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Helios and the Apocalypse

Visions of American History in Films by Griffith, Ford, and Stroheim

1. Origins to 1928

4. Film and Culture: Summary Essays

  1. Nicholas Baer

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf020

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Baer, N. 2011. Helios and the Apocalypse. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 1:4:20.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


Three technologies that emerged in the nineteenth century — the railroad, photography, and film — found verbal and visual expression in the figure of the horse. The train or “Iron Horse” offered a mechanical alternative to the stagecoach as a mode of transport beginning in the early nineteenth century, and gave rise to debates about the merits of “horse-power” versus “steam-power.” In the United States, the railroad system not only ensued from and advanced processes of industrialization and modernization, but also served an intrusive and expansionist function; in the words of Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “The mechanization of transportation was … seen … as a means of gaining a new civilization from a hitherto worthless (because inaccessible) wilderness” (1986, 90–91). American processes of westward expansion and national incorporation found symbolic finalization on May 10, 1869, when politician, business magnate, and scientific horseman Leland Stanford struck the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah, in an act that marked the convergence of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads — and, by extension, the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. Three years after this ceremonial event, which was famously photographed by Andrew J. Russell, Stanford commissioned Eadweard Muybridge to analyze the movement of a horse through a series of photographs that is commonly cited as a precursor to motion pictures.1


  • Griffith;
  • Ford;
  • Stroheim;
  • American history;
  • American film history;
  • 1924