Shocking Blocking (37)

Posted by: Joshua Glenn In:

Critics love to hate Roger Vadim’s cartoonish sci-fi movie Barbarella, and I’m not going to argue with them — although (like the makers of The Fifth Element) I do enjoy and admire it. I just want to say a few words in praise of the zero-gravity shag-pile strip-tease cockpit title sequence, particularly the moment when Barbarella (Jane Fonda) removes her space helmet, releasing not only her luxurious locks but the letters of the actress’s name. This eye-popping blocking — an effect created by building a section of the cockpit on its side, so that the camera could peep up (down? Outer space is confusing!) at Fonda squirming around on a sheet of glass — speaks volumes about 1968, the midpoint and apex of the Sixties (1964–73). Barbarella appeared just after the sexual liberation movement’s triumph, and just before second-wave feminists argued persuasively that sexiness restricts women to second-class citizenship. In its silly way, this is a movie about female sexual power — the parameters of which, this scene’s blocking suggests, can be neither confined nor defined… because there’s always something new to learn, always new territory to explore. Barbarella is not a feminist movie — but is it, therefore, a sexist movie? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. Which is one of the reasons it’s so fun to watch.

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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 (1934–43): 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)

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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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