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Tag: "television"

Filming the sausage being made is very, very expensive, my friends.

[ 30 ] March 28, 2012 |

UPDATE: This is not what I do.

My promised follow up post about Peter’s sad descent into the trappings of Draper’s life is nearly half-complete, but I wanted to address something that’s come up in the comments first, because I encounter variations of it every time I teach. Uncle Ebeneezer wrote

On a tangent–a friend of mine read your post and remarked that they doubt that THAT much thought really goes into it. I disagree, but I’m sure you must hear that sort of sentiment all the time and I’m just curious how you usually respond.

He’s correct in that I encounter this all the time–frequently as a back-handed compliment about me putting more thought into the show than the people who made it–but it’s usually the person doing the slapping that has no clue what they’re talking example. For example, in an interview I can’t relocate, Christopher Nolan was discussing the logistics of using an IMAX camera to capture Christian Bale hanging off of a skyscraper in Hong Kong. The joke of it was that between the helicopter, its pilot, safety equipment, those equipped to use it, Nolan and Bale’s salaries, the insurance policy on Bale, the rental cost of the IMAX camera and its crew, every single syllable was costing Warner Brothers $300,000, “so if everyone would quit fucking cursing they could fucking film this fucking shot for under three million dollars.”

And that’s pre-production. So do I occasionally hazard into a situation in which I over-read some last minute practicality? No doubt. But should the wizards with the duct tape see my analysis and note that I missed their wizardry, don’t you think they’d be proud that they’d done their job so well I couldn’t imagine it having been done differently? But if your friends are still unconvinced–and if my students are any indication, many of them will be, send them to the “full credits” listing of a show like Mad Men. John Rogers—friend of the blog and showrunner of Leverage—can add to any of the many things I’ve forgotten, but keep in mind that all of the following people must be paid, eat, have their equipment plugged in and powered up, etc., and remember as your friend’s scrolling down that very, very long list, there are a number of unusual positions, such as:

  1. hair stylist/background hair stylist
  2. hair stylist/key hair stylist
  3. hair department head
  4. special effects makup artist
  5. on-set dresser
  6. art department coordinator
  7. greensman
  8. set decoration buyer
  9. second assistant camera “a” cameria/ second assistant camera “b” camera
  10. best boy rigging electrician
  11. genny operator
  12. post-post production assistant coordinator
  13. colorist dailies
  14. final colorist

I’ve chosen that list a little randomly, but it’s also a little representative of the collaborate work involved in any significant production. Odd as it may seem, the burden of proof that something isn’t in a particular scene should fall to the casual viewer, who thinks television is magic and all you need is a camera, some costumes, and a few pretty pictures to make it work. Granted, that’s true of some reality television — it wear its cheap production for all to see — but for quality, scripted television, each minute of which costs thousands to film, there’s a reason why certain mediocre actors are come to be called “character actors” as they age. It’s not that Benjamin Bratt — and I’m not picking on him — is a good actor, but there’s a reason why people want to work with him. To my knowledge, he’s polite, shows up on time, knows his lines, and is forgo having a potentially short or taller stand-in sit for him in the rehearsals and run-throughs. (That’s anecdotal evidence, but I trust the source, and if I’m wrong, there are a million others I could substitute for him.) Point being:

Shooting quality film/television is very expensive, so it’s all planned out in advance, then modified, script-color-change-by-script-color-change, then ideally handed to actors who behave professionally. In short, the implicit answer to why there aren’t more great television shows is sort of the same as why they aren’t more perfect storms.

Mad Men: Sally and Don in “A Little Kiss”

[ 19 ] March 26, 2012 |

(It goes without saying that this is another one of those posts.)

