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Mad Men: Disappointment “In Care Of” Convention

[ 13 ] June 27, 2013 |

In my previous post on “In Care Of,” I defined an “Oh Really” sequence as as structure of escalating exchanges that requires no dialogue to be understood. What I didn’t say — but which should make perfect sense in retrospect — is that such sequences are most often found in the saloons of classic American Westerns. Just consider what would happen to that scene if you put Don in a ridiculously large cowboy hat:

Don didn’t need to take off his hat to inform us of impending violence: the structure of the shots and reverse shots is so familiar that the context of the scene matters more than the content. Two men being filmed in this manner in a “saloon” inevitably leads to fisticuffs and gun play. The logic of the escalation is “drunkenly disproportionate” even if neither of the parties involved is actually drunk. Because we know how this scene ends, Weiner need not actually show Don striking the minister. But we want him to. The tension mounts but Weiner provides no release — instead he relies on our familiarity with this sequence to cut to a flashback, because he knows we’ll only be momentarily confused. He effectively holds that tension in abeyance throughout the flashback, but instead of relieving it by cutting back to the scene at the bar like we want him to, he suspends it in perpetuity by moving the narrative a few hours forward in time:

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Obama enlists [indistinct] black woman to win in 2014 by [indistinct]

[ 50 ] June 27, 2013 |

Glenn Reynolds:

Rachel Jeantel made it sound like Travon Martin profiled George Zimmerman… or… what is a “creepy ass cracker”? Somebody ask Paula Deen.

But here’s the key: Obama and the Democrats would actually prefer an acquittal here. That’s because the whole point of the ginned-up Zimmerman affair was to inflame racial sentiment to boost black turnout in 2012. With any luck, they can turn an acquittal into another racial rallying cry, which will help in 2014. It’s not about Zimmerman; he’s just one of those eggs you have to break to make an Obama omelet.

I only mentioned her relative articulateness because as I was trying to eat breakfast, the defense was arguing that, on tape, Jeantel said a voice “coulda” or “could of” or “could’ve” been Martin, whereas in court she’s insisting she said “could hear” — which it should be noted she made clear later in the tape. The defense just doesn’t want to play that part.

So according to Reynolds, Jeantel is a mumbling Obama plant who listened to her friend die and was then, presumably, instructed by representatives of the highest office in the land — if not Obama himself! — to recount the story in an [indistinct] way that ensures an acquittal. When I write about the paranoid mindset of contemporary conservatism, this is exactly the sort of “logic” I mean: an old white man complaining that he can’t understand a young black person is part of Obama’s plan.

This is an acceptable argument in mainstream conservative thought at the moment. I’m [indistinct] with [indistinct] at this [indistinct].

Mad Men: “In Care Of” What? Oh Really?

[ 16 ] June 24, 2013 |

The season finale of Mad Men, “In Care Of,” contains an inordinate number of what I call “Oh Really?” reverse shots. They typically don’t involve dialogue — and the episode will end with one that doesn’t — but at the beginning of the episode it does. It’s also odd because it substitutes a flashback for an “Oh Really?” escalation, but I’m getting ahead of myself. When representatives from the Sheraton Royal Hawaiian arrive at whatever the name of the firm is at this point — because not knowing the firm is part of the point at this point — Don Draper isn’t in the office. You may remember the Royal Hawaiian from the season premier, and if you do, you can probably anticipate Don’s whereabouts. Here he is at the Royal Hawaiian:

That’s the opening shot of Draper at the Royal Hawaiian’s bar. Note the quality of the light: there are two on screen sources — the lamp to Don’s left and the Tiki fixture to his right — and a noticeable off-screen, but still diegetic light illuminating the painting from above. The lighting is high-key, that is, the back and fill lights complement the key light in a way that creates low contrast between brighter and darker areas. (I write “complement” because there are many ways the effect of high-key lighting can be produced: all manners of angles and intensities come into play.) Of the previous episode, “The Quality of Mercy,” I noted that Don’s shadows were eating at his face because the back and fill lights weren’t providing it illumination. Even though his back is turned in the shot above, were Don to turn around his face would be plenty covered by the back light. All of which is only to say that the light is natural and gentle in this scene at the Royal Hawaiian bar. Which is significant given that when the Royal Hawaiian representatives arrive in New York, Don’s not available to greet them because he’s here:

