Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Mad Men: "Collaborators" in the Secret, Sacred Curb Dances of Suburban Love (Of course this is yet another one of those visual rhetoric posts. Can you not see all the pictures?) The title of the episode, "The Collaborators," is so obviously meant to be evocative that it almost sinks beneath its own freight. The episode's foremost "collaboration" occurs between Don Draper and his upstairs neighbor, Sylvia Rosen, who are acting out the transparent stratagems of Updike's titular Couples (1968). Though Updike's novel covers the time addressed in earlier seasons, its particular combination of adultry and war is relevant here: This pattern, of quarrel and reunion, of revulsion and surrender, was repeated three or four times that winter, while airplanes collided over Turkey, and coups transpired in Iraq and Togo[.] (161) Simply put, there's something about having sex while the radio describes some new front in the Tet Offensive makes The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit feel more like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. (And we well know how accurate that novel is.) Consider the first time Don and Sylvia play "collaborators." The scene begins with a point-of-view shot from Don's perspective as the elevator door opens on Sylvia and her husband, Dr. Arnold Rosen, arguing over money: It's significant that even though she's shot in profile here, Don's able to see her entire face. He can see more of her than she can of him; he exists only in her peripheral vision, if at all, whereas he can observe her from two angles. He's not spying on her, but he is paying attention to their private matter. When Dr. Rosen enters the elevator, she throws Don the most meaningful glance she can in the half-second that she has: The director of this episode, some clown by the name of Jon Hamm, uses this medium close-up to great effect. Remember that close-ups are meant to suggest intimacy, whereas medium shots are designed to give some sense of body language. In terms of scale, this medium close-up provides intimate access to her face as she shoots Don a plea, while simultaneously allowing enough frame to depict the familiarity of Dr. Rosen's body language. He's distant from her (emotionally) but doesn't know it (physically); she's distant from Don (physically) but acutely feels it (emotionally); and Don's somewhere back there on the elevator, but the camera's not aligned with his perspective anymore so his feelings are absent from this shot. (If it were his perspective, the eyeline match wouldn't be slightly frame-left.) But not from the scene. This is the first example of the "collaboration" between the two, so it should come as no surprise that after Dr. Rosen enters the elevator, Don remembers he's forgotten his cigarette: The medium shot is perfunctory, because its main purpose is to capture Don's exaggerated gesture. The fact that the gesture's exaggerated is important, or would be if Dr. Rosen were paying attention. (Which he seems not to be.) But Don puts on a show just in case and zips back up the elevator: To...

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