Long before she was the costume designer for AMC’s Mad Men, Janie Bryant was known at her Tennessee high school as Miss Vogue, and it seemed she was destined for a life in the world of high fashion. After studying fashion design at the American College of the Applied Arts, she moved to Paris to learn the art of couture, and then to New York’s Seventh Avenue. But the screen always beckoned, and after meeting a costume designer at a party, she transitioned into a career designing for television rather than the runway. In 2005, she won an Emmy for the HBO Western series Deadwood. As the costume designer for all five seasons of Mad Men, she has both captured a particular period — men in grey flannel suits, women in lacy dresses, everyone, for the last time, in hats — and the incremental sartorial revolution that brought the starchy ’50s into the Modish ’60s. Her designs have captivated everyone from Michael Kors, whose Fall ‘08 collection bore her influence, to Banana Republic, which recently launched its Mad Men line. Here, Bryant shares selections from her sketchbook, including an early rendering of Joan’s eye-catching dress from the Season Five premiere, and explains how a costume travels from a napkin doodle to the screen.
Read more. [Images: Janie Bryant]
Brian McGreevy published a peculiar and profane essay on Vulture last year. In the essay, “Why Don Draper Is a Far Better Vampire Than Any of Twilight’s or True Blood’s,” the screenwriter-turned-novelist laments the “emasculation” of vampires in American popular culture. Whereas we once had menacing and handsome Byronic antiheroes, upholding the genre’s Romantic tradition, McGreevy claims that we now have Twilight and True Blood, which “is essentially what you would get if a Tennessee Williams play fucked The Rocky Horror Show Picture Show.” There’s nothing to be frightened of—and in McGreevy’s view, that’s a wasted opportunity.
In his essay, McGreevy argued that the only figure in American culture worthy of Dracula’s cape was Mad Men’s Don Draper: debonair, “magnetic and urbane,” and a danger to the women who get involved with him. You see, “men are predators at heart,” McGreevy wrote. “It is a killer’s heart that is the motive force of masculinity and predation its spirit.” Draper has that, McGreevy says, and what’s more, we’d be right to emulate him.
“You get certain people saying, ‘Oh, this is an extremely reductive point of view and offensively untrue,’” McGreevy told me in a recent interview. “And at the same time, I’d be getting private emails from women saying, ‘I want you to come over to my house and eat me.’”
McGreevy set out to correct the problem of the emasculated vampire with his first novel,Hemlock Grove, which came out last month from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Hemlock Grove is, essentially, McGreevy’s essay novelized. It’s a mystery story—who’s killing girls in the titular town, a dying Rust Belt hamlet?—and a mashup of many classic monster-story motifs. The heroes are two teenagers: Peter, a gypsy and, when the moon is right, a werewolf, and his new friend Roman, a tortured, rich, handsome, egotistical, pill-popping, girl-abusing, vampire type straight out of the Byronic mold. Roman, whose brain-damaged sister, Shelley, has been turned into a gentle, Frankensteinian giant, is the scion of the Godfrey family. The Godfreys’ steel holdings once dominated the area’s economy, but the clan has since moved into biotech. While they’re still fabulously wealthy, Roman’s mother keeps dark secrets (the least of them is that she’s having an affair with her brother-in-law). And the White Tower, the research facility founded by Roman’s dead father, is a site of strange experiments and a source of rumor and conspiracy; it may also have a role in the gruesome murders, which involve the girls’ being vivisected by some sort of wolf-like creature.
Read more. [Images: AMC/Summit Entertainment]
Few television characters have the ability to inspire such universal disdain as Mad Men’s Betty Francis. From her questionable approach to parenting to her vindictive, childish attitude, it’s no surprise Betty is the character fans most love to hate.
When it comes to her ex-husband, however, it seems fans just can’t get enough.