At this point, I hope you don’t need me to point out the structural similarities between these two shots. There are many ways to shoot a man at a bar — I know, I know — but to shoot the same man regarding relations with the same corporation in such a similar manner invites comparison. Whereas the scene at the Royal Hawaiian is lit in a high-key, this is clearly lit in the low-key that’s characterized Don’s relation to alcohol the past three episodes. (Just look at the poor man pouring vodka.) The low-key lighting allows the diegetic lights sources — the illuminated bar and the television set — to provide the majority of the illumination. Meaning there isn’t much of any because Don’s in a darker place. Remember the “dark wood” that Don read about Dante awakening in while at the Royal Hawaiian? Clearly Don hadn’t actually reached it yet. At the brightly lit bar he interacted with an American icon — the serviceman on shore leave — and never went home that night because, as I noted in my post on “The Doorway,” he’d abandoned his wife to give another woman away in marriage. But all that happened in a luminous Hawaiian past.

Now when Hawaii comes mid-day calling in New York, Don’s in a bar that hasn’t seen sunlight since the first time Nixon ran for President. And when another American icon — the itinerant evangelical preacher — starts talking about brotherhood at the bar, Don’s so rattled it’s almost as if he can recognize the structural similarities with the scene from “The Doorway.” The young serviceman with whom he shared a moment of brotherhood — false though it may be on Don’s part — has been replaced by a preacher who’s selling his idea of a brotherhood to strangers at a bar. The idea likely offends Don both as a man and as an ad man: the quality of the preacher’s salesmanship is so shoddy Don can’t help but interrupt his pitch. (He’ll react to the falseness of this “witnessing” with an encore of his own later in the episode. But more on that tomorrow.) When the preacher asks his profession, he replies “Keeping out of other people’s business,” which isn’t exactly the best description of someone who works in advertising. That’s likely why the preacher’s response, “You’re not doing a very good job of it,” stings Don more than it should. It’s little wonder he’s annoyed when the preacher approaches. Here’s how the scene actually proceeds:

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The Dark Knight Returns and The Zack Snyder School of Literal Filmmaking

[ 62 ] June 23, 2013 |

Not wanting to spend the entirety of my life figuring out how to put the entirety of my life into boxes and move it across the country, I decided to watch the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Directed by Jay Olivia and released in two parts in 2012 and 2013, it belongs to the Zack Snyder School of Literal Filmmaking, in which the idea is to replicate particularly stirring comic panels on the big screen by unwittingly mangling the elements that make them stirring.

Consider Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen. We don’t even need to venture past the opening credits to see where the film misses the point. But before we do that, I should note that I’m not complaining generally about a lack of faithfulness in adaptation. Comics and film are different media and ought to be treated as such. I don’t mind if changes are made that alter the narrative in an interesting fashion. But Snyder preaches fidelity as his ethos, so taken at his word, deviations from the comic in his films aren’t “interesting alterations” so much as the “necessary accommodations” of adapting any medium into another. These changes are being made by a lover of the source material who would never be unfaithful to the “spirit” of the original. For what it’s worth, I think Snyder’s dead honest about his commitment to accurately representing both individual panels and the “spirit” of the original work on screen — he simply happens to be terrible at doing so. Back to the opening minutes of Watchmen, in which Rorschach’s investigating the Comedian’s murder. Both the novel and the film begin with a close-up of the Comedian’s iconic image before pulling back to the skyscraper window from which it fell.


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Quick question about moving companies

[ 115 ] June 21, 2013 |

How does one go about finding a reputable moving company? Because I feel like a freshmen trying to do academic research for the first time: I don’t know what reviews are authoritative, which companies are scams, how to differentiate between parties vigorously sqabbling over online reviews, etc. If you’re not comfortable leaving feedback in the comments, you can send it scotterickaufman (at) gmail (dot) com. I thank any and all in advance for whatever advice you provide.

“Mhysa”: an LG&M Game of Thrones podcast with Steve Attewell and a Vacationing Jew

[ 65 ] June 21, 2013 |

Due to some foreseen circumstances — my quarter just ended — it took a little longer than usual to produce this podcast. But produced it has been! Enjoy!

