Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Relatively Docile Men

Well, the mail is late to deliver my Netflix, and I have to get to a screening of Bright Star in about an hour and a half, so no Movie a Day today. That hasn't really ended up being the daily feature I expected, but when you factor in a review of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, I've gotten pretty close. I have been at least WATCHING a movie every day, but if they're in theaters I tend to write about them as more official reviews.

ANYWAY...the whole feature also got bumped because I was caught up in finally catching up with the first season of Mad Men, which is just the best thing...well, the best television drama since we lost The Sopranos (I love Lost, for the record, but let's have no illusions about that). It's not perfect, I have to remind myself that. It hardly leaves a stone unturned, for example - very rare is the one-off subplot that isn't resolved in any way (and, from the "spoilers" I've heard about the second season, many of the unturned stones will not remain docile for long). It also indulges too frequently (read: at all) in anacronisms for anacronisms' (try pronouncing that...I dare you) sake.

This kind of humor is, to me, the absolute lowest, as when they introduce an electronic typewriter and the latest piece of technology and we're all meant to chuckle at "oh, gosh, how quaint things were back then." For Almost Famous fans in the house, it's the "it only takes eighteen minutes per page" moment.

But, of course, it also lets modern people off the hook when viewing the bounty of racism and sexism and...other forms of bigotry on display (never mind such socially unacceptable behavior as bringing a gun to the office). We can look back and pat ourselves on the back, marveling at how far we've come. Obviously the problem here is the balance between placing us in a context in which these things were said and did happen all the time, and thus must be a part of the show, and indulging in it. For the most part, though, that sort of stuff didn't bother me at all.

What strikes me about the show, structurally, is a) that it basically stole its entire rhythm from The Sopranos whole cloth, and b) that a great many scenes have a very similar set-up. It follows as such: one of the main characters will be confronted with someone able to open up and be completely honest about him/herself, and his/her intentions, but because of repression or expectations of politeness or whatever else you want to label it, the main character is unable to reciprocate or even move the conversation forward in a positive way, choosing instead to change the topic entirely or excuse him/herself.

What might be even more fascinating is that this never seems to get old. In film school you're told again and again that conflict is everything, conflict drives the piece (the extent to which I buy into that can be discussed another time, but in short...yes, that is one way to tell a story), and so often lazy writers, actors, and directors will take that to mean characters have to fight, that opposing points of view have to be laid to bear. It's, frankly, exhilarating to see so much conflict ignored, suppressed, and just completely shoved beneath the surface.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the series is much more aesthetically assured than the majority of films I saw this year. There are almost no handheld shots, and it was never (to my recollection) used in the most lazy way - to tell us that there's conflict. "Whoa, that camera's going everywhere, anything could happen!" I feel a deep need in me to set fire to the movie theater every time they take the camera off the tripod for the sole purpose of telling us that conflict is happening.

Ahem...onto season two!

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