Despite his chronic womanizing, rampant alcohol abuse, and social prejudices, viewers have no problem sweeping Don’s imperfections under the rug. Of course he cheats on his wife. Everybody was cheating on his wife. Drinking to the point of oblivion on noon on a Monday? Sounds like a typical day at the office in 1960s America. And how about overt sexism, anti-Semitism and a general selfishness? Well, that’s just how things were back then. It was a different era.
Why doesn’t this excuse also apply to Betty? Like Don, she also embodies a postwar archetype—the quintessential white, upper-middle-class suburban housewife, who is polite and poised on the surface but carries looming anxiety and frustration underneath. Shouldn’t viewers cut her some slack, too?
Let’s say we do just that—evaluate Betty through the same historical lens as we do Don. How do the two stack up?
Read more. [Image: AMC]
This week marks two major events. One is the second anniversary of something that’s not that popular: the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. The second is the return to television of something that’s far more popular: Mad Men. The clear solution is to combine them in one awesome infographic.
There’s some good news. As everyone knows, levels of smoking have fallen precipitously. Cancer is more survivable. More women are doctors. But most of the news is bad. Alcohol consumption, shockingly, is actually higher now than in 1965. Obesity is higher. Diabetes is more prevalent. The most important thing to watch is the top line. It shows dramatically why some sort of health-care reform that controls costs is a pressing need for the nation. The hard part is just figuring out how that works. Frankly, we’d just as soon sit back with a full highball glass and the Mad Men season premiere.
[h/t: Dan Diamond]
It may seem unfair to pick on Mad Men for its language inaccuracies; after all, Shakespeare’s characters spoke highly untraditional English, and great shows like Deadwood routinely ran roughshod over any form of linguistic accuracy. But the careful balance of anachronism, in all its forms, is at the heart of the Mad Men’s mechanics far more than Shakespeare’s. We watch the show to revel in the foreignness of the recent past. The drinking, the smoking, the leering, and even the personal reserve all remind us that the modern world isn’t the only one. (This can be a problem, as Benjamin Schwarz wrote in The Atlantic after season two; it can be hard to be enveloped in a world so deliberately off-putting.) Weiner even deliberately plays with anachronisms: At the very end of the show’s first season, set in 1960, Don Draper returns home hoping to see his picture-perfect family in front of him. Instead he finds an empty house, and the season fades to black to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” It works perfectly well as a score for an abandoned husband; but knowing that the song wasn’t released for another three years adds the weight of the shift in decades to Draper’s plight. Weiner explained the choice to the Times as an attempt to outline the future of the show if it were cancelled.
Given that, the modern sound of Mad Men is certainly a flaw, if a minor one. It makes us feel more at home just where we shouldn’t. That raises an interesting question: can even the most common phrases disturb the environment if the vocabulary is too heavily weighted towards the modern? What seems to be the most ubiquitous mistake in Mad Men is so frequent as to be invisible: the phrase “I need to.” Modern scripts set in 1960s, including Mad Men, use it constantly: it’s about as frequent as everyday words like “good,” “between,” or “most.” But to say “I need to” so much is a surprisingly modern practice: books, television shows, and movies from the 1960s use it at least ten times less often, and many never use it all. Sixties dialogue written back then used “ought to” far more often than modern imitators do. I checked several movies and TV seasons from 1960 to 1965, and all use “ought to” more often than “need to”; every modern show I could find set in the ’60s does the reverse.
“Always fascinating, always inspiring — Ever new New York!”
According to the reports, two points of contention are stalling the deals between the network and Weiner: AMC wants to shave several minutes off the air time of each episode in order to run more commercials, and, to help trim the budget, the network wants Weiner to cut two characters from the cast.
Since the series is moving ahead with or without Weiner, it’s likely that AMC will get its way on those two stipulations. So which two characters should get the pink slip?
As a former contributor to the magazine (back when we were The Atlantic Monthly), we’d hate to see Ken Cosgrove unemployed, but should he be given a pink slip, he’ll always have a space between our pages. - JK
If push comes to shove, who would you want to see leave the show?
(Source: The Atlantic)