Guy Walks Into a Film Genre

 Posted by on September 20, 2009 at 11:15 pm  Film, Matthew Weiner, Season 1, Season 2, Season 3
Sep 202009

One thing I love about Matt Weiner is his willingness to explore different versions of Mad Men; he can make individual episodes over as film genres, and has not hesitated to do so.

Functionally, I think this started in Season 2, although one can say Season 1 started with Billy Wilder, because The Apartment was such a huge influence on the creation of the show.

So Season 1, perhaps especially Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, constitutes a Billy Wilder movie.

  • Episode 2.09: Six Month Leave revisits Billy Wilder. It pulls together a lot of things we know from Wilder movies; male bonding with an angry undercurrent, the overlap of professional and personal, drunkenness, and a nightclub setting straight out of Some Like It Hot.
  • Episode 2.10: The Inheritance is Weiner’s Hitchcock movie. It very specifically combines Rebecca and Rope, but really, it’s all of Hitchcock in a sweeping overview, and this is why I’d call it a genre rather than a specific homage to a specific film.
  • Episode 2.11: The Jet Set, is an Antonioni film (only better).
  • Matt talked about the Kubrick influence in Episode 2.13: Meditations in an Emergency. I have to say it doesn’t leap out at me.
  • I’ve thought it over and decided Episode 3.03: My Old Kentucky Home is a Fosse movie. There’s a lot of Cabaret in there: The singing and dancing as society crumbles around you, the young people struggling to find another way. Slattery in blackface, Roy Scheider saying “It’s show time!”; not so far apart.
  • Episode 3.05: The Fog is Douglas Sirk. I’m not an expert on Sirk, but I’m hearing it from all sides, so I’m going to trust you all.

Which brings us to this week. And after saying holy shit about a dozen times, I’ve gotta say: A Tarantino movie, Matt? Really? Holy. Shit.

At first I was thinking John Carpenter (who made a movie called The Fog, just by the way). The flying blood. The night terrors. But it’s more Tarantino, to laugh like that about it, and to mash so many other films together: Lawn mower and evil doll, and to spray blood like it’s part of the decor. To throw back his head and say “Yes, I am cutting off a foot! Because I can!” Even the title is Tarantino; building a reference to an actual, horrific event into a joke phrase is exactly the right sensibility for him. And the guys all sitting around in their t-shirts, which is both funny, and a visceral reminder of what happened, is surely Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield.

Not that having a foot cut off isn’t rich with symbolism. We certainly see Sterling Cooper, from Cooper and Sterling themselves on down, made lame by “the machine” (PPL). Lane being tortured by some really evil fucking bosses. This is a company, a group of individuals, screaming footless to an uncaring world. And not that the foreshadowing wasn’t elegant, from last week’s off-screen incident showing Lois, always a bit numb of the brain, incapable of operating a machine without causing an accident (scarf caught in the copier, and everyone laughed). And Roger’s bizarre story about his father being buried with only one arm”but at least it was manicured!

So is that what we’re getting? That the blood and the gore and the personal devastation matter less than the manicure, than keeping up appearances? Tarantino would love it.


  43 Responses to “Guy Walks Into a Film Genre”

  1. That whole scene of Lois slowly going towards disaster reminded me a lot of the movie Marnie, for some reason. The editing style was very Hitchcockian.

  2. Elizabeth, Roberta & I receive "screeners," which are advance copies of the episode so that journalists can write reviews in a timely manner. In general, our screeners arrive on Thursday or Friday afternoon.

  3. Something else that is being foreshadowed is the violence, blood and gore that completely wipe away the innocence of the era we have so far been traveling. JFK and Jackie's blood soaked pink suit (Joan's hospital scene definitely evoked that haunting image), bloodshed on TV from Vietnam, the Birmingham Church bombing and other brutal civil rights related killings, Malcom X, MLK, RFK, etc…
    If the 60's were compared to the Titanic, I think the show has entered the moment when we'd be seeing plates sliding off tables.

  4. Deborah, okay, thanks for the explanation. For a moment I thought you and Roberta could fly around the earth backwards and make time reverse. Or something. Anyway, great post. I myself find the whole series tremendously Hitchcockian. One of my favorite things about Hitchcock movies is the aura of hyper-normalcy (especially near the beginning of most of his movies) that masks the terror, violence, and chaos that are always underneath and that soon burst forth. Mad Men recreates that juxtaposition so well.

  5. #5, brilliant.

    #6, actually, we can do the flying thing. But we throw up afterwards.

  6. #7, Agreed on both.

  7. Psycho, shower scene = blood spattering on the glass.

    The foot was definitely a McGuffin. We saw the crash coming the minute we spied Lois' crazy eyed look. But we didn't actually see the severing until posto facto.

  8. Actually, the "Fog" comparison I keep hearing is David Lynch, which — yeah, pretty much, not that Betty's entire life doesn't kind of run along those lines anyway.