First of all, let me begin with what I won’t be talking about: race. It’s clearly going to be an abiding issue this season–it bookends “A Little Kiss,” first as an insensitive tragedy, later as an almost unmangeable farce–but the majority of what comes between these allusions to the Civil Rights movement concerns the demise of almost every relationship in the lives of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s employees. For example, here’s the sole appearance of the former Mrs. Draper:

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It occurs during the “Previously on Mad Men” introduction, not within the body of the show itself. The current Mrs. Francis exists in this episode as a function of her children, whose own screen time is limited to the first fifteen minutes of the episode–their appearance is significant, however, and as good a place as any to begin looking at “A Little Kiss.” Let’s start with Sally:

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She’s alone and miserable in a bed that’s not her own. The audience doesn’t know that, so she merely seems like a child who should have, but hasn’t, overcome her night terrors. (The therapy she began last season apparently either failed to take, was never followed up on, or became monopolized by Betty’s problems to the extent that the therapist thought she could help Sally more by working through Betty’s issues. Too soon to tell.) As I’ve remarked on multiple occasionsand even diagrammed–hallways are extremely significant on Mad Men, suggestive of the fact that these are shiftless people who are neither entirely sure where they’re from anymore (Draper) or that they’re trying to own the space between their amorphous origins and designated destinations. But as this episode makes clear on three occasions, this is nothing more than a convenient lie. Here is Draper owning a hallway in “The Suitcase”:

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Here’s Sally, half asleep in an unfamiliar apartment, “owning” hers:

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I don’t think I need to draw all over this shot to demonstrate that, like the one above it, there’s an operative symmetry to Jennifer Getzinger’s direction–nor do I think it’s unobvious that Getzinger directed both “The Suitcase” and “A Little Kiss.” But in “A Little Kiss” Getzinger undermines the symmetry from “The Suitcase” by having Sally saunter down the hall without occupying the central area of the screen. She doesn’t own this hall–she’s exploring it. When she finally (and mistakenly) believes she’s found her bearings:

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She finds the bathroom door locked. Because it’s not the bathroom door:

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It’s her father’s bedroom, and despite Sally and Don being neatly framed between the door jambs, they still don’t occupy the central area of the screen. Technically, nothing does, but scan down and the audience can see what Sally shortly will, only not from her perspective yet–the small of Megan’s back and the curve of her hips. Something is coming between Draper and the only woman he loves unconditionally, and Sally can see that something’s ass:

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This is one of the rare moments in the episode when the audience is allowed into the head of a character, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s Sally’s head into which we’re allowed entrance. I have a feeling–something more like an inchoate theory–that ten years from now this show will be remembered as having belonged to Sally, but I’ll share that when I can muster up more evidence. For the moment the real matter of significance is that Sally perceives Megan as the single greatest impediment to developing the relationship she so desperately desires with her father. She recognizes, without truly understanding it, that there’s a disconnect, and Getzinger highlights this not merely by showing the a vulnerably half-naked Megan, but by indicating that Sally can’t tell whether it’s the woman in the bedroom or the bedroom door that’s frustrating her:

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That door jamb is the visual equivalent of a poetic enjambment, uniting two lines in manner that foregrounds the fact that they ought not be united. A quick example from W.B. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium“:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress […]

The enjambed “unless” functions as a redirected thought dangling off the edge of an unthinkable abyss–the moment when an “aged” Yeats decides unequivocably that this is “no country for old men,” but despite the apparent abruptness of his decision, the tranistion from the enjambed “unless” and the “soul” which opens the next line creates a hope for some sort of continuity. Just read it aloud: “unless/Soul clap its hand and sing.” Possibility abides despite the apparent disconnect. Unlike many other moments in this episode, the ostensible disconnect between this daughter and this father seems surmountable. She just doesn’t know it yet.*

But she should: Draper concludes this conversation with an offer to cook her one of his patented witching hour omelets, a process which began when the dark was deep and the shadows long and ended right about here:

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The implied elapse of time is clearly significant, as the two characters occupying the central frame have obviously been awake and ostensibly been conversing for quite some time. But their centrality isn’t the item of significance in this frame: in the lower left corner of the shot is the footstool on which Draper will be sitting at the height of his humiliation, which will, of course, be brought about by:

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The woman wearing the gawdy yellow top who’s not only occupying the center of the screen, but is doing so by visually dividing Sally and Don. Sally’s point-of-view shot earlier set this up, and it leads to a shot in which her worst fears are being realized. Getzinger cuts to Sally:

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Although seemingly happy, it’s what she’s not that’s significant: she’s not sharing the frame with her father anymore. She’s alone and off-center–and there’s a good reason that the shot’s off-kiltered. Look at what she sees:

