Shocking Blocking (9)

By: Joshua Glenn
December 29, 2010

It’s fascinating to see how an architectural element — here, a half-wall dividing kitchen and living room — can be used by Frank Capra to signify a quasi-utopian chaotic goodness, while a director from the Original Generation X cohort can use it to signify the end of any such open-plan idealism. In this scene from Alex Cox’s Repo Man, Otto (Emilio Estevez) scavenges food in the kitchen while in the living room Mom and Dad (Sharon Gregg and Jonathon Hugger), whose pot-smoking, born-again Christian, ex-soixante-huitardiste ways thoroughly justify — to this viewer, anyway — Otto’s punk nihilism, watch an evangelist on TV. By placing Otto on one side of the half-wall and Mom and Dad on the other, Cox neatly dismisses an earlier generation’s bourgeois progressivism. In the following scene, Otto embarks on a third way, one which transcends the far too limiting punk-hippie dichotomy: the apophenic way of the repo man.

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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).

What do you think?

  1. Repo Man, though it suffers editing flaws, is easily one of the best movies ever. It brilliantly illustrates, scene after scene, the accelerated greasing of humanity’s skids, mostly topped off with impeccable punchlines. Ride the wild warp drive with Harry Dean Stanton in a, you got it, time machine.

  2. I recognize that there is no close parallel blocking shot, but for some reason, the scenes from the interior of Otto’s house brought to mind the cabin interiors from Aaron Edwards’ cabin in John Ford’s masterpiece “The Searchers”. The shot from the cabin that is more well known is the memorable fadeout when Ethan, standing outside on the porch, is framed by the interior darkness against the bleak, wind-blown light of the surrounding prairie, to which Ethan staggers off toward, away from the warm reunion. But there’s a few earlier scenes in the cabin where characters gather, converse and eat. There is no half-wall in the Edwards cabin, but there is some sort of space dividing “dining” and “living” room. Ethan, like Otto, is alienated from the warmth and security of the home, and there is that explicit reference to John Wayne as well.

  3. Somehow, I never caught this (and I’ve been caught raving about the use of branding in this film — with characters humming jingles in front of aggressively generic foodstuffs, and characters named after brands of beer).

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