Parallel Tracks

The Railroad and Silent Cinema

Parallel Tracks

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 33 b&w photographs Published: January 1997

Author: Lynne Kirby

American Studies, Media Studies > Film

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.


“In Lynne Kirby’s wonderful new book, the cinema is a complimentary fulcrum to the railroads; a late 19th, early 20th century technical revolution that captured the imagination and just as quickly transposed a hegemonic set of doctrines onto its willing clientele. . . . The triumph of this book is is bringing film theory and social history together to form a powerful collective that makes this examination of these two key industries compulsive reading.” — Ian Scott, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

“Irresistible—Parallel Tracks is a highly original and unique work. Kirby’s intersection of theoretical concerns with a rich exploration of the relation between cinema and the railway provides a work that is fascinating, intriguing, and intellectually entertaining.” — Tom Gunning, Northwestern University

“Lynne Kirby switches elegantly between the registers of historical account, theoretical speculation, intertextual mapping, and close analysis. She enriches the genre of cultural histories of technology with detailed attention to the apparatus and textual processes elaborated over the past two decades in cinema studies. And she enriches the latter by opening up the focus from cinema to include related institutions and the dynamics of the public sphere that encompasses and is shaped by both.” — Miriam Hansen, University of Chicago


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Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Inventors and Hysterics: The Train in the Prehistory and Early History of Cinema 19

2. Romances of the Rail in Silent Film 75

3. The Railroad in the City 133

4. National Identity in the Train Film 189

Conclusion 241

Notes 253

Works Cited 305

Index 321
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist for the 1997 Theatre Library Association Book Award

Recipient of an honorable mention, 1998 Katherine Singer Kovacs Award (presented by the Society for Cinema Studies)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1839-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1833-0
Publicity material