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Her father and Megan are one side of a walled-in nook, she and her siblings on the other. Moreover, whereas Megan and her attention-grabbing shirt are inching closer to a central position, Sally’s almost being pushed off-frame. Don’s not consciously aware of what he’s losing, but losing her he is. Because this is such a long episode, I’ll save my thoughts about Peter and Peggy and Joan for another post, but before I do, I just want to follow up on the significance of the aforementioned table. Here’s Don at his “surprise” birthday party:

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The nook is now off-camera and Don’s literally dominating the shot: even the color of his shirt sets him apart from the dark dresses and suits of his guests. But with the footstool now center-stage, Draper is at his emptiest. He is alone and all eyes are upon him, uncomfortably astride a piece of furniture designed for feet, and he’s miserable. He’ll sleep alone tonight because he realizes that whatever it is he has with Megan, it’s not enough–and the more she tries to convince him otherwise, the further he pushes her away.

*Before you ask: I can’t believe I just wrote that much about a door jamb either.

Mad Men Pre-Show Thread

[ 14 ] March 25, 2012 |

I think I speak for everyone at LGM when I say this about the new season of Mad Men:

OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

3 hours and 18 minutes until Mad Men!!!!!!

I will be spending the hour before the big show watching my favorite episode, “The Jet Set,” from season 2.

Predetermined Reviews

[ 78 ] March 22, 2012 |

I feel like this Alessandra Stanley preview of the upcoming first episode of Season 5 of Mad Men is a predictable as a Pitchfork review of a band’s 4th album after album 3 hit is big–it reflexively can’t be as good because we’ve moved on to something else.

The downside of success is too much devotion. “Mad Men” fatigue is brought on by all the fuss and cute imitation: the Banana Republic fashion line; copycat shows like “Pan Am” and “Magic City,” a new Starz series set in 1960s Miami; ’60s memoirs, coffee table books, cookbooks, cocktail recipes and magazine spreads; “Mad Men” costume parties; and “Mad Men” drinking tours of Manhattan.

It’s not fair, really, but a show that became a hit because it seemed so original has been so co-opted that it now looks like a cliché.

Seventeen months have passed since last season’s finale, and other shows have come along that are set in a present that suddenly seems fresh and unexplored, like “Homeland” on Showtime and “Girls,” which begins on HBO in April.

The personalities on “Mad Men” don’t change, but the times do. At this point, the context may be more interesting than the characters.

Note that none of this has anything to do with the quality of the show itself. She calls the first episode “long and a little dreary.” Could be, but of course Mad Men is always a show that builds slowly toward its season theme. I also think the worst criticism of Mad Men is that because it is set in the 60s, it should reflect the major political and social themes of the times. Well, no. I mean, it could and it often does. But I think the show is at its worst when it tries to shoehorn in the decade’s major events. These are rich white dudes, they don’t care about civil rights or Vietnam except in how it affects advertising. And that’s fine. But the show is not about people’s idealized view of the 60s. It’s about a narrow slice of society, which is far more indicative of the actual 60s than a decade’s greatest hits.

Also, this is not a case of the Sex and the City, where by the time of the second movie they were celebrating a lifestyle that seemed grotesque in the middle of bad financial times (never mind that the lifestyle was actually grotesque for the entirety of the show). Mad Men may celebrate the fashions of the time, but not the people and behavior itself. So I don’t see how the murder of Trayvon Martin somehow makes the show less appropriate for our times.

In any case, the quality of a show is dependent on many factors–acting, writing, production, etc. And until there’s evidence that this has declined, which in season 4 it most certainly had not, then I simply refuse to believe that somehow it is old hat because Pan Am was bad.

Vincent and the Doctor, Together Alone

[ 17 ] February 15, 2012 |

(This be another one of those posts in which I “[feign] some kind of cultural superiority … even though [my] opinions and tastes are largely shite of the first water [that force most commenters to] make an effort to shaddup when [I] want to wax long and philosophical about some mainstream film [I’m] content to call art.)

