Archive for the ‘Robert Morse’ Category

Mad Men — seasons 1 – 4

21 Aug

Mad Men. TV Series. Life in big time New York advertising in the heyday of Madison Avenue in the 60s. Color 2007 to the present.


It begins so feebly in terms of direction, script, writing, costumes, interesting characters, period, business reconstruction, and with one exception, performances, that I could not imagine what the fuss was about. It was good to see Bobby Morse after all these years up to his invaluable mischief, but John Slattery seemed vacant in the part, which needed someone like Robert Preston or James Garner or William Shatner, or some actor with a good deal of imaginative sparkle behind him. One hoped he would ripen into the role with time. Elizabeth Moss as the little Catholic secretary from the Bronx who aspires to better things, seemed an interesting choice to play a character who remained usefully mysterious. She was, and she remained, always incorrectly costumed. In fact the designers get the female costumes wrong throughout, since everyone looks like they never wore their costume before and never would again and since the costumes mostly do not arise out of what women in business or home wore as everyday outfits. Women of that period on low salaries did not have a new dress every day. They wore skirts and blouses. January Jones is particularly the victim of this failure, since she prances into each scene caparisoned in bouffant dresses zinging with petticoats, which no one would wear in the home. As an actress she does not hold my interest nor does her attraction to her husband have any content, even sexual, no matter what is said. She is a character who bases her survival on appearances, her own particularly, and after she discovers her husband’s peccadillos and her idea of his appearance is shattered, she is reduced to playing relentless reproof. There is nothing behind her, not even an actress. However, it seems the actress is so good at it that it calls into question one’s ability to separate the actress from the role. Is her want of temperament a function of her part, or is it a deficiency in the performer? Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell seems perfectly cast, and his nastiness encourages one to watch further; he also can act like a June bug, so that’s okay. The leading actor, Jon Hamm, seems quite wrongly named since he is the opposite of a ham, for he seems to have no response mechanism as an actor at all. This plays into the secrecy of the character, and one notices that he is very good in the office scenes, where he can bust any man’s balls with a flick of the bitchdick of his mouth. But, if I buy it, I buy it reluctantly. He’s the sort of actor who either disgusts me or leaves me cold. I don’t want to watch his turtle eyes, I don’t want to watch his corseted mouth. I don’t buy the power of humorless taciturn males. I am repelled by his seductions — more than no one ever saying no to his wink, everyone must say yes, whether he wink or no. His struggle with his secret life lacks depth because the secret does, and once I meet her I wish the actress who plays his first wife had a lot more to do. His handsomeness is technical: he just looks like an advertisement for something. The settings seem all right, although they leave me with no sense of being in New York City exteriorly. And I am not convinced about the agency life at all. I worked on Madison Avenue in exactly the same size agency as this one, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, at exactly this time. There was no liquor in the offices, that I remember, not much womanizing, and while we all smoked we never did so to this degree. I have a friend who worked in a similar agency in Detroit (Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac – accounts just as big as General Mills which I worked on), and she says the cigarettes, liquor and womanizing in Mad Men are absolutely accurate, so somewhere they were. But what bothers me most is the lack of work being done. Our work areas were full of activity. I was a copywriter, and there were deadlines to meet and product obligations to be served. The excitement and paperwork and fear are missing here. This leaves us with the only person towards whom we can extend our hearts, curiosity, and allegiance, Joan Holloway, played by Christina Hendricks. At Dancer, Bud Greenspan had a secretary of her appearance, so I accept the physical type. Joan is the sort of female every man imagines himself to be not man enough for. For whether they are sexually attracted to her or not, because of her appearance, they take themselves as obliged to be in sexual relations to her. Hendricks makes her Joan a deep-hearted woman, Madame Wise, competent beyond all living expectation and easily so. Because of her stature, Joan appears tall, whereas Hendricks is 5’7”, but it is the carriage she has given her that gives her that. She both stands tall and stands asymmetrically. When she is viewed from the rear, she walks with a measured stride, her arms crossing in front of her. In the way she arranges for Joan to carry her head and shoulders, I am reminded of Louise Brooks, the movement of whose dancer’s shoulders moved everything in her being and drew you to her nature. Similar here. Hendricks’s hair is red and worn up, over a small head, with a rich expressive mouth and large wide-spaced eyes, a plus for any actress. She holds this head with great self possession on a long strong neck. The conduct of her head for this character instructs us in dignity, variety, and power. Hendricks makes of Joan a person with spine. For it is her rendering of Joan that draws one’s attention, respect, and care from the start, since, although masterful, Joan is overlooked in the power she obviously possesses for the power she might possess if allowed to. She alone is really vulnerable. I long for her to play Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. And I long through all four seasons for this character, Joan, to be given a chance, given attention, given the focus of episodes and scenes and story. So far it has not happened. But what does happen is that everything negative I have said about the other actors and this series on first impression dissolves as either irrelevant or corrected. I become compelled to see every episode; I set other things aside; I want to know what is to become of them. It is not just a case of the actors getting to be really good, as John Slattery by the second episode becomes, it is rather that they were good from the start. If the characters didn’t interest me, now the characters do. How this comes about, I cannot say. Can you tell me? I am become but one of many Mad Men fanatics. Surely by now the secret must be known.

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