Assault on Precinct 13

Film Poster for Assault on Precinct 13I am getting ready to embark on a series of posts that feature the ten most formative movies of my youth (and I stress movies here because none of them are films in the class-inscribed, pejorative sense). While doing my research (which is basically a nostalgia trip, something I love dearly) I re-watched Assault on Precinct 13 (the 1976 version mind you, is there another?) — a great film that unfortunately won’t make this list because of how highly selective it is. Not to mention that I already have two John Carpenter films in the lineup suggesting that he may very well be the most important director of my youth, strangely enough.

Now, if I changed the criteria for this series from most formative movies to most influential scenes or sequences, there is a gem from Assault on Precinct 13 that would definitely rank in my top 10, for it in many ways perfectly characterizes a prevalent logic (or lack there of) of many of my favorite movies during the 70s and 80s, i.e., arbitrary violence and fear of all things urban. The scene I want to feature is the classic (at least for me) ice cream truck scene, wherein a band of multi-cultural gang members drive around the tougher neighborhoods of Los Angeles arbitrary pointing high-powered automatic weapons at people. As an aside, you can see in the clip when these degenerate youth are pointing the gun at an their unsuspecting targets the scene immediately cuts to a perspective shot that has you looking through the cross-hairs, which I am assuming is a precursor to the POV shots Carpenter uses in Halloween (1978)— though Mario Bava had already done something similar in what I believe is the proto-type for all teen slasher movies Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) — though Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) comes soon after this so it may be arguable.

But I digress, the point is that this scene beautifully brings together the urban jungle theme from 70s and 80s movies that fascinated me as a kid (and still does currently) living on the outskirts of an urban center during these decades: the suburban fear of the city. A point which is underscored in this sequence by the fact that the little girl and her father in this scene are on a mission to encourage an older relative to move out of this bad neighborhood and join them in the peaceful and safe suburbs. As another aside (sorry!), not only does this scene reflect back on the white flight from cities during the 1960s and 70s that might be understood as cultural inspiration for such a horrific vision of urban life, but this scene in particular serves as a prescient vision of the urban gang violence movies from the early 1990s, like Boyz in the Hood (1991) and Menace II Society (1993), that have a very similar aesthetic of the burnt out wasteland that is Los Angeles, while at the same time taking the arbitrary acts of motorized violence and elevating and codifying the horribly popular reality that is the drive-by shooting — can you believe drive-by shooting has its own Wikipedia article?

So, I guess I should show you my edited version of the ice cream truck sequence so that some of this incoherent babbling might begin to make sense. Below is the clip I have been talking about, and underneath that is the trailer for Assault on Precinct 13 which should give you some of the context this half-baked post leaves out, enjoy!

Ice Cream Truck Scene

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Trailer for Assault on Precinct 13

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6 Responses to Assault on Precinct 13

  1. Matt says:

    I’m trying to figure out whether it’s sad or great that I already know the two Carpenter films that are going to be on the list. And, by the way — I can’t wait to read the full list and your commentary on each film.

    Funny that you mention Carpenter. Just the other day, I went to hear Slavoj Zizek speak at the Grad Center; in the middle of his talk, he went off on a riff about Carpenter’s “They Live” — a film that, as I’m sure you’ll remember, showcased the thespian skills of the venerable “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. (Zizek remarked that the glasses in that film, which the human characters put on to see the “real” messages being directed at them by aliens who have infiltrated the planet, modeled the operation of ideology in the world). And, hey, it’s been a while since I’ve seen “They Live,” but check out this note from the wikipedia article:

    When John later dons the glasses for the first time, the world appears in shades of grey, with significant differences. He notices that a billboard now simply displays the word “Obey”; without them it displays the ad that Control Data is “creating a transparent computing environment”.

    Dude! All of this open-source stuff is just a sham! I knew it!

    Anyway, the ice-cream truck scene above is amazing (love the shot of the gun barrel slowly emerging from the car window), and I eagerly away this series.

  2. Reverend says:


    What an awesome comment. And I couldn’t be more jealous that you saw Slavoj Zizek talk. I have been deeply interested in just about anything he says about film, and his commentary on Children of Men is nothing short of masterful, and so accessible. A nice combination.

    More than that, his notion of anamorphosis is something I find useful to think about Carpenter’s Escape from New York, with a very different kind of understanding of obliqueness however. Well, at least you know one of your two guesses was right, and I am pretty sure you nailed the other as well, for we have too much film history in common to miss it 🙂

  3. Matt says:

    In truth, Jim, we don’t have that common history . . . or, if we do, it’s because I’ve played catch-up after talking to you!

  4. Martin says:

    C’mon Jim, you can’t tease us like that – when are these posts on your ten formative movies coming out? Agree re. Crash BTW – there should be an event horizon when it comes to movies, when they collapse in under the weight of their own worthiness, cf any film that deals with illness and wins an Oscar.
    If The Thing is one of your Carpenter films, I’m with you all the way.

  5. Reverend says:


    Fair enough, I have been promoting this series of blog posts, with nothing yet to back it up. That said, I am in the process of the first one which should be up shortly. In the mean time, Carpenter’s The Thing is without question a part of this list. Does this buy me a little time? 🙂

  6. Pingback: Formative 10: The Warriors | bavatuesdays

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