Shocking Blocking (7)

By: Joshua Glenn
November 2, 2010

Frank Capra, as previously discussed, was master of the art of conveying his emotional idealism via cluttered, awkward blocking. Early on in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a brief glimpse of Mr. Smith’s home, shown here, indirectly yet effectively tells us everything we need to know about James Stewart’s titular protagonist — whose “alignment,” to use a Dungeons & Dragons rubric, is Chaotic Good. [“Chaotic Good is known as the ‘Beatific,’ ‘Rebel,’ or ‘Cynic’ alignment. A Chaotic Good character favors change for a greater good, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well. They always intend to do the right thing, but their methods are generally disorganized and often out of alignment with the rest of society.”] The corrupt Gov. Hubert “Happy” Hopper (Guy Kibbee) is disconcerted, even dismayed, by the all-ages marching band practicing in the dining room, the dog on the pony wall, the children of various ethnicities scarfing down donuts and popcorn in the kitchen. It’s chaotic! It’s good!

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An occasional series analyzing some of the author’s favorite moments in the positioning or movement of actors in a movie.

THIRTIES (1934–1943): It Happened One Night (1934) | The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | The Guv’nor (1935) | The 39 Steps (1935) | Young and Innocent (1937) | The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) | The Big Sleep (1939) | The Little Princess (1939) | Gone With the Wind (1939) | His Girl Friday (1940)
FORTIES (1944–1953): The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) | The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | The African Queen (1951)
FIFTIES (1954–1963): A Bucket of Blood (1959) | Beach Party (1963)
SIXTIES (1964–1973): For Those Who Think Young (1964) | Thunderball (1965) | Clambake (1967) | Bonnie and Clyde (1967) | Madigan (1968) | Wild in the Streets (1968) | Barbarella (1968) | Harold and Maude (1971) | The Mack (1973) | The Long Goodbye (1973)
SEVENTIES (1974–1983): Les Valseuses (1974) | Eraserhead (1976) | The Bad News Bears (1976) | Breaking Away (1979) | Rock’n’Roll High School (1979) | Escape from Alcatraz (1979) | Apocalypse Now (1979) | Caddyshack (1980) | Stripes (1981) | Blade Runner (1982) | Tender Mercies (1983) | Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
EIGHTIES (1984–1993): Repo Man (1984) | Buckaroo Banzai (1984) | Raising Arizona (1987) | RoboCop (1987) | Goodfellas (1990) | Candyman (1992) | Dazed and Confused (1993) |
NINETIES (1994–2003): Pulp Fiction (1994) | The Fifth Element (1997)
OUGHTS (2004–13): Nacho Libre (2006) | District 9 (2009)

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READ MORE essays by Joshua Glenn, originally published in: THE BAFFLER | BOSTON GLOBE IDEAS | BRAINIAC | CABINET | FEED | HERMENAUT | HILOBROW | HILOBROW: GENERATIONS | HILOBROW: RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION | HILOBROW: SHOCKING BLOCKING | THE IDLER | IO9 | N+1 | NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW | SEMIONAUT | SLATE

Joshua Glenn’s books include UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen); and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES ABOUT ORDINARY THINGS (with Rob Walker).

Categories

Movies, Paranoia, Spectacles

What do you think?

  1. My friend Kevin Cradock tells me that the paneled half-wall on which the dog is sitting is called a “pony wall,” out west. Since “Mr. Smith” takes place in an unnamed western state, I’ve employed the term here.

  2. interesting you mention capra–aside from the ponywall, there is an interesting additional device he uses in “it’s a wonderful life”- when Clarence and George meet in the Bridge house, there is a string hanging between them- clearly underscoring the heaven/earth and the very thin line separating them.

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