Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Everything in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" that pertains to neither chrysanthemum nor swords. I can't counter Lemieux's endorsement of Matt Zoller Seitz's recap of "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," but I would like to register my annoyance with Seitz for setting the bar so high. Particularly annoying is the fact that Seitz discussed at length the most salient visual element of this episode, i.e. "the interplay of close-ups and wide shots on the show, specifically how the camera will start very close on characters' faces, encouraging our empathy, then slowly dollying back to put them in a context." I noted this dynamic in my analysis of Peggy and Pete in "The Rejected," but Lesli Linka Glatter structured the entirety of "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" around it. The one point on which I'll differ with Seitz (and Jefferson Robbins, whose work Seitz discusses there) is that with characters who are unaware of the larger context, the shots often begin wide before moving in for a close-up. When, for example, Sally cuts her hair, the scene does open with a close-up, but not one that encourages empathy: Glatter, having established the true object of the characters' attention, then pulls back behind the couch in order to create a space for Sally to enter: While it may seem as if the shot that follows works to establish empathy, the logic of the scene makes me think the decision to go with the close-up here is more pragmatic, as viewers would be unable to tell from a remove that Sally had lopped off her hair: I say that because after this close-up, the Glatter isolates her for while the babysitter frets about Don holding her responsible for Sally's actions: When the camera does return to a close-up, it does so not to create sympathy, but almost ironically: not for the last time this episode, Sally will have unwittingly done something that will cause someone else grief. The close-up emphasizes its own futility, as it demonstrates the distance between Sally and her interlocutor, be it her babysitter, her father, her mother or the man from U.N.C.L.E.: This scene will surely draw the ire (not to mention critical attention) of many, but instead of focusing on the rather tame thematic element—it turns out that even if they never watch an episode of Jersey Shore, children still experiment with their sexuality—I want to concentrate on the intimacy actually created by these shots. (If only to contradict myself a bit.) This moment of centering the shot on the television differs from the previous because it cuts to the following close-up: Unlike before, where the shot following the television pulled back, indicating a lack of total engagement with the image on the screen, here Glatter shows viewers that Sally is finally connecting with someone, albeit someone on a television screen. Her brother and their sitter passed time passively watching a cartoon, but for reasons the show has made plain, Sally is in desperate need of someone who can restore a sense (however imagined) of security to her world. Glatter provides her...
Mad Men: "Enforced intimacy" in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" Thirty-six minutes into "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," a surprisingly intimate conversation between Don and Dr. Faye Miller takes an uncertain turn when the subject of analysis comes up: "Why does everybody need to talk about everything?" "I don't know, but they do." Which reminded me of this exchange from Waiting for Godot: "What do they say?" "They talk about their lives." "To have lived is not enough for them." "They have to talk about it." I've elided who said what in both cases because it doesn't matter: these are people who are talking about other people talking about their lives. Their hypocrisy is a function of the scene itself. Or is it? Discussing a life, as Draper and Miller do, with relative strangers in a structured work environment doesn't count as "talk[ing] about everything," whereas going to a therapist, who is a relative stranger, and discussing a life with him or her in a structured therapeutic environment does. The weight of the phrase, then, either falls on "talk" or "everything," because the two of them are either not "talk[ing]" or they are, but not "about everything." Except they are, manifestly, doing both: they are in a kitchen-type-area discussing his divorce and his child learning how to masturbate and entering therapy. Few items could be more "about everything" than those, and as if to press the point that they are "talk[ing]" about something significant, the camera pulls in tight for the final reverse shots: What began as a semi-professional conversation filmed in a medium shot has become, as if by the power of the social lubricant provided by the sake they share, a medium close up. The shot becomes more intimate as their conversation does; that is, they insist they are not "talk[ing] about everything," but the camera suggests otherwise. I mentioned the Beckett above because Draper and Miller embrace the complaint in the first, second and fourth lines while denying the validity of the third: to have lived is, apparently, not enough for them either. To "talk" is the only way for them to establish the intimacy the camera—if not the entire scene—imputes to them. Consider how it opens: Draper walks in with a bottle of sake, but moves so silently that he startles Miller, who despite possessing a doctorate and working in an office, is washing dishes in stockinged feet. The scene begins as a recapitulation of one the show has presented innumerable times: Draper walks into a kitchen to find a blonde behaving in a wifely fashion and pours himself a drink while offering her some small talk. For example, this scene from the second episode, "Ladies Man," even follows the same the conversational pattern and shot sequencing as the one above: As the small talk turns to more important matters, the camera moves from a medium to a medium close-up. The difference, of course, is that the blonde in "Ladies Man" is Betty Draper, not a professional colleague. Such an intimacy between a man and a...

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