I covered the palette of “Vincent and the Doctor” in my post about the Leverage episode “The Van Gogh Job,” so I’ll save some time and just say the wheat:

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The wheat:

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The wheat:

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The wheat may not seem that important—though damn do I love it—but it calls to mind Woody Allen’s famous parody of Ingmar Bergman in Love & Death, which is relevant because “Vincent and the Doctor” is an episode devoted to the consequences of loneliness (felt or otherwise). The Doctor’s alone because he’s the Doctor; Amy’s alone because (unbeknownst to her) Rory’s been unwritten from existence; Vincent’s alone because Vincent’s always been alone; and the Krafayis is alone because it’s been abandoned by its fellows. This is a story that’s fundamentally about lonely people “coming together,” only director Jonny Campbell doesn’t shoot it that way. I bring up the visual punning on the wheat because the shots it parodies are relevant. To wit:

Read more…

Linkocity

[ 48 ] February 3, 2012 |

A lot of interesting stories today, too many to comment upon:

1. Neil Genzlinger on the absurd proliferation of strip club scenes on television. As he points out, the problem with the scenes is not so much moral as it is that they are boring, lazy, and repetitive.

2. If you haven’t this Sabrina Rubin Erdely profile of the anti-gay climate of Anoka, Minnesota leading to a rash of gay teens committing suicide, do it. This is Michelle Bachmann’s district. The climate of hate she pushes trickles down to the public schools. The schools openly push hard-right evangelical values that vilify homosexuality. I don’t know Minnesota very well, so I can’t speak to why this area has so much hate. Would be curious to hear more informed people’s thoughts.

3. In case, the Anoka story didn’t make you angry enough, read Ari Berman on how the GOP is redistricting Southern states to not only destroy the Democratic Party but to resegregate the South.

4. When you think of Nevada, you probably think of a) Vegas, b) legal prostitution, and c) Vegas. But there’s a lot of land in Nevada outside of Las Vegas. And it’s populated by some very crazy people. Of course, Las Vegas is so much bigger than the rest of the state that Democrats can win the state and completely ignore everything outside of Vegas and the Reno/Carson City area.

5. On eating squirrel.

6. The interesting “transpartisan” political coalition in Nebraska that brought down the Keystone XL Pipeline. Also, I really want to visit the Sandhills of Nebraska.

7. Corruption and cronyism in the Alaska Fish & Game Department is all too typical of how western states run their wildlife programs: for the wealthy who like to shoot things.

8. I like American jobs as much as anyone, but I don’t like this. Caterpillar is shutting down a Canadian plant where it had locked out workers last month and moving operations to its plant in Muncie, Indiana, where it can take advantage of cheap American labor.

Hungry Muppet

[ 27 ] October 5, 2011 |

Well, leave it to the always excellent Sesame Street to be one of the first major artistic endeavors to take on the current economic crisis, reaching to the growing number of hungry children with a character they can relate to.

No doubt this will convince Republicans to double down on eliminating PBS funding in the next budget.

Whitey

[ 26 ] June 23, 2011 |

Finally captured. Two related recommendations:

  • Black Mass is as gripping an airline read as you could ask for.
  • Brotherhood, the fictionalized, transplanted-to-Rhode Island Showtime series based on the Bulger case, is an extremely underrated show; I’d rank it easily among the top 10 from TV’s great decade.

Drogo

[ 17 ] June 3, 2011 |

Charli and her partner discuss Khal Drogo’s war speech from last week’s Game of Thrones. Spoilers, etc.

Geektacular!

[ 18 ] May 9, 2011 |

James does Colbert.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bill James
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Saving the book for an upcoming cross-country flight, but will have some thoughts about his recent greatest-team-of-all-time analysis, which regrettably (but probably correctly) lands on the ’98 Yankees.

F.f..f..f..f..fricking Anarchy!!!

[ 11 ] November 5, 2010 |

This reminds me of this.

Mad Men Amuse Bouche

[ 37 ] October 4, 2010 |

While waiting for SEK, once again MZS has a good take on a fantastic episode.

Has any show of quality ever reached a new peak in its fourth year?     Well, yes, The Simpsons, but a drama?    That certainly seems where Mad Men is headed.

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