  9. I just rewatched Shoot (1.09) today with commentary, and Matt says it's very David Lynch.

  10. Personally, I'm leaning more towards Coen Brothers than Tarantino. While they both do a their fair share of blood-fueled humor, the Coens still treat the gore with a certain degree of seriousness that I find more in keeping with this episode. Sure they played it for some laughs, but they weren't actively winking at the camera either.

  11. #12, now that you say it, that foot was very accomplice-in-the-wood-chipper…

    I just watched the episode recap with Matt and he said this one was all about failed ambitions. Roger hit the nail perfectly on the head with his "foot in the door" remark.

  12. Matt's talked about this before–back when Pete's Dad died–that people start joking about tragedy right away. A guy walks into an ad agency…and gets his foot cut off in a freak tractor accident. Since we have no sympathy for the guy (we hardly knew him before they announced his ascension) it's very funny. One day you wake up on top of the world, the next moment you lose your foot in a tractor. It's a gory version of a guy slipping on a banana peel.

    That tractor could be a metaphor for the world's financial system in the last year. Lois is the equivalent of a sub prime mortgage on top of a triple tiered collateralized debt obligation. What does Ken say? It's very safe if you follow the instructions. Yeah, tell that to Henry Paulson!

  13. How did you get this post up within minutes of the ending of the episode? Amazing!

  14. Good reference, Deb — it was a surprisingly brutal sequence but it has all the vestiges of Pulp Fiction.

  15. also, for anyone who says, "that couldn't have happened," let's remember that 1963 was pre-OSHA. It wasn't created until 1970. Even the most basic machinery was deadly (still is in the wrong hands) and no one had yet realized that the Japanese had ways to automatically stop a piece of equipment if it ran into something, like a foot, that wasn't supposed to be there.

  16. #12, I thought a lot about whether this was a Coen or Tarantino style of violence. I turned it over quite a bit in my mind. I wasn't thinking about Fargo, I had more Miller's Crossing in mind. In the end, though, I do think it was Tarantino; obviously there's room for interpretation and there can be more than one right answer.

  17. #5 – ditto on brilliant. I did think of JFK as the blood splattered, and then it was capped with Joan's dress.

    Beyond the foot-in-the-tractor, what about the scene between Joan and the failed surgeon? As she shut off the light, I could just see her morphing into a woman trying to hold together a dysfunctional marriage and their place in the community, while covering up for an alcoholic doctor-husband someplace in a small Southern town. The type of place where one gets the New Yorker and belongs to the Book of the Month Club, but really where one mourns that one is stuck with all these hicks. It was ALL there on her face.

    And the Barbie. I had exactly that same Barbie, the brunette bubble hairdo. OMG! That is one scary looking doll. Why didn't that freak *me* out? Those eyes are just horrifying, in retrospect.

  18. #16 The blood cleaning scene was very Blood Simple, and there was a giant blood stain forming, also Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men. But the lawnmower itself was totally Pulp Fiction. No reason it can't be both!

  19. Also, earlier in this episode the British executives are seen indulging Bert Cooper by doffing their shoes outside his office.

    A lot of English feet in this episode – attached and otherwise.

  20. I know that it has been referenced here before, but there is a serious foot fetish thing running through the whole series; Miss Farrell and the maypole being one of the most recent and most obvious examples. I just never expected them to actually chop one off.

  21. And of course, Misery.

    I can't believe I'm the first to mention that, actually.

    Misery (shudder).

  22. It reminded me more of Airplane. Everyone is a bit loopy and the scene is improbable and surreal. . Even the "He'll never play golf again" moment had that feeling. Things are out of control, a disaster waiting to happen. All we needed was a line up of people slapping a hysterical Lois across the face. Normalcy restored by the cool demeanor and competence of Joan and the light hearted leavening of Roger.
    All's right with the world. All that was missing was a "Don't call me Shirley"

  23. liked the second use (so far) of dylan on the soundtrack. "song to woody" is a 1962 composition that july 1963 (that's where we are, isn't it?) folks would know. supposedly composed at the mills hotel bar in greenwich village on february 14, 1961–maybe while draper was reading frank o'hara down the way. described by one dylanologist as "assess[ing] the ill health of humanity, and humbly impl[ying] that its salvation lies in the hands of those who can effectively cast a mirror on its diseased soul before rolling up their sleeves and getting to work." which makes me wonder what kinsley was strumming on his guitar as the brits landed.

  24. The show as a whole is like Hitchcock every week for me, with the heavily indexed dialogue, psychoanalytic references, and plot-advancing cinematography. Last season it seemed like there wasn't an episode without a Vertigo callback, particularly towards the end.

    But this week, it's hard not to see Tarantino in the way they played the gore! What timing. Holy hell. I'm still double-taking. You know what really caught my interest, though, was the box in Pryce's office. Was anyone else thinking of Barton Fink?
    (I would link directly to the still of the scene with John Turturro on the beach with the box. However, once I ran across this guy's blog post on Barton Fink, I couldn't help but link to the whole thing.Dare ya not to read it!)