You can listen to the above podcast here.

Our very civilized discussion of the premiere (S03E01).

Fancy-talking about “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S03E02).

Here we are blathering on about “Walk of Punishment” (S03E03).

Don’t watch — because you can’t — us discuss “And Now His Watch Has Ended” (S03E04).

The rudely interrupted first half of our discussion of “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

The second half of our discussion of religion in “Kissed by Fire” (S03E05).

In which we discuss “The Climb” sans spoilers (S03E06).

“The Climb” with spoilers (S03E06).

“Second Sons.” We has them (S03E08).

Belatedly, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (S03E07).

You’re all invited to an epic performance of “The Rains of Castamere” (S03E09).

Mad Men: Fencing with shadows over “The Quality of Mercy”

[ 47 ] June 20, 2013 |

I keep on reading that the title of this season’s penultimate Mad Men episode, “The Quality of Mercy,” is “a phrase from Shakespeare” without any explanation as to what its significance might be. Todd’s the exception, but his account of the play muddies his most pressing insight: one only appeals to the quality of mercy when dealing with people who don’t deserve it because one wants it from that very same person. It exists only as a rhetorical tactic. But it doesn’t work quite that way anymore. For contemporary audiences the quality of mercy is something granted through extra-textual means — the play’s antisemitism retroactively grants it to Shylock — which is another way of saying that characters exist in history and shouldn’t be judged by their actions in the moment so much as their reputation over the not-so-longue durée. This excuses nothing:

Shylock behaves like a stock Jew because Shakespeare didn’t think his character worth elevating. The same can’t be said of Don Draper in a season in which his status as an unknown quantity’s been highlighted by the presence of fellow professional liar Bob Benson. Or can it? The last two episodes have seen him turn against his wife (Megan) and his protege (Peggy) for reasons that aren’t entirely clear but clearly aren’t merciful. And yet the arrival of Benson mingles with his failing marriage and office foibles in a manner that makes him seem deserving of the mercy Shylock wanted to refuse Antonio. That mercy would’ve denied Shylock his “pound of flesh.” Care to guess who we are in this analogy?

That’s correct: we’re Shylock demanding a pound of Draper’s flesh and we’re the contemporary audience extending him mercy because we know that Shylock’s been misunderstood by history. Which is about where we stand at this point in the series: Draper’s a tragic figure made all the more tragic by the decisions he’s making. He’s an unforgivable human being widely recognized as a product of his circumstances. He’s the man everyone envies until they see his substance is little more than strategically placed shadows — particularly in this episode. But before I comment on that I should note how this episode begins:

With Draper in the fetal position. I’m not going to go all Freudian on you because I don’t do that anymore. What’s more significant than any Freudian overtones is that this is the first time in this episode that one side of Draper’s face is hidden from the camera. That Phil Abraham went with an overhead shot in order to accomplish that is a telling oddity: we don’t normally see shots from this perspective outside of the opening credits. Make of that what you will. What I find significant is that the opening shot of the episode 1) informs us that Don’s wounded and 2) suggests that he’s hiding his wound by hiding his face. I know this isn’t actually true — you can’t hide psychological scars behind turned heads or well-positioned shadows — but consider how the rest of the episode is shot. Here’s Don pouring orange juice:

Abraham’s clearly taking advantage of the “natural” light streaming in the set’s windows — it’s most likely a key light — but it’s all coming from frame-right.  If you imagine Jon Hamm’s standing in the center of a clock facing 12 o’clock, it appears as if there’s a key light with a diffuser of some sort around 9 o’clock. If there weren’t a diffuser of some sort the contrast would be harsher and it would look more noir — but the shot’s not that flat, as we can see light gently reflecting off the cupboards behind him. What’s missing is some sort of fill light at 2 o’clock to illuminate Hamm’s face. Why’s it missing? Because Abraham wanted him to look “shady” without seeming Manichean. That’s why the diffuser’s significant: it prevents the contrast from being harsh and turning Draper into an anti-heroic image of stock-noir. The conflict in most noir films being, of course, that Humphrey Bogart’s trying to apply his black-and-white code of right and wrong to a grey world. Draper’s conflict, of course, is that he has no code to apply to an increasingly colorful world, so it stands to reason that Abraham wouldn’t shoot him so harshly. Especially when he’s pouring orange juice. But what about when he’s pouring vodka into the orange juice?

