Mad Men (Pilot Episode) – a close analysis

-Catherine Falalis.

The first episode of Man Men, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ is a well-crafted pilot in terms of its use of metaphors and motifs, which sets the tone for the rest of the series. There are two notable thematic elements within this episode. The first takes form in the role of the women, whereby not only do they explore a new sense of sexual liberation, but the men also treat them as sexual objects. They are treated as though they are beneath men in regards to the workplace. The second thematic element which stands out is a sense of living a double life and making excuses for bad habits. The audience are given small hints throughout the episode that this may be the case for many of the characters, and this is confirmed by the end of the episode.

A striking comparison of two types of women is seen through the characters of Joan and newly employed secretary Penny. Through costuming alone, we can see a distinct difference in personality types. This styling depicts Joan in a knee length, tight fitting, green dress, her hair neatly pinned in an up-do. Peggy on the hand wears a demur coloured ankle length skirt with an unflattering yellow sweater. These differences in styling lead the audience to assume that Joan is of the new-age sexually liberated type of woman, while Peggy is a good, innocent girl from Brooklyn, new to a busy city and the workings of an advertising office. The audiences thoughts are confirmed when Joan shows Peggy around the office stating if Peggy follows her lead, she’ll avoid the mistakes she made, at which point a male co-worker says hello to Joan, to which she says “like that one.”

When Peggy later visits a doctor recommended by Joan to get the contraceptive pill, further judgement is cast on each of the women. “Even in our times, easy women don’t find husbands… I’m sure you’re not that kind of girl, Joan on the other hand.”

This notion of womanly sexual liberation is also seen through the woman advertising executive Don Draper is sleeping with. She sits on the bed provocatively flirting while unbuttoning her shirt. She claims that she “doesn’t make plans or breakfast.”

Overall, the men’s views on women throughout the episode are predominately derogatory with many stating they wouldn’t want a nice girl and in order for a woman to know what kind of girl to be, men need to let them know what kind of guy they are.

This not only takes shape in a sexualised form but also through the workplace with Draper refusing to co-operate with Jewish store executive and client Rachel, dismissing the meeting early as to not let a woman speak to him in a challenging manner.

Its seems as though the women endorse this behaviour when Joan makes a comment to Peggy about not being confronted by the technology of the typewriter because the men who designed it made it simple enough for women to use.

It is again seen when Draper stands over his tobacco researcher (another woman), before throwing away her research report. He greatly belittles her and the styling of camera angles created to look up at Draper assist in creating the tone of the scene.

The second thematic element of this episode is best summed up within this quote.
“People are living one way, but are secretly thinking the complete opposite? That’s ridiculous!” the irony of this stems from the sense of the double life many of the characters are living, particularly Draper. Keeping shirts in his draw at work suggests he often doesn’t go home.

The tobacco campaign metaphor in itself and the Freudian relation to humanity wanting a death wish is exactly what Draper grapples with, making excuses for bad behaviour and living like there’s no tomorrow. “Happiness is that whatever you’re doing is okay. You are okay,” is what Draper lives by, whether it be smoking, sexual affairs or lies.

Just the like the close up shot of the fly trapped within his office light, Draper is entrapped within the spotlight of his work and the entanglement of his secret love life. Everything rides on him.

Sure enough, the conclusion of the episode reveals Draper is indeed living a secret double life – a suburban family home with a wife and two children.

Animal Kingdom

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-Brittaney Petsinis 

The director of Animal Kingdom (2010), David Michod, conveys the many intended ideas of the film through an incredibly clever manipulation of a range of film elements and qualities. As we are introduced to the character of Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frenchville), following the death of his own mother, his disorientation becomes apparent. Next to his mother’s dead body, J ironically appears distracted by the television, which plays the game show, Deal or No Deal. Through the character’s limited expression and rather blank face as he stares at the television, we are exposed to the idea that the character appears somewhat disconnected, from both his mother and also the world itself. This idea is further expressed through the phone call that J makes to his grandmother, particularly when he asks her if she remembers him. The conversation between the two is incredibly awkward, informing us of the lack of communication between himself and his family. The introduction of J’s grandmother, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jackie Weaver), allows the audience to automatically develop the intended assumption that J will be safe. As she walks up the stairs of J’s flat, we are introduced to what seems her vibrant personality, portrayed particularly through her speech, in which is cleverly supported by her bright, blue attire. She addresses J as sweetie and love, allowing audiences to fall under the impression that she will play the motherly figure in J’s life. Despite the affection and vibrancy that Smurf portrays, Michod wonderfully develops the idea that J will be entering a world of crime as he is welcomed into Smurf’s ‘world’. This idea becomes rather apparent through the mafia/criminal sounding music, largely initiated by the deepness of the violin instrument, which begins immediately as J and his grandmother hug.     

