Shocking Blocking (22)

By: Joshua Glenn
July 23, 2011

I don’t care what the American Film Institute says: despite Clark Gable’s and Hattie McDaniel’s charm, Gone With the Wind is a middlebrow, boring, Southern-fried mess. But I do admire the blocking in this scene — which is set at Twelve Oaks, during a barbecue party. The assembled belles are taking a rather cramped siesta, while the menfolk downstairs argue about the coming war. The idealistic, romantic plantationers insist that the war will be short and glorious; Rhett Butler (Gable) suspects otherwise. In fact, the war will be devastating and grisly. Bodies will be stacked together on battlefields like so much cordwood… or like so many napping belles.

***

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

THIRTIES (1934–43): 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 (1944–53): The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) | The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | The African Queen (1951)
FIFTIES (1954–63): A Bucket of Blood (1959) | Beach Party (1963)
SIXTIES (1964–73): 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 (1974–83): 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 (1984–93): 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)

***
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).

Share this Post
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Tumblr

What do you think?

  1. You needn’t disparage Gone with the Wind as middlebrow; it’s merely popular fiction. (And yes, the American Film Institute might be expected to recognize that.)

    From Edmund Pearson’s 1929 monograph Dime Novels; or, Following an old trail in popular literature:

    “Popular literature, and its enjoyment, is seldom the concern of the scholarly critic, until three or four centuries have passed. It is a social phenomenon rather than a matter of artistic achievement.” (First paragraph, Section III)

    “Anybody with the slightest knowledge of the wide appeal of popular fiction will not need to be told that the reading of dime novels was not exclusively confined to boys, or to rude and uncultivated men. Stories of this type have always been enjoyed by everybody, except a very small class of persons.” (Fourth paragraph, Section V)

    The monograph may be read at http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/dimex01.htm

  2. Thanks for the comment, John. I’m not among the small class of persons who doesn’t enjoy popular fiction; I’m among the small class of persons who distinguishes between homemade, eccentric lowbrow culture (which is charming) and the low-middlebrow culture industry’s commodified, quaint, cutesy output (which is creepy). Dime novels are charming; Gone with the Wind — the movie — is creepy.

  3. I appreciate your reply, Joshua. For the record, I personally am among those who don’t enjoy popular literature (though I wasn’t always).

    Maybe the problem is that I don’t know the meaning of “middlebrow.” If I were asked to identify a middlebrow, boring, Southern-fried mess, I’d probably say, “I don’t know. That Ken Burns thing about the Civil War?” (Haven’t seen it, actually. Five seconds or so of it here and there were enough.)

    You might be right that Gone with the Wind — the movie — is commodified, quaint, and cutesy — but is it conspicuously so among the movies on AFI’s list of greats? Maybe it is — but I’m still not associating it with the term “middlebrow,” which, in my uncertain understanding, means “lets me know I are a thinker.”

  4. Thanks for another thoughtful reply, John. You are absolutely right to be confused — because (a) journalists and intellectuals have promoted a quite false notion that middlebrow is some sort of bridge between highbrow and lowbrow culture, when in fact it only serves to drive them apart; and (b) we’ve been developing our own construct about this sort of thing, here at HiLobrow, but have only explained it intermittently — for various reasons. (The INFO link at top right of the sidebar provides a peek into our construct, but only a peek.) We distinguish — as some others have — between High Middlebrow (which lets you know you am elevated) and Low Middlebrow (which is literary but not too difficult, and contains overt messages of well-being). All of this is a work in progress.

    AFI’s list generally is disappointing — I wasn’t really trying to comment on the list here. Just taking issue with their notion that GWTW is one of the 10 best movies of all time.

  5. Thank you, too, Joshua, for replying again — and for steering me to the INFO link, which I had read but which I’ll now keep in mind for guidance to HiLobrow’s view.

Comments are closed.