Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mad Men, part 2

I saw Revolutionary Road recently. If you aren't sure what movie I'm talking about, I'm not too surprised, since it lasted about five minutes in the theaters. It was released right after Christmas, to a public thinking about the election and the economy--a preoccupied public. I think the people involved in it felt that it would get Academy Award nominations and get noticed then, but it was pretty much ignored. Too bad, because I thought it was an excellent movie.

Mick LaSalle, of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a review that captured some of my feelings about the film really well. In his review, he mentions that it is baffling and irritating to hear the film being compared to Mad Men because the former takes place around 1955 and the latter around 1960. In his mind, those 5 years make all the difference. In my mind, those 5 years don't make a big difference. Now, 1960 to 1965...that's five years that would make a difference. To me, Mad Men and Revolutionary Road could easily have taken place at the same time. In fact, on the surface, both have the same themes of unfulfilled people getting the message from everyone around them that they're supposed to be giddily happy with their lives and finding that they aren't. In Revolutionary Road there are no hints of coming changes; in Mad Men, there are some hints (beatniks, interracial dating), but they are few and far between.

So, at the risk of being baffling and irritating, I do feel the two can be compared in an interesting way. Revolutionary Road made me realize that Mad Men is very stylized. The clothing and the furniture and room decor definitely are some of the stars of the show. In fact, people write about these things more than they do about the stories. That's a shame, but it's also a compliment to the people who put the look together. I remember the first show I watched, I was so dazzled by how much it looked like 1960 that it was about 45 minutes in before I realized that it was also a really good show. Revolutionary Road looked like the mid-fifties, but the clothes and decor (except there's this one great dress that Kate Winslet wears) are not the stars. If I walked into a room on Mad Men, I would think I was in a museum display of 1960. If I walked into a room in Revolutionary Road, I would see a combination of styles and years that are more like a real room and less like a collection of museum pieces. If I dressed in any of the clothes from Mad Men or did my hair like one of the characters, people would think I was wearing a very cool costume. If I wore clothing from Revolutionary Road, people would either not notice or think I was kind of doing a retro thing. Don't get me wrong about Revolutionary Road. The set decorations and clothing were probably very carefully chosen. The main characters, who see themselves as different from others, have rooms that contain sleek furniture and some modern art; the other suburbanites have rooms that have furniture that was stylish at the time, but this furniture (think Lucy and Ricky when they moved to the suburbs) is considered out of date now.

What these differences did was cause me to look at my own reaction to the two shows. In Mad Men, the date is an antagonist. As I watch, I think about all that we have available now that could really change characters' lives. If Joan only could go about 18 years in the future, she would be running the company. Sal, a couple of decades later, could express his homosexuality. Betty might not need to go to the psychiatrist who reports everything she says to Don if she realized that a lot of women feel they need to do something besides keeping house. Don't get me wrong. Life is never really easy, but still.

You could watch Revolutionary Road and think time was the antagonist, too, but I didn't. I think that the clothing and sets were purposely chosen to allow us to easily see ourselves in the place of Winslet and DiCaprio. Feeling hopeless and soulless is not restricted to any one time period. Ending up with the wrong person as a life partner is not restricted to any one time period.


Shushu said...

Hi, Vicki! Did you see this site?

The stuff is beautiful, and I thought it might be interesting for your students.


Ms. Baker said...

Shana: Thanks. It really is beautiful. I will share it with some of the teachers at my school, too. Every Tuesday, I do twenty questions to start class, and I can see getting the little sweeties to guess what they're looking at.