Thursday, September 20, 2007

Live Blogging Mad Men: Madness Directed

Last week’s Mad Men episode began with a sunny shot of Betty in striking sunglasses, and ended with the crazed Bonnie Parker in pink Fredericks of Hollywood out for the 1:00 p.m. kill-the-neighbor’s pigeons session. It felt to many that we had taken a turn into David Lynch territory, because these two scenes had an unreal/hyperreal feel to them with Lynch’s underlying disturbing creepiness.

For me those sunglasses were a visual quote back to the all-time creepiest use of sunglasses in film history, in Leave Her to Heaven (1945). As described in the allmovie guide, “Gene Tierney portrays a beautiful but unstable woman who marries successful novelist Cornel Wilde. “ Swap out novelist to ad man, and we have a match. Tierney becomes so obsessed with her husband that she cannot bear him spending time with anyone but her, including his crippled brother. She lures the boy into the lake to encourage him to swim to get stronger as she spots him from her rowboat. One day she takes him out further and further, then puts on sunglasses and rows away from him as he calls out that he’s getting tired and needs to get back in the boat. The camera focuses on Tierney, expressionless, sitting there in those sunglasses as the boy struggles, and struggles, and drowns.

"It’s deepest noir in the brightest Technicolor"—a description some would apply to suburbia. And it was directed by John M. Stahl, who directed the original Imitation of Life in 1934 with Claudette Colbert and the original Magnificent Obsession in 1935 with Irene Dunne. Thus Stahl begat Sirk who begat Haynes—-with all those permutations of Heaven titles between them.

Matthew Weiner certainly draws upon that body of film work, where the director with his cinematographer is responsible for the creative essence. But in the producer’s medium of television, it's Matt, as creator/producer, who has all the power to get his creative vision on screen. Episodes are parceled out to numerous directors, who work within the established sensibility of the show (and channel David Lynch when necessary).

Mad Men
has an enviable “A” list of directors: Alan Taylor (who just won for The Sopranos “Heidi and Kennedy” episode); Ed Bianchi and Tim Hunter (Homicide, Deadwood); Lesli Glatter (The Closer, West Wing) and the multitalented Paul Feig, who directed “Shoot.” It’s the reason the show is so compelling to watch—-you can virtually feel that talent in the direction.

Update: AMC faked us out and ran a repeat. That's not supposed to happen in a first run series like this.