Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ad Man. Behind blue eyes.

“Mad Men” could easily have been forgettable, derivative, nostalgic, exploitive, superficial. Instead, it’s a great American novel that just happens to be a TV show. More specifically: it’s the great American novel about the 1960s that nobody ever wrote.

I used to wonder about that, back in the 1960s and ’70s. Why doesn’t anybody write a novel that really captures the 1960s? Well, gee. Great novels were written in the 1960s. Great novels about the 1960s, not so much.

With the advantage of hindsight and incipient decrepitude, I see the problem.

A 1960s novel doesn’t work from the perspective of a hippy, flower child, rock and roller or other mutant. It works from the perspective of the generation being replaced. It works from the perspective of Don Draper,  in other words. The adman, behind blue eyes.

And, yes, as we all know, ad men were excoriated back then.

Yeah, man. The Madison Avenue mentality, man. Like, first they alienate you, then they sell you stuff, you know? They brainwash you so, like, if you’re a man, you have to use Right Guard to be a man. Or wear a Maidenform bra to be a woman, or whatever. Like, the products you buy define your identity.

OK, let’s follow this logic …

As it is written in the unwritten hipster Bible, the consumer mentality is the root of all evil. Ad men created that mentality!

They’re the root of the root of all evil!

To a hipster, selling out is the unforgiveable sin.

But it’s one thing to sign the devil’s contract. It’s another thing to be the devil who wrote the fine print.

Which is exactly what the devils in the advertising profession do.

This idea crops up in untold satires. It’s the root of comedian Bill Hicks’ admonition that anyone ever involved with advertising or marketing should kill themselves. If you’re avant garde, a hatred of advertising comes with the territory.

Creator Matthew Weiner acted like none of that ever existed. He made his adman hero a freaking poet. And created a complex meditation on authenticity that I’ve written about at length before.
Which just so happens to be the great American novel about the 1960s that nobody ever wrote.
Which is not to say he was unaware of the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the hipster community. Just that he was able to put it out of his mind …

Until the end. The final episode.

When Weiner jumped feet first into the final contradiction.

The bohemian/hipster ethos defines self outside society as an atomized, non-conformist free spirit living in absolute existential authenticity as evidenced by fearless self-expression and no cop-outs, bullshit, false fronts or repression whatsoever. This free spirit doesn’t need to buy stuff to prove it exists. It doesn’t need to join the Army or the men in the grey flannel suits or any other mindless herd.

Sure, Mr. or Ms. Freespirit doesn’t need to. Right on.

Ah, but they can be part of a Woodstock-type tribe—free people can get together, not out of fear or conformity, but a freely chosen participatory koinonia—a genuine community without fascist repression, man.

Sure they can, said Don Draper.

And, along the way, they can buy the rock albums and blue jeans and soft drinks that show they belong to the community of the cool.

Which is why, in an insanely brilliant epiphanic synechdoche …

Weiner would have us believe …

That Don Draper dreamed up the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad.

In which a multicultural family of joy stands on a hilltop singing a song of fellowship and lifting Coca Colas to the sky.

The point is so brilliant I shouldn't have to spell it out. But I will anyway ...

Don Draper invented the 1970s.

It’s so !@# brilliant I want to punch myself in the face.

Or drink a Coca Cola.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Review: "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Well, kids. Director George Miller is at it again. No, not another dancing penguin movie. The fourth Mad Max flick. Without Mel Gibson, yet. Why not? Max is bigger than Mel.

Oh, don't act so bloody surprised. The Mad Max series is the Australian, punk rock, balls-out, sci-fi equivalent of Blade Runner. Of course it's bigger than Mel.

Now, let's talk about the movie. Spoilers will ensue.

OK. A plot summary would waste your time, but who said your time's that important? At any rate, your chronological loss would be minimal, so here goes. (I'll skip the post-apocalyptic set up -- you know that bit, right? Right.) So ...

Fast-forward to a rotten, near-future in the Australian desert. After eating a two-headed lizard, Max (Tom Hardy) is taken captive by a psychotic cult of motorheads led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), an unpleasant individual in a mesa citadel hogging a fresh water source and controlling a posse of radiation-poisoned "war boys" with aerosol drugs and visions of Valhalla. Tests prove Max is a universal blood donor, hence a "blood bag." So, they mask him up and chain him to the front of a customized, killer car like an S&M hood ornament. Off he goes on a raiding party. Then someone leaves the party, namely Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). She peels off with her tanker against the boss' orders. (With six of the leader's breeder wives down below.) The "war boy" with Max on his hood pursues. A chase and a crash later, Max and Furiosa form a reluctant team. They haul ass to her childhood home -- "the green place." Or formerly green. It's a stinking, toxic bog now -- so they head back to Joe's citadel, revolution in mind. There and back again, Immortan Joe and his badasses dog their heels in souped-up death machines straight out of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth nightmares.

200 words, give or take. Not too bad, eh? But let's boil it down further ...

First half: an extended chase from Point A to Point B.
Second half: an extended chase from Point B back to Point A.

That's the plot. As stripped-down as a Roadrunner cartoon -- and I mean that as a compliment.

Chuck Jones was no idiot. Neither is Miller.

This is smart sci-fi filmmaking, kids. Stupid critics have missed the point since the series started.

Mad Max's motor mayhem makes film snobs assume it's stupidity on wheels -- an ultraviolent cinematic monster truck rally. OK, that's exactly what it is, aside from the stupidity. A fierce intelligence animates Miller's dangerous vision. A fearless courage drives his cut-it-to-the-bone style

"Less is more." Yeah, that sounds nice. But minimalism is hard. A higher level of difficulty.

And that's Miller's style.

Spare dialog. Next to no expository blah-blah-blah. No idiotic voiceovers or crawls. Miller throws out nuggets of info; you either catch them or you don't. (Us English majors call 'em "synecdoches," yep.)

It's a damn hard way to tell a story, unless you do it exactly right.

Miller does.

With glimpses, hints and fragments, Miller does what sci-fi authors and filmmakers should do. The work of world-building. He shows us a self-consistent reality. A world that hangs together ...

What a rotten world it is.

A bleak vision. Which is kinda like saying the crucifixion was an ouchy boo-boo.

Forget the Cirque de Soleil ballet of killer cars and really look at it.

You'll see an ongoing illustration of Martin Buber's "I-it" relationship. A heartless world where the weak exist to be used. Breasts for milking; wombs for birthing; strong bodies for fighting; veins for fresh blood. If you're not on top, that's all you are. This is what happens when the resources are gone, and humanity's left fighting for scraps.

That's the Mad Max world -- and the nightmare. (One born of Miller's meditations on the limits to growth, I suspect.) But nightmare is the salient point. Or the nature of the nightmare. This bad dream explains the obsessive attention to detail, why Miller keeps making the same movie over and over, and why his crazyass film is, ultimately, so honest.

Miller didn't manufacture this lurid horrorshow to make the audience scream.

It's Miller's nightmare.

He's just getting it out of his system.