Saturday, December 31, 2011

For 2011

photo source
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. No, it was mostly the worst of times:
  • Apropos nothing, Woody Allen is to filmmakers what the Chrysler Corporation is to cars: each new offering comes with loud assurances that the bad old days of slapdash ideas poorly executed are over, and that the newest effort represents a return to quality. So it was with this year's Midnight in Paris, which, critics more or less agreed, was Allen at or near his best. Even if that's true for MiP, the problem with Woody Allen films is the problem with Chrysler's cars: even at zenith, it was never very good, Annie Hall and the glorious 1960s muscle cars notwithstanding. More in this same generous spirit appeared in this earlier post.

  • Jenny Diski cares not for Mad Men and its dalliances with nostalgia:
    The style of the Sixties in Mad Men is so relentless and polished in every detail that it actually deals a death blow to authenticity. It is caricature, not authenticity, and although that, in a David Lynch sort of way, can be thrilling and effective if you subvert the style to darker devices, Man Men isn't sure whether it wants to be pastiche or historical realism. It wants it both ways, and for me, it is this indecision, which feels muddy and expedient as opposed to subtle or sly, that is Mad Men's self-sabotage. [quoted from here]
    Indeed so on every count: it is absurd to imagine that a striving advertising agency in midtown Manhattan circa 1962 would place an above-average emphasis on fashion in its formal and informal dress codes; nothing on Mad Men approaches the genius of David Lynch's obscurantist garbage, because Lynch's work is (I gather) "subversive" and "dark" when deploying period-specific stylistic visuals.

    Beyond that, and above all, Diski is entirely right to bemoan Mad Men as a lost opportunity to remove the glossy haze from early 1960's dramatizations to reveal that, in fact, things were  complicated and vexed on the grounds of lived life -- and thereby to clarify the urgency of that critical acumen for our own times. If only it did that instead of just insisting on a beautiful caricature!

    Ah, if only Mad Men would dare to be as stark, candid, and uncompromising about those days as Diski's favorites managed to be, The Apartment, and that paragon of fierce social criticism featuring Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Lover Come Back. Those films had the courage go push through to expose the euphemisms, injustices, imbalances, and smiling atrocities of the day.

    Sarcasm aside, Diski is watching it wrong. Mad Men invites its viewers, yes, to indulge a little nostalgia if they have a reserve of it to call on for that period; but it goes on to invite the taking of measurements between how things were and how things are, and to draw conclusions. It demands the same measurements and judgments about the distances between that time's given stereotypes and its embodied realities. Do we see it clearly -- what we think we hate about it and what we think we love about it -- or do we see its heroes, villains, and shibboleths only as we prefer to remember them? That Mad Men does not, on the whole, supply easy, clean answers is among its virtues and what sets it apart from most everything else on screens, then or now. That it puts actors on beautiful sets and in gorgeous period clothing is a device to its ends.
It is not 1961 -- please somebody tell the GDP and the assorted champions of austerity. It's entirely possible it never was 1961 in the popular sense. There is nothing more to say of 2011, or of 2012, except to wish my remaining three readers all the best.

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