies, feminist theory, and the cultural study of modernity.

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