Shocking Blocking (11)

By: Joshua Glenn
January 4, 2011

If you thought Jeff Bridges deserved the Academy Award for Best Actor for his scene-chewing performance as Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, then you cannot have seen Tender Mercies. The latter, better movie is not so much about a down-and-out, alcoholic singer-songwriter who tries to turn his life around after beginning a relationship with a younger woman and her child as it is about redemption: from a living hell born of pride, avarice, selfishness, wrath. Though it was directed by Bruce Beresford, I’m going to credit leading man and co-producer Robert Duvall [who co-produced and acted in Crazy Heart, and who won the Academy Award for Best Actor in Tender Mercies] for the inspired blocking in this scene, in which Mac Sledge attends church for the first time in years. The arrangement of actors (in this and other scenes) reduces Sledge to little more than a chastened, bewildered, deeply grateful vector of southern-fried redemptive forces: family, religion, community, music. Which is as it should be! If Tender Mercies is a Country-music passion play, then Crazy Heart is a really about rock’n’roll… or maybe New Country. Along with The King of Comedy and Rumble Fish, Tender Mercies was one of the very last New Wave movies of the Seventies (1974-83); the four movies in which Tom Cruise appeared (not to mention the remake of Breathless as a Richard Gere vehicle), that very same year, heralded the end of an era.

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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).

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