The title of the film, Animal Kingdom, is clearly suggestive of the animal world and the idea of the ‘survival of the fittest’. The director has evidently encapsulated this idea throughout the film, through the constant human “hunting”, establishing suspense and anticipation upon audiences. Brilliantly reflective of this, is Natalie’s dead body as she is carried outside by her killer, Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn). The expressive, hard lighting in this scene highlights parts of her body and helps to portray her character as the victim. The trees on either side of the frame develop the metaphor that Pope is an animal walking out of a jungle with its helpless prey. Michod has further explored and established this through Smurf’s attempt to set up J’s death. The conversation that takes place between Smurf and Randal in regards to the situation, allows for the realisation of Smurf’s capability of criminal behaviour. Weaver’s brilliant acting in this scene, allows for the establishment of an authoritative, manipulative character, largely through her direct and focused attention as she stares Randal in the eye while she speaks with a calm, yet powerful voice. Her straight posture and limited movement combined with the constant raising of her eyebrows as she speaks her powerful words, indeed, belittles Randal, and here, the domination of Smurf over Randal is made prominent, through the many well manipulated elements. In this scene, Smurf is established as an emotionless character. As she wipes her nose with a tissue while she speaks, it becomes evident that there is a falsely expressed sadness about the planned death of her own grandson. Smurf’s sinister side and mind, is further established by the cold, low-key lighting, casting shadows on her face and thus, highlighting her expression. This creates a sense of distrust upon the audience as we become aware of her criminal capabilities.

In the closing sequence, the camera manipulation is incredibly effective in communicating a range of ideas.  The point of view camera shot from J’s perspective, as he walks into the house and toward Smurf, initiates the idea that he is perhaps creeping up on her, thus creating a rather sinister interpretation by audiences for a short moment. It appears that the camera is unsteadily held, which wonderfully supports this idea. We are able to acknowledge J’s growth and progression as we witness a more confident character in comparison to the character we are first introduced to, who expressed an extreme disorientation and lack of confidence. The point of view camera shot, from J’s perspective allows us to develop the idea that he is now, somewhat in control.

Cleverly, the wide camera shot of the men, whilst they stand in the backyard, indeed conveys the distance between them and creates a sense of tension and unease upon the audience. The camera shot allows us to make this interpretation as the positioning of the men is inevitably noticed. J stands at the door as he speaks to the two remaining brothers from a distance while they stand at the sizzling barbeque.

In this scene, we are at first introduced to a rather upbeat, positive atmosphere, particularly with the softly played music of Sun in Cuba, the sizzling barbeque and the chirping bird bells. The director has very effectively created a feeling of comfort and ease for the audience. This is turned drastically through the absence of sound when Pope sits on a chair next to the window in J’s bedroom, while J lies on his bed. Here, there is an extreme initiation of suspense and tension, brilliantly building up to the unexpected sound of the gun shot. 

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The Good and the Disappointing, the musical films that exist.

Now everyone has those movies that are standard when they are home sick.  Well mine is the 1955 Guys and Dolls.  This started for two reasons, Frank Sinatra is my favourite singer of all time, therefore there must be good singing. And the second is that it seems to be the most successful musical on film that I have seen.  Now you have to understand that musicals are very hard to show anywhere else than the stage.  But in Guys and Dolls were able to be one of a few successful musical films in the 50s.  This information can bring comfort to musical lovers, as it is possible to make your favourite musical on film and watch it whenever you want.  Mind you, I will be focusing on the musicals that I have seen both as a production and a film.

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Due to the success from the Broadway production in 1950, it spilled to the film. The films’ setting is Broadway; the audience is introduced to Nathan’s two sidekicks in the first 6mins, before we see any of the big names.  Often, I don’t like it when that happens.  I watch a movie because I like who is in it and see if it is worth a watch.  This is a great exception as the first opening number shows the audience the busy street of Broadway that can be home to several different characters. This opening number always makes me smile, as it shows the tricksters, the fans and the amount of illegal activity held in the 1950s.  Another thing I love about this scene is the use of stage conventions used on film. I’m referring to the ladies who walk into the clothes store and hurriedly get changed while the audience sees the boxer gets KO.  This reminds the audience that it is a stage production to a certain point, as it occurs during a long take, implying that there is little editing and illustrates a convention shown in stage musicals (quick costume changes).

Another great element in this film, is the opening number itself. There are no words, not even any lyrics, just dancing.  This dance sequence illustrates who is a tourist, local, pick-pocket, gambler or police officer.  Although costume helps, the opening number seems to be an extended dance sequence, which is dynamic and fantastic to watch.  The sequence captures the same feeling you may get when you watch professional dancers on stage.  For me, that is just to start smiling in awe.  This film has completed that.  Although it isn’t the only success musical film, it is one film that I see it as one of the few which satisfies the original audience, whether on Broadway in the 1950s, or  the 2008 Australian tour (yes I saw that, Lisa McCune, Marina Prior and Magda Szubanski – Really I couldn’t miss it).