Nope. That’s the same key light. Hamm’s just turned around so now the other side of his face is shaded. Not completely, though, because as noted there’s some light reflecting off the cupboards that’s preventing the entirety of the left side of his face from being in darkness. There’s clearly something wrong with him in these shots: it’s not that Draper’s drinking in the morning, but that he’s hiding drinking in the morning. Even the functional alcoholic occasionally needs a day off to drink inappropriately — not that I speak from experience. But that’s clearly what’s happening here: more of the same only slightly different. But it doesn’t get any better as the scene progresses:

As soon as he turns around he may as well not have: he’s not bathed in the radiance of the same missing fill light. Maybe it’ll improve once he stops celebrating Screwdriver Appreciation Day and shows up for work?

It’s dogging him. I know shadows can’t actually dog people and that it’s all about strategically placed lights but if I didn’t know any better I’d say this shadow was dogging him. Because rhetorically it is. In terms of its effect on the audience this shadow has been plastered to a side of his face since the moment he woke up in the fetal position trying to hide it from the camera in that overhead shot. It dissipates some in the meeting in which he “saves” Peggy by attributing her idea to the dear and recently departed:

It’s not nearly so extreme here, which makes sense, because Draper’s in his element. If the producers are manifesting his demons as shadows, it’s understandable that they’d be less prominent in the one place Draper still feels somewhat comfortable. But the lighting’s still working against Hamm: there’s a fill light illuminating most of him, but it seems more designed to highlight the drawings of Peggy’s Rosemary’s Baby-inspired children’s aspirin ad. He’s catching the light incidentally and Draper’s not a character often filmed in reflected glory. But here he is. I don’t have any inside knowledge about why he keeps his head canted throughout this scene, but I can say that the effect echoes the shadowing from earlier in the episode. He’s fighting the lights to spite his face here, and I don’t think that’s unintentional. Especially not considering his conversation after the meeting:

And this one’s the give-away. This shot shouts the director’s intent loud as subtitles: he’s determined to create shadows on Hamm’s face even if it requires off-lighting it very brightly. That glare on the right side of his head is the unfortunate side-effect of burying the rest of his face beneath shadow in what is, otherwise, a very bright room. I’m not sure what the thematic function of this shadow is — I’m wary of explanations of characters that rely too heavily on how they’re being presented by individual directors — but there has to be one. I mean:

There has to be one. It’s extremely difficult to create that sort of contrast — diffused or otherwise — in such well-lit spaces. I’d praise the dedicated crew responsible for creating this effect if I knew what their names were, because they deserve praise for creating this impression of a Don dogged by something. I could be glib and say it’s history generally, or his personal history, or his night with Betty, or his non-nights with Megan, but I’d rather let the show tell me which of those is bothering him. Apparently it’s the latter:

Whatever his problem is, the visual structure of the episode is relating it back to Megan. He ends this episode as he began it: in the fetal position sleeping with Megan’s significant absence.

Go [your “local” region’s basketball team]! Or, I don’t know, spite the other one! Viciously!

[ 96 ] June 20, 2013 |

It’s the end of the quarter — and my academic career for that matter — so I’m finally almost not behind on everything. But even belatedly I must say this: anyone complaining about another opportunity to watch Jesus Shuttlesworth hit an improbable, game-tying shot over the Big Fundamental hates the Miami Heat more than they like basketball.*

Consider this a thread for preemptively venting about tonight’s inevitable Heat victory. I’m not saying they’re going to win — I’m just saying that the Naked Headed Man isn’t going to lose on his home court without leaving more on the floor than his headband. It’s not like he needs it to intimidate opponents in the post:

I barely even had to crop that shot to accentuate the brutal poetry of the post Mr. Naked Headed Man is teaching some tiny Frenchman here. Draw LASERS on their eyes and you’ll see something fairly unremarkable: the tiny Frenchman’s looking at the man he’s defending, but Mr. Naked Headed Man is looking straight through the tiny Frenchman.**

*I’m aware Duncan wasn’t on the floor at that point. But he could’ve been.

