Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
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A few images from last week's "Mad Men" (or, as I often think of it, "The Peggy Olson Show Featuring Don Draper") to illustrate why composition and framing (aspects of what you might call cinematic architecture) make a world of difference in how a scene works... or doesn't. This episode, "The Rejected," was directed by John Slattery (who, as Roger Sterling, perfectly accents the new office design) and photographed as usual by Christopher Manley (overseen, of course, by series creator Matthew Weiner). Captions appear beneath the frame grabs below:
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is falling apart, and the first shot shows him tethered to a phone cord, chain smoking, backed into a corner, with the ceiling closing in on him (as ceilings often do on "Mad Men"). The sight of Don compulsively puffing, lighting one smoke with the butt of another (he's on the phone with the notorious Lee Garner [Darren Pettie] from Lucky Strike, Sterling Cooper Draper Price's most financially important, and asshole-ish, client) is just the opposite of the way you would expect the well-groomed star of a TV series would be introduced -- especially in 1965. It turns out the subject of the call has to do with both cigarettes and television: the new FCC regulations for advertising cigarettes on TV. There's a delayed punchline a few shots later, when Don explains to Lee that certain camera angles are also prohibited -- like low angles or wide lenses, "anything that makes the smoker appear super-human." Yeah, we've seen that at work.
"Mad Men" has always been about compartmentalization: personal and professional, past and present, city and suburbia, accounts and creative... At first I didn't much like the new, glass and monochrome office spaces, about which silver fox Roger Sterling (John Slattery) remarked: "I feel like with my hair you can't even see me in here." Leave it to director Slattery to make the most out of these spaces in one of the finest episodes of the series (and leading contender for my favorite movie of 2010), "The Rejected" (Season 4, Episode 4). I put together this little wordless video essay about doors, windows, mirrors, transoms, hallways, pillars, screens, reflections... and I'm working on a frame-grab photo essay that gets into more detail about the exquisite direction and composition.
I've deliberately left out huge, important chunks of the episode that don't take place in the office -- but had to include Pete's magnificent shrug (with mirror, bar, decorative screen, and the unseen room down the hall), to contrast his apartment with his office, and the small framed mirror with the wall-sized observation mirror at work. The episode is mostly about Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) going in different directions, discovering new ways to open or close doors between their work and personal lives, contrasted with Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who begins the episode chain-smoking and drinking during a four-way phone call, his office a tangled web of coiled cords. Notice all the cross-sight-lines communication going on (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) -- people watching other people, exchanging glances or sight-unseen, through various frames in their separate compartments -- culminating in Don's seduced-and-ignored secretary Allison (Alexa Alemanni) staring the wrong way through the two-way mirror and looking Don right in the eye, unsettling him by seeing him for who he really is.
Both Pete and Peggy find themselves banging their heads against work surfaces in frustration/resignation, but the episode gives them a moment of grace, through glass doors in the reception area, in a brief, wordless coda I've included almost in its entirety. Peggy is leaving for lunch with some of her new boho friends; Pete is standing around with some suits ("new" clients, including his father-in-law), waiting for Don so they can have a business lunch. (BTW, I couldn't squeeze it in, but the shot of Pete knocking his forehead against the post in his office is followed by a shot of Peggy getting into the elevator -- much like the last shot here -- in which she first meets the LIFE photo editor who introduces her to the Village crowd who come by to get her at the end.) Man, what a terrific movie this is!