    The shot of Don in bed grinning at the light fixture rang some bells, was it Blood Simple? And of course, Fargo, with the leg and the wood chopper … so, yes, I do see some tributes to the Coens here.

  25. British blood was spilled on American soil for 4th of July!

  26. there's a difference, i think, between something being "in the style of" and a scene that's an homage to.
    for example, Joan on the accordion was very much an homage to Kubrick and the final scene in "Paths of Glory" when the young girl is made to sing at the tavern in front of the raccous soldiers. her innocent sincerity quiets the rabble and wins them over, much like Joan did.
    THE SCENE in GWIaAA was in the style of Brian DePalma (very much a Hitchcockian-influenced artist himself) in that it combined the cutting of Eisenstein with the malevolence and delibrateness of Hitchcock. oh sure, every film student is influenced by Eisenstein, it's the cutting back to the horrified on-lookers; but it's when you mix in the casual almost documentary-like gore splashing that you cross into DePalma territory.

    now to make it truly shocking, as it was in this episode, it has to be unexpected. we all knew something bad was going to happen, but (and this is why it didn't "jump the shark" imo) we couldn't have known it would be so horrific, poignant, funny and real. it was a clever stunt to be sure, but i don't feel it was a Deus Ex Machina to magically get them out of a dead end plot, but a carefully contrived comeuppance to the appalling Brits.
    (not the first time they've been defeated by drunken Americans, eh?)

  27. zatopa, I love Barton Fink but I haven't seen it in a very long time and I had completely forgotten about the box. Wow. Great pickup.

    You know, I can really see the Coen references, between the wood chipper and the box. Not to mention the way the spray of blood forms a pattern looks a lot like Albert Finney's bedroom shooting in Miller's Crossing.

  28. The "reward" box with snake in it is straight out of Kill Bill vol. 2 (sorry if that's a spoiler) – it's Tarantino, y'all.

  29. zatopa – I had the same “Barton Fink” reaction to the box. I was relieved that it was only a snake.

  30. ermm, sorry, should have mentioned: if you do click on the link to the Barton Fink blog post, and if you do scroll down, there’ a horrific holocaust photo in there. But you have to scroll down beyond the photo before you see it.

    Here’s a link to the photo alone.

    In the movie, there was dialogue to suggest that what was in the box was actually the head of his love interest. We never see this, it’s just implied. Which made me very uneasy when Pryce opens up the box, in a scene where his superiors are clearly handing him his head.

  31. sorry, meant to say "part" 2.

  32. The scene where Sally screamed and Don rushed in reminded me of Gone With the Wind, where Bonnie was afraid of the dark and mom Scarlett refused to coddle her, which angered Rhett. Betty and Sally have a very Scarlett/Bonnie relationship, I think. “Remember what happened to the little girl in Gone With the Wind?”

  33. @29 Lissie, when Betts held that caterpillar (crushed?) it too reminded me of GWTW “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!”

  34. I’m not familiar w/ Tarantino or the Coen brothers’ works, but I’m a big Hitchcock freak. The tractor scene was shocking and gory, but it also had suspense built into it in the style of the Master of Suspense. You doing it by letting the audience know something that the characters are oblivious. We were introduced to Guy earlier in the day and briefed on all his fabulous qualities. Joan and Peggy are just going on with their conversation, raising their voices as we hear the lawn-mower get louder and louder. Then the camera angles on Lois and WE see her face, unable to control the machine while everyone else continues to drink and laugh. Then WHAM! If they hadn’t built it up, the scene wouldn’t have felt right…just random.

  35. Missing toes take you out of business….no ADA, no sympathy.

  36. I thought Tarantino not Coen Bros, but that may be because I'm not (except for The Big Lebowski) a Coen Bros fan.

    @ Dragon Breath #26 re: Hitchcock & DePalma

    I'm reminded of what one of Our Lovely Hostesses commented when Betty made her dreamy slow-motion entrance to the restaurant in Season 2's For Those Who Think Young, "That's so Hitchcock it's DePalma!"

  37. The box! You're right about the Barton Fink ref. I still think the widening blood stain on the floor is the most blatant Coen-ism in the whole thing, but whatevs.

    Anyone who doesn't like the Coens and loves Mad Men should really see Miller's Crossing again, imo.

  38. Never got around to watching Miller's Crossing, Donny Brook, but I will put it in my queue. And you're right about the blood stain I think. Chris, I will totally take your word on the Kill Bill reference.

  39. On pandagon they have the clip where Lois is driving the lawn mower side-by-side with a clip of the Kennedy assassination. I haven't watched the latter, but they're saying the scene was shot to mirror it.

  40. Here's one you didn't mention:

    In Season One (I think), there's an episode where we learn that Joan has a lesbian roommate. That plot is DIRECTLY borrowed from the Merchant Ivory adaptation of The Bostonians. Another Ivory/James borrowing: Bert Cooper (see The Golden Bowl, where Robert Morse plays virtually the same character).

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