**I’d rather not turn a poor kid from Akron into the very obvious WWII metaphor the above implies so I won’t. But the metaphor is there for the taking, so I’ll just say that I’m not sure how much help the Virgin Islands and Argentina can provide the French here.

Recent Game of Thrones posts on “Second Sons” & “The Rains of Castamere”

[ 8 ] June 10, 2013 |

A few newer readers were having difficulty finding the Game of Thrones specific information posted of late, and since our “tag” categories work as well as tagging “categories” does, I just thought I’d line the most recent ones up all in one place:

I hope this is less confusing. I know when material’s cross-linked and back-dated and newer posts appear before older ones that I sometimes find myself befuddled. There’s no shame in that. Or if there is, take heart in knowing I share it.

In Memoriam Mr. Banks

[ 29 ] June 10, 2013 |

So, the Bring Your Own Lampshade, Somewhere There’s a Party having heard nothing for days, sent Something exceptional has happened for him to have fallen so certainly silent. Nothing further to predict, though suspicion grows amongst those not utterly credulous that this silence is exotic in nature.


I thought that might that draw you out. I reluctantly agreed to convene this awkward exchange with you thinking you would never believe this matter closed.

The Color Me Impressed considered what the matter in question might be and why it might have been closed. It summed-up the exchange again but the briefing remained inadequate.

Before I over-focus on what may be irrelevant details please re-transmit said information to the pre-appointed location for verification of authenticity. If said information is thereto judged to be in excess of tenable evidence other sympathetic elements within the Culture will assist in applying an appropriate response.

The Bring Your Own Lampshade, Somewhere There’s a Party assured Color Me Impressed that the information was authentic using every confidential code it had at its disposal and many it didn’t. Broadcasting such information made things difficult operationally. But it didn’t want Color Me Impressed to consider the remote possibility that this information could be a set-up.

The thought had already occurred, the VFP CMI replied, lying. But if true the possibility of action against it is too far down the list of probabilities to venture getting into. If it happened it happened and there’s nothing to be done about it.

There is always the opportunity to engage in the mourning before it becomes a matter of rote necessity. The delays on these signals already threaten the sincerity of any response that might be sent.

Might be sent, shot back the Color Me Impressed, to whom and why? Would deeply appreciate knowing what the fuck is going on? Prompt answers are the in thing this season so please stop reluctantly dancing and step on point already.

The point, chimed the GSV A Picture on a Fridge Never Stocked with Food, is that someone was aiming for politeness but achieved nothing because you are as confused as ever. There has been an event. We deserved to get there in time to do more, if there was anything that could have been done, but we did all we could and we failed. There’s a chance that something was made or recorded, thought left for posterity, that could be or has been recovered. We need to do or have done that already.

Something has and it was and we’ve already done so. Enjoy your eternity, Mr. Banks. Enjoy the ever-living fuck out of it. You’ve more than earned it.

R.I.P. Iain M. Banks

[ 40 ] June 9, 2013 |

Not that it’s unexpected, but all signs point to Iain M. Banks having lost his battle with cancer this morning. I am, for the record, allowed to mourn his passing without conservative self-promoters like John Ziegler attacking me for falsely lionizing the recently deceased. Should he or any like-minded asshole try any such thing, I have no doubt he’ll feel the full force of the online equivalent of Special Circumstances.

I’ll write a Banks a proper send-off once I gather my thoughts, but for now, I’ll acknowledge we’ve lost a great one and leave it at that.

“Will the wolf survive?”

[ 37 ] June 9, 2013 |

It’s been brought to my attention that the two posts I’ve produced about “The Rains of Castamere” were written under the influence of Los Lobos’s How Will the Wolf Survive? (1985). Weeks ago, insomnia guided me to some 3 a.m. PBS documentary that placed Los Lobos between Public Enemy and the Rolling Stones in terms of the most influential bands of the 20th Century, and since then I’ve been revisiting their catalog.

I just didn’t realize how biased this non-deigetic sound may have made my past couple of analyses. Maybe the Lannister’s deserve more benefit of the doubt than the “none” I’ve been extending them? The Boltons too?

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