As any production: stage or film, the beginning gives us an idea of how good the rest of the production will be, in this particular case, how long.  The fact that it goes for 150mins can be good for two reasons: its replicates the Broadway production (minus the use of intermission- such as the one offered in West Side Story DVD, 1961). Also, it enables those who are sick to sleep on the couch for a bit and wake up noticing that it is still going.  As the dialogue continuously repeats what has happened so far in the film, this person will never be lost in the film.  Although if they fell asleep and woke up when Marlon Brando sang or dance, they may be a bit lost.

Yes, Marlon Brando does dance and sing, as it is the idea for the main character of a musical to do so.  Don’t get me wrong, he was a wonderful actor, but don’t make him sing.  If there was one thing I could do to change this film, I would change the casting just a bit.  First of all, you have to understand that I will be involving a cast that is from different periods of cinema. Meaning I will be using dead actors and actors of today.  But hear me out.  First of all, I would have used Young Frank Sinatra as Sky Masterson,  James Marsden as Nathan Detroit, Vivian Blaine as Adelaide and Anne Hathaway as Sarah Brown.  Okay that may look strange.  But Sinatra has the voice and can dance, Marsden –same merits as Sinatra.  Blaine depicted Adelaide beautifully and I can’t think of anyone else to take her place.  Hathaway, because she can pull off the innocent Salvation Army girl who falls for a sinner, and she can sing, as proved in Les Misérables and her performance in the Oscars. Now that I say that, Hugh Jackman would be a great Sky Masterson (and he isn’t dead- bonus).

ImageVivian BlaineJames-MarsdenLes Miserables Hugh and Anne

But luckily, Brando didn’t destroy this musical entirely.  There were others who destroyed musical films for me more.  And unfortunately that it is of the only Musical I cared for immensely. This musical is The Phantom of the Opera.  Now if you have seen the production, whether it is on Broadway, West End or ever Melbourne, do yourself a favour and do not watch it.  Now, when I watched this show the first three times, in Melbourne.  I thought it was the best thing I have ever have seen, hence it being my favourite.  Yet there was only a certain amount of money I could spend on theatre tickets.  So when I heard that there was a DVD version, I thought, how fantastic.  So because I had this honeymoon period with anything to do with Phantom, I originally thought it was great.  Repeatedly watched it, and soon realized that it ain’t that great.

As I watch it more recently, I get bitterly disappointed.  Here is a movie that could have been so much better than what it became.  I wished. Truth be told, that they didn’t make it. As you can tell, I’m very passionate about musicals, and will watch any musicals. So I have figured when I miss listening and hearing the music from Phantom (as that is the main element in musicals), I will listen to the original Broadway Soundtrack, this is mainly because it contains many of the songs I thoroughly enjoy, like ‘Notes’ (Reprised).  Which in the movie they merged with the ‘Masquerade’ song in the movie.  Yet again, another element that lost its effect when on the silver screen.  In my case, the TV screen.  So in the production, there is use of smoke and distractions (magic) to shock the audience as the Phantom ‘suddenly’ appears. I say this as every time I see this production I make a conscious effort to figure out where the Phantom came from.  Each time, being too distracted with the massive (yet not as massive as the film) dance sequence. And I still don’t know where he is coming from.   I know that this is thoroughly rehearsed and so forth.  But in the film it loses its effect as the camera takes the audience up the staircase to show the Phantom standing there.  Nothing is there to distract the audience, the effect is lost.  Did I already mention that?Image

One more word: Chandelier.  Yet again, I suggest everyone to watch the production (in any country), because this is the best effect in musical theatre (yet again, my opinion).  This opening scene, well the best way to describe it is to imagine that you are in a rollercoaster ride. Now as you go up the incline, there is all this anxiety, not knowing when it will drop. And when it finally does, you get that sensation that all your organs stayed in the higher altitude.  Well that is all you get from this scene.  And I’m not joking.  Now the movie does not do that.  As loud as you put your speakers, it doesn’t compare to the sound that you get from the orchestra. Or even the track that is playing on the CD.  Strange, I know.  But still very true.  In this case, the production is best.

So now, I have rambled about the good and the bad musical films.  More like, my favourite to the disappointment.   I will say that majority of the musical films are worth a watch.  Although, there are films can’t live up to the expectations that the production creates.  The musicals that aren’t based on any productions are often more successful (Most Astaire-Rogers films) in general. So for those who love musicals, there may be a version of your favourite musical on DVD.  Just need to make sure your expectations aren’t too high, as it is very difficult to transfer stage productions onto screen.  But go forth and sing along.