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Posts Tagged ‘Mad Men’

Signpost in a Strange Land

October 21, 2013 | by

canal_1950slarge

I’m worried about America. I’m worried about its bankrupt cities, its abandoned factories, and its intractable wars. I’m worried that the country faces “a crisis of confidence,” as Jimmy Carter declared in his famous “Malaise” speech, back in 1979. The recent shutdown of the federal government is just the latest indication that America has lost its “unity of purpose,” giving rise to “growing doubt about the meaning of [its citizens’] lives.” I love America—how can you not love the country that gave us jazz and barbecue and The Godfather Part II?—so I take no pleasure from these fatalistic musings. Instead, I find myself looking for comfort, and a sense of perspective, in a novel written half a century ago by another soul-searching Southerner. If Jimmy Carter gave America the “Malaise” speech, then Walker Percy wrote the book on it.

Published in 1961, The Moviegoer was Percy’s first and most widely praised novel, the highlight of a remarkable life in American letters that ended in 1990. His protagonist is a stockbroker in late-fifties New Orleans, a young man pursuing an interest in the movies and affairs with his secretaries, quietly dedicating himself to family and finance. But soon Binx Bolling finds himself on a “search” for a more authentic life, something that will measure and mark his existence against the passage of time. “The search,” he explains, “is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” Over the course of a fateful Mardi Gras weekend, Binx comes face to face with the same specter that haunts the rubble of postcrash America: “the cold and fishy eye of the malaise.” Read More »

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Garry Winogrand and the Art of the Opening

May 13, 2013 | by

Garry Winogrand, El Morocco, New York, 1955, black-and-white photograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchase, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Garry Winogrand, El Morocco, New York, 1955, black-and-white photograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchase, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Scroll down for a slide show of photographs by Winogrand, with audio interviews conducted during the March 6 opening of his posthumous retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Garry Winogrand (1928–84) was the first photographer to realize how much juicy comedy could be squeezed out of New York’s art and literary scenes. During the late sixties, early seventies, when he would arrive with his Leica at a Museum of Modern Art opening or a costume ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or at Norman Mailer’s fiftieth birthday party, he would sometimes announce to the crowd, “I’m here,” as if an event did not officially begin until he was there to record it. 

He was more right than even he might have guessed. Were it not for his mordant photos of those ragged, sybaritic evenings, best represented in the 1977 book Public Relations, it would be hard to imagine them. Mad Men and other dramatic re-creations tidy up the social anarchy of those years; Winogrand’s camera didn’t. From the haphazard lines of men and women awkwardly at ease, uniformed in black tie or a too-tight harem top, heads wreathed with cigarette smoke and piles of teased hair, ghostly moues cut with rictus smiles and rows of perfect teeth, he fashioned dark instants of sublime lunacy. Everyone and everything seems false or imbecilic in his party pictures, his eye exposing secret acts of disintegration within rituals of supposed public glee.

Behind his mockery of the self-satisfied and the strivers, though, is a winking acknowledgement that anyone can appear stricken when blasted by a flash at 1/125 of a second. Photography turns one and all into fools, including—especially—artists like himself, eager to hunt life and trap as many of its fleeting variables as possible inside a 35 mm frame but doomed to return empty-handed far more often than not. Read More »

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End of an Era

April 9, 2013 | by

ANNETTE & FRANKIE

Annette Funicello’s death, at age seventy, occurred one day after the Sunday night premiere of season 6 of Mad Men. The pilot of the show, you will recall, was set in the year 1960: the same year Annette Funicello segued from The Mickey Mouse Club (which aired from 1955 to 1959) to her career as a singer and performer in a passel of musicals produced in Hollywood, before the British Invasion transformed youth culture. Mad Men’s narrative trek through the decade now compels its protagonists to face the increasingly surreal and riotous mayhem of America’s social and political panorama in the late 1960s: the shift from “We Shall Overcome” to black power. Our total plunge into Vietnam’s quagmire. The generation gap. Two assassinations in 1968: the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Plus, of course, the incipient women’s movement. All that, set against a sound track ruled by the Doors, the Stones, and the White Album incarnation of the Beatles, whose aural evolution defined the whole epoch. 

According to one school of thought, the “real” 1960s did not unfold until well after JFK’s death, definitely after the onset of the Beatles’ psychedelic phase in 1966 (“Strawberry Fields Forever” in lieu of “She Loves You”), and eons after the earlier half of the decade was sweetly personified by Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in a slew of beach movies, replete with “Twist”-era rock-and-roll dance music. Of course, it was that earlier part of the 1960s—the Annette Era, so to speak—that first created Mad Men’s buzz. The meticulous re-creation of the fashions, manners, and mores of 1960–63 reminded (or taught) viewers how drastically different the first part of the decade was from the latter. Read More »

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A Week in Culture: Carlene Bauer, Writer

