Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Games of Thrones: Embiggening Men in "Blackwater" The latest Mad Men ("The Other Woman") presented me with more to think about than I can currently wrap my head around, but so too did the latest Games of Thrones ("Blackwater"), albeit it for very different reasons. So instead of delving into "The Other Woman" or drowning in the sudden narratological shift in "Blackwater," I'll focus on a fine point about shot construction in Game of Thrones. Before I do, however, I should note that I'm by no means endorsing the more problematic elements of the show—the racial politics foremost among them—because those strike me as endemic to sword-and-sorcery as a genre, so anything I write about them will inevitably be general and uninteresting to a fault. If you want a re-cap of the episode itself, I recommend Alyssa's, but for my purpose all you need to know is that 1) the great Peter Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister and 2) he commands an army that's on the brink of being besieged. Tyrion, in the lingo of the show, is a "halfman," and Dinklage's height presents difficulties for directors—if they shoot a close-up or medium close-up of him in conversation, his wit and intelligence will be diminished by the fact that his head's surrounded by a sea of crotches. The typical solutions to this problem are two-fold: have everyone he converses with sit down while doing so (as Thomas McCarthy did extensively in The Station Agent) or shoot him in extremely shallow focus so he's surrounded by a sea of fuzzy crotches. In "Blackwater," director Neil Marshall eschews both techniques, employing instead an exceedingly stylized compositional mode that would look ostentatious in almost any other context. To wit: The low angle of framing appears natural because Dinklage is the central compositional element in the shot, and because his height has been elevated by the fact that he's on the stairs. Moreover, the position of his head relative to the top of the frame is a conventional position for heads to occupy on film. That is to say, although he's no taller here than he ever is, Marshall frames him in a manner that diminishes the significance of his height—visually, Tyrion functions as a "man" in this shot, a fact that's emphasized by having him look down on Sandor Clegane, a "man" who earlier boasted not only of his love of killing but his size relative to that of another soldier. The subsequent point-of-view shot cements the impression: Afraid of the fire that Tyrion unleashed against the attacking force, Clegane returns to inform his king and his commander that he'll no longer be taking part in the battle. Marshall emphasizes his loss of social capital by shooting him from this high angle. Tyrion may be a "halfman," but in the eyes of all watching, Clegane is perceived as half the "man" he was. When the camera reverses, another clever element of Marshall's blocking and framing becomes evident: By situating Tyrion half-way down the staircase, he avoids the infantalizing effect of the...
Mad Men: Who owns "The Other Woman"? Most of what I read about the latest Mad Men ("The Other Woman") focused on Joan's decision to accept Pete's indecent proposal—and rightly so—but the title of the episode basically demands the audience answer the question "Who's the woman, and who's the other one?" As far as I can tell, the consensus seems to be that it's Joan, who unlike Megan and Peggy lacks a defined role in Don's life, but that strikes me as only significant in this episode and inconsonant with developments in the series as whole. Moreover, the final minutes of the episode indicate that while Peggy's role in Don's life may have been circumscribed by their working relationship in recent episodes, it bears remembering that, before Megan, Peggy and Don regularly confided in each other about things like the ramifications of unplanned pregnancies. In short, I'd argue that over the course of five seasons, Peggy's been Don's perpetual "other woman," and I think the structure of the episode bears this out. But first things first, let me remind you of a moment from the first episode of the first season. Don criticizes Peggy for allowing Pete to enter his office and steal research from his trash, to which Peggy responds thus: Don removes her hand, criticizing her again for attempting to manipulate him with her feminine wiles, then he comforts her: From the beginning, Don's seen in Peggy a potential unrelated to notion that woman are sexual objects designed for male consumption—and she's the only female he hasn't fathered that he seems to feel this way about. She's exceptional in that she'll always be "the other woman," the one he doesn't desire for reasons that can't be reduced to the fact that she's not conventionally attractive. Don's occasionally paternal, occasionally fraternal affection for Peggy seems grounded in the recognition that she, like him, doesn't belong in the social circles of the advertising world, as well as it's corollary: that she, like him, can produce better copy because they're of this world instead of in it. The last five minutes of "The Other Woman" seem to bear this out. Keeping in mind that closing an episode is akin to owning it—the final moments will be the lasting impression left on the audience irrespective of the events they capstone—it stands to reason that for all the attention paid to the means by which Joan attained a partnership, "The Other Woman" belongs to Peggy. The celebration that accompanies landing the Jaguar account—which should, if Joan's actions are the centerpiece of the episode, be front and center—is pushed off-frame as Peggy confronts Don in the hall. Here's Don about to join in the festivities: When he stops to talk to Peggy, director Phil Abraham cuts right in a manner that eliminates the celebration from the frame: As the conversation continues, the sequence of shots and reverse-shots diminish the significance of the celebration which now only exists in the diegetic space as background noise. It acquires a status not unlike the...

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