Cinema and the Politics of Speed and Stasis


Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 98 illustrations Published: August 2010

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Media Studies > Film

Artists, writers, and filmmakers from Andy Warhol and J. G. Ballard to Alejandro González Iñárritu and Ousmane Sembène have repeatedly used representations of immobilized and crashed cars to wrestle with the conundrums of modernity. In Crash, Karen Beckman argues that representations of the crash parallel the encounter of film with other media, and that these collisions between media offer useful ways to think about alterity, politics, and desire. Examining the significance of automobile collisions in film genres including the “cinema of attractions,” slapstick comedies, and industrial-safety movies, Beckman reveals how the car crash gives visual form to fantasies and anxieties regarding speed and stasis, risk and safety, immunity and contamination, and impermeability and penetration. Her reflections on the crash as the traumatic, uncertain moment of inertia that comes in the wake of speed and confidence challenge the tendency in cinema studies to privilege movement above film’s other qualities. Ultimately, Beckman suggests that film studies is a hybrid field that cannot apprehend its object of study without acknowledging the ways that cinema’s technology binds it to capitalism’s industrial systems and other media, technologies, and disciplines.


“Beckman’s book takes a refreshingly creative approach. . . . Crash is a rich text that provides readers with new ways of thinking about specific works and the car crashes within them, but also a unique way to approach a scholarly study. Moving beyond one discipline of study, Crash is an exemplary piece of scholarship, drawing from art history, cinema studies, comparative literature, cultural studies, and media studies. Beckman crafts a thoughtful, engaging text that pushes scholars into thinking differently about the how to engage cinematic texts and how cars (and crashes) have played a pivotal role within twentieth and twenty-first century political and cultural life.” — Thomas Salek, Screening the Past

“Building on and reassessing a lineage of works that explore the relationship between new technologies and the demands of modernity on its subjects, Crash engages in intriguing discussions on various links between material artifacts, the moment of collision, and the social politics of movement. Seminal theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Gilles Deleuze, and Paul Virilio, together with a host of important film scholars, are all evoked critically throughout the book, providing the author a platform for creatively decoding various historical, political, and fictional sites of the car crash.” — Itai Vardi, Technology and Culture

“This book is a valuable contribution to cinema studies and a good resource for scholars of visual culture, modernity and postmodernity, and affect studies, and for those critically engaged with theorists such as Baudrillard, Benjamin, Virilio, Laplanche, Deleuze, Debords, and Barthes. The chapters complement each other well, though each may stand alone, making them more manageable reads for undergraduate students.” — Erin Siodmak, Visual Studies

Crash: Cinema and the Politics of Speed and Stasis is exhaustively researched and argued with clarity. Blending cinema and media studies with a hard-edged critique of the capitalist machine, this book is both entertaining and enlightening.” — Simon Sellars, Media International Australia

Crash represents a major intervention in the field of film and media studies, and provides a model of thoughtful, nuanced scholarship…[Beckman’s] persuasive and finely wrought argument challenges film and media scholars to develop new ways of thinking about the relationships among movement, stasis and mediated vision.” — Allan Cameron, Screen

“[A] fascinating study of the place of the car crash in cinema. . . . Although the book is written as a contribution to ongoing academic debates within film studies, the author’s observations and arguments should nonetheless be interesting to film lovers.” — Victor P. Corona, PopMatters

“Beckman does a thorough job depicting the history of the car crash throughout the years of cinema. Her passion for mobility and stasis is engaging through her timeline of the evolution of the automobile. Crash will appeal to those in film and media studies, as well as to lovers of cinema. By combining literature, film, history, and art, she provides not only a good read, but also room to think.” — Stephanie Koury, International Journal of Communication

“Beckman’s treatments are unfailingly interesting, and her arguments are provocative. . . . This important book will cause a stir in the field. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — W. A. Vincent, Choice

Crash is an extraordinarily original intervention in contemporary ‘technophilic’ discourses (even critical ones) focused on speed and mobility. As it resonates through a variety of cinematic and literary texts, Karen Beckman views the ‘car crash’ vividly (and viscerally) as a startling visual image, narrative thematic, and critical metaphor for what drives our contradictory desires for ‘automobility,’ inertia, feeling, and community on a collision course both productive and destructive. As she moves across theories and disciplines, Beckman’s textual and cultural analyses come together in a work that is passionate, illuminating, and politically engaged. Crash is a major contribution to film and media studies, comparative literature, art history, and cultural studies and, indeed, is a model of interdisciplinary scholarship.” — Vivian Sobchack, author of Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture

“In this inventive exploration of the car crash in the history of film, critical theory, and art practice, Karen Beckman invokes the crash as a way of working through questions of mobility and stasis, security and transgression, medium hybridity, and technology, spectatorship, and the body in new and exciting ways. Moving fluidly from the comic and reflexive moments of the car crash in early and silent cinema, to concerns with accident and trauma, especially in non-theatrical films from the 1930s to the 1960s, and then to more contemporary work, Beckman exhibits an impressive range of historical, artistic, and theoretical interests. She shows how the trope of the car crash weaves its way into the cultural life of the twentieth century in ways that parallel Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s pioneering work on the train accident in the nineteenth century.” — D. N. Rodowick, Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Karen Redrobe (formerly Beckman) is the Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Professor of Film Studies in the Department of the History of Art, and Director of the Program in Cinema Studies, at the University of Pennsylvania. She is author of Vanishing Women: Magic, Film, and Feminism and coeditor, with Jean Ma, of Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. "Jerky Nearness": Spectatorship, Mobility, and Collision in Early Cinema 25

2. Car Wreckers and Home Lovers: The Automobile in Silent Slapstick 55

3. Doing Death Over: Industrial-Safety Films, Accidental-Motion Studies, and the Involuntary Crash Test Dummy 105

4. Disaster Time, the Kennedy Assassination, and Andy Warhol's Since (1966/2002) 137

5. Film Falls Apart: Crash, Semen, and Pop 161

6. Crash Aesthetics: Amores perros and the Dream of Cinematic Mobility 179

7. The Afterlife of Weekend: Or, The University Found on a Scrapheap 205

Notes 235

Bibliography 275

Index 289
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4726-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4708-8
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