Pre-DJANGO

I have seen Django Unchained and will write about it soon, but in the meantime I checked out the archive to see what I had to say about Quentin Tarantino’s previous film.  I wasn’t crazy about it either for some of the same reasons.

From August 2010:

In the last week, I have seen the beautifully rendered anime film Ponyo, which is engaging, the movie adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is a mess, Inglourious Basterds, which cannot be so easily reduced to a single adjective, and lots and lots of episodes of the TV series Mad Men.  In some ways, the titles of the latter two – Inglourious Basterds and Mad Men – are both descriptive and could be interchangeable.  While the titles actually describe a fair number of characters in both, the narratives of the popular movie and the critically acclaimed but little watched television series are far from interchangeable.

I keep thinking about how Quentin Tarantino’s film is a mild disappointment to me while the original AMC show lives up to the hype.  In the end, I think it’s a matter of resonance and focus.  Both Inglourious Basterds and Mad Men are period pieces, which presents its own challenges in production design and narrative, and both are consciously engaged in social commentary, but the TV series eclipses the film for me by offering a series of narratives over time that hold together and create a larger ideological unity while the film offers a series of five chapters, not unlike episodes, that have some well-crafted moments and scenes but ultimately present a fractured work.

Sometimes bits and pieces offer a postmodern pastiche can come together to create moving images that are ultimately larger than the sum of the parts – I’m thinking of movies as diverse as Moulin Rouge and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which I believe is probably the film of  his that holds up the best.  Unfortunately, Inglourious Basterds does not rise to this level.  Simply put, some of the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle are intrinsically interesting, but they don’t fit together.

Mad Men, on the other hand, gives lie to the saying – and I’ve often said it – that there is nothing to watch on TV.  I admit that I missed this series when it premiered, then was turned off by the media hype.  But last week, I caught up.  You might say I became obsessed with the series by watching the first two seasons and the season three premiere over several days so I could be caught up by Sunday night, but I prefer to say that I took a late summer vacation and submerged myself in Mad Men instead of a pool somewhere.  I must say that Iam so glad that I dived into the series.  Mad Men seems fresh as a  multi-layered counterpoint to films and television of the early 1960s that depict the era as modern and uncomplicated.  Mad Men also contrasts with films like Revolutionary Road that cover some of the same terrain of suburban angst and the ill-fit of the gray flannel suit, but the series is more nuanced than most of those stories.

Mad Men deals with the issues of the day, particularly sexism and racism, in ways that let us look anew at how much culture really has changed in the last fifty years while also prodding us to recognize ways in which changes have been incremental.  But the series is also fun to watch.  This is what TV used to be like when there were shows you loved, those appointment TV episodes that you watched then discussed with friends and family because the drama was so compelling.  The good news is that the first two seasons of Man Men are on DVD, and that really is the best way to watch since AMC is not presented in HD.  You don’t have to choose between catching the latest Quentin Tarantino flick or staying in with a great TV series, but if there is a choice to be made, I vote for popping your own popcorn, putting your feet up, and taking a mini-vacation by diving into episodes of Mad Men.  It really is that good…

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