Bowler hats: Mad Men and Magritte

As ever, I am completely captivated by Mad Men’s latest series. This particular sequence from the Season 7 premiere (when Don departs his plane and meets Megan in a frosty-blue baby-doll dress) is especially memorable. While many have rightly pointed out the similarity that this scene bears to the opening sequence of The Graduate, I cannot help but see a little Magritte at work here too as Don descends into an anonymous rush of suited and capped men:mad men season 7 1 draper 2 draper 3 draper 5 draper 4mag1The Masterpiece/Mysteries of the Horizon, 1955, Rene Magrittemag2Decalcomania, 1966, Rene Magritte son-of-man-1964(1)Son of Man, 1964, Rene Magritte

And as I am on the subject of Mad Men, here’s one for, well, everyone: anyone who dismisses Mad Men as ‘slow’, boring, as having no development, and ‘nothing happens’ and equally, for those who already appreciate the wonder of Mad Men as it is, and simply want to learn a little bit more about why it is the special way it is:

“…They were uncomfortable with a movie like The Godfather or a story like the Odyssey, where the only thing holding the events together is the characters. Now, there’s this monster, this obstacle, but there’s no real progression—the hero just keeps trying to get home. Sure, Michael Corleone starts off as a young war hero and ends up as the godfather, but the wedding takes up the first half hour of the movie. People liked to talk about “act breaks” and “rising action” leading to a climax, but what about Apocalypse Now? Someone’s on a journey, and sure, we’re heading toward a climax, but there are so many digressions. To me, those digressions are the story…

…People would say to me, What’s holding this together? Or, How is this moment related to the opening scene, or the problem you set up on page 15? I don’t know. That’s where the character went. That’s the story. So many movies in the seventies are told this way, episodically, and they feel more like real life because you don’t see the story clicking…

…I liked episodic structure and I thought it worked. I still think it works. At the time I was especially interested in Billy Wilder and Fellini. I liked their grasp of tone, the way the movies are both funny and dark. You’re always scared and laughing and on the verge of tears somewhere in the middle of these movies. I could watch Sunset Boulevard and 8 1⁄2 over and over again. Everything you need to know about writing is in those two movies. How to tell a story, where to start the story, whose point of view it’s from, at what point you leave their point of view, when you should see a character in a scene by himself or herself—all this shit that drives you nuts when you’re trying to structure something. And then, the fact that there are no rules. That’s what both movies are saying—there are no rules, the audience is not as rigid as you think, and certainly not as rigid as the people paying for the movies to get made…”

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner on his early cinematic influences and the importance of episodic structure, in interview with The Paris Review, Matthew Weiner: The Art of Screenwriting No.4


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