February 5, 2013 | by

-2DAY ONE

Tonight I went to my first Spanish class at Idlewild on Nineteenth Street. 7:30 to 9 P.M.. When I signed up for this class in November, shortly after I came back from spending a few weeks in Barcelona, I was flush with the joy of recent travel, and intent on injecting some novelty, intellectual and otherwise, into my life. I had an idea that I might try to make it back to Spain at the end of this year, and if that happened, I'd like to be able to do more than buy a few peaches without tripping over my tongue, or wanting to revert to French, the only other foreign language I know. And if that never happened, I would at least be doing something to forestall dementia. But as the intervening weeks, growing colder and darker, put more and more distance between me and that trip—I dreamed that, didn’t I?—I started to wonder why I’d done such a thing. It seemed as unnecessary and out of character as signing up for ten colonics through Groupon. But when, after the fifteen of us had gathered in a circle in the back of the store, and the teacher welcomed us in Spanish, something in me quickened in response to hearing the language. Maybe it was just sound as souvenir, but some sleeping dog in me perked up. Something similar had happened back in Barcelona, while standing in the La Central bookstore, looking at all the books I wanted to read but could not, feeling a strange urgency to get the key that would unlock what lay between those covers, a strange feeling that this was a language I needed to know deeper. Read More »

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Magic Hour: An Interview with Gregory Crewdson

September 27, 2012 | by

Still from Beneath the Roses

It’s difficult to quantify the strange magic of Gregory Crewdson’s photography, but here's a stab: his photos, mostly of American towns that could be any dead mill town (the colors too bright, the light too spooky) create such an evocative mood that the viewer becomes part of the story. His work has to the power to linger in the brain long after seeing it: on days when the light filters just so through the trees, when an average, mundane moment takes on the qualities of eerie, ethereal beauty, it’s very easy to identify it as a Gregory Crewdson moment, a particular alchemy of the earthbound and the spectral.

The documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters is a beautiful and contemplative look at Crewdson’s process, focusing on when he was working on Beneath the Roses, a multiyear project that brought film crews of sixty or so people to small towns in the Berkshires of Massachusetts to help produce his large-format photos. The film, a ten-years-in-the-making work directed by Ben Shapiro, is an intimate look inside Crewdson’s artistic process. Since that’s covered in the documentary, I wanted to talk to Crewdson about one of his big inspirations, the cinema. Crewdson invited me to his studio and home in the Berkshires, a former church hidden behind a fence, where we (along with another writer, Stu Sherman) had a free-ranging conversation starting with the movies and edging over into his work. We started, of course, with Mad Men, which Crewdson calls “the greatest work of sustained art in the past ten years, and I’d include any movie or book or art work, so that shows you what I think of it.”

When it comes to Mad Men, do you like the set design and period detail?

I think it’s perfect in so many different ways, but it’s so beautiful to look at, so exquisitely detailed and rendered. The light’s so beautiful and the decor all fits together like a complete, perfect set piece.

It’s funny that you love Mad Men so much. I have to admit that when I watch Breaking Bad—or even just seeing stills of characters, like of the wife, Skylar, on the bed—they’re very reminiscent to me of your work.

My pictures are very much influenced by movies, but it’s weird because now it seems like the opposite happens, and now it’s like the movies use my pictures as reference. It’s a dialogue or something. I guess it just happens.

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What We’re Loving: Eccentrics, Cult Figures

August 3, 2012 | by

All month I’ve found myself recommending Perry Anderson’s series in the London Review of Books on the birth of modern India. Anderson is hardly a well-kept secret; he is about as renowned as a Marxist historian can be. Still, his in-depth articles—on China, Russia, Italy, et cetera—are like nothing in any other magazine. Imagine the old Encyclopedia Britannica as written by the God of the Old Testament. He lays about him with a mighty hand. —Lorin Stein

I like biographies for beach reading. (And by beach I mean the roof of my building.) Lisa Cohen’s All We Know—a joint study of Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland, and a vivid portrait of between-the-wars bohemia—is just the thing: substantive, thoughtful, and juicy enough that you’ll risk a burn to find out what happens next. —Sadie O. Stein

If you are an eccentric, you will be thrilled to know that there is a club for you. It’s called, rather plainly, The Eccentrics Club. It’s based in London, was founded in 1781, and still exists. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t—it’s patronized by the Duke of Edinburgh, no less. The club’s stated mission is to promote, presumably just among eccentrics, “Good Fellowship” and “True Sociality”—“virtues which,” according to the club's rules and regulations of 1808, “are now getting rare and eccentric; but which it is the wish and intent of this Society to cherish within their narrow circle to the utmost of their power … in the occasional enjoyment of  ‘the feast of reason and the flow of soul.’” If you aren’t quite sure whether or not you qualify, do not fret, as the Society has a useful page to help you diagnose yourself. If you discover that you are in fact an eccentric, don’t get too excited: admission to the club is by interview only. —Arthur Holland Michel

Searching for Sugar Man—the story of Detroit cult singer-songwriter Rodriguez and his unlikely second act—is a solid, pleasurable documentary that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys crying alone at movies (I do). But even if you don’t catch it, check out the sound track: composed entirely of the subject’s own music, it makes a strong case for his place in the early-seventies canon. I’ve had Cold Fact on repeat for the past week. —S.O.S.

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