30 Day Television Challenge: Day Seventeen

Favorite title sequence: Mad Men

Mad Men is critically acclaimed for a number of reasons: narrative, characterization, performances, etc. However, the series’ greatest strength is its style. Set and costume design, direction, and cinematography are all gorgeous. Mad Men breathes with atmosphere. The viewer sinks into an episode like a recliner.

It should then come as no surprise Mad Men would have an extraordinary title sequence.

A title sequence is a show’s frontispiece. We do judge books by their covers, and a creator should take of that. A great title sequence introduces the viewer without giving too much away. It establishes the spirit of the series. The best title sequences include little of the show itself, focusing on mood, tone, and setting.

And this is what Mad Men‘s title sequence achieves.

Let’s have a look.

The sequence begins with a man entering an office. The room dissolves and the man falls amid skyscrapers and a heap of broken images. The images are predominately idealized depictions of suburban families and sexualized women. However, the man isn’t crushed by his fall; he is returned to a sofa, casually smoking a cigarette.

This is a figure who is in crisis but is managing to keep it under control. Just barely.

The man resembles Don Draper and is standing in Don’s office, but he is anonymously silhouetted. This makes both the figure and, and Don by virtue of association, archetypal.

Despite Mad Men being set in the 60’s, the title sequence is decidedly modern. The music is a sample of RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine”, a modern trip-hop track. Also, the graphics are heavily digitally rendered. However the images are 60’s ads and billboards. As well, the sequence draws heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Vertigo.

This anachronistic style creates a sense of timelessness. It tells the viewer that while Mad Men may be set in the 60’s, its scope is larger than its timeline. Mad Men is about the post-modern condition, what it’s like to exist in modern America.

(I always thought Jon Hamm would make a great Bruce Wayne)

The title sequence shows the construction of an identity, a mask. (FIRST SEASON SPOILERS) Don Draper is Dick Whitman’s mask. Dick used Don’s identity not just as a way to escape the war, but to escape his past and start with a blank slate. However, the past will not be erased, and Don is constantly on the verge of utter collapse (SPOILERS OVER). All his lies and philandering circle above like albatrosses, threatening to descend at any moment and snatch everything away from him. The title sequence expresses this anxiety; the sense of impending doom behind the confident swagger.

Nonetheless, we identify with Don despite his dramatic circumstances. We all have our masks we present to the public. We feel the gaze of capitalism and fear our secret selves will be revealed, bringing everything crashing down upon us. This is the human condition in the post-modern age.




~ by braddunne on October 15, 2012.

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