Lost in the Movies: September 2019

Mad Men - "Three Sundays" (season 2, episode 4)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 24, 2008/written by Andre & Maria Jacquemetton; directed by Tim Hunter): "Three Sundays" not only unfolds over three Christian sabbaths (as well as a few days in between), on each Sunday - well, the first two Sundays anyway - it flips between three perspectives. On Passion Sunday (the kickoff to the final two weeks of Lent, stripped from the Catholic calendar seven years after this episode takes place), Peggy is in Brooklyn, Don is in Westchester, and Roger is in Manhattan. On Palm Sunday, all three are forced to come together to work on the American Airlines campaign, since the executives of that company have decided to come calling on Good Friday rather than later, as originally planned. And on Easter, we stick with just Peggy at the Brooklyn church whose pews provide the backdrop for each Wes Anderson-esque opening to the various Sundays. On the first Sunday, Peggy meets the church's new pastor, the young Father John Gill (Colin Hanks). He seems to take a fancy to her, leaving her family's luncheon (held in his honor) once she's left, and even soliciting advice for his Palm Sunday sermon after learning that she's an advertising copywriter (a scene in which he suggests a certain Pete Campbell-esque diffidence). He's disappointed by her absence for that sermon a week later, and Peggy's sister Anita picks up on these irritating signs. Before the next Mass, Anita goes to confession and conveniently - if also perhaps sincerely - tells the priest all about her sister's sins as well as her own. On Easter, a muted Father Gill watches a child toddle around and then hands Peggy a painted egg "for the little one." Her face sinks as she realizes what he must know.

Roger's arc is the most limited of the three characters, although it wouldn't be a Tim Hunter episode without him, would it? He goes out to dinner with his family and grimaces as his daughter puts off her wedding (and his wife reminds him of theirs), runs into a call girl at lunch with several of his employees and a client (whom she claims is her husband), is mildly disappointed when Pete has to break the news of her real identity to him, and finally procures her services which she unceasingly reminds him are indeed services, and well-compensated ones at that. Don, meanwhile, observes Passion Sunday without much passion - awakening from an erotic dream, he's interrupted by his children before he can make love to Betty and later in the day little Bobby gets into trouble for touching a record on the family stereo. On Palm Sunday, Bobby burns his tongue on the pancake griddle just as Don gets a call from the city and is forced to bring his daughter with him to the office where the whole Sterling Cooper crew gathers in their Sunday casual best (Pete's golfing gear is especially noteworthy). It's all for naught on Good Friday when Duck, Easter egg splattered all over his face a few days ahead of schedule, informs the gathered admen (and women - both Peggy and Joan are present) that his inside man at American was just fired, and the deal is almost certainly off even though the execs are still attending. That night, a pissed-off Don rejects Betty's admonitions to discipline his son, shoves her, and then admits that his own father beat him mercilessly. "All it did was make me fantasize about the day I could murder him."

My Response: 

September 2019 Patreon podcasts: LOST IN TWIN PEAKS #8 - Season 1 Finale and LOST IN THE MOVIES #58 - Twin Peaks cinema - The Double Life of Veronique (+ favorite films archive #12 - 2: Jammin' the Blues, Citizen Kane, It's a Wonderful Life, The Godfather Part II, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gimme Shelter, Stille Nacht I-IV, The House is Black, Day of Wrath, Vertigo, Lawrence of Arabia & Twin Peaks Reflections: Trudy, Gerard, Eileen, the general store, the mountain top, Packard Saw Mill fire/Access Guide)

Which doubles do you think the Veronique/Weronika pair corresponds to most closely in Twin Peaks? Maddy and Laura? Dougie and Mr. C? Laura and Carrie? Another duo entirely? I share my own thoughts this month - including much broader, looser, and poetic links between Lynch's and Kieslowski's 1991 productions - but I'd love to hear yours.

The $5/month patrons reach the end of my first season rewatch this month as I discuss Mark Frost's shining solo moment in Twin Peaks (addressing his directorial debut on Hill Street Blues in the mix). And then take a deep breath, because on the first day of October we'll be diving right into this episode's eerie, mirror-image doppelganger as season two begins...

With The Double Life of Veronique anchoring my main podcast for September, I also reflect on a trio of characters, a couple locations, and a storyline linked to the first regular episode of Twin Peaks, using the Access Guide book as a correspondent to the Packard Saw Mill fire plot. And the "Opening the Archive" favorites series cracks my top ten, leaving just one for next month...

And I unlocked my Lost in Twin Peaks coverage of the pilot's follow-up for all patrons...

Podcast Line-Ups for:

Mad Men - "The Benefactor" (season 2, episode 3)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 10, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner & Rick Cleveland; directed by Lesli Linka Glatter): After featuring prominently in the previous episode, Pete is entirely absent and Peggy makes only a brief appearance, looking very uncomfortable as her co-workers screen a TV episode about a hidden pregnancy. Surprisingly, it's Harry Crane who steps to the fore; the timid, bespectacled writer is growing claustrophobic in his shared office, and when he "accidentally" opens Ken Cosgrove's paycheck (to see that it's $100 more than his own), he begins to wonder if he should just fly the coop. Calling a friend who works at CBS, he gets another idea instead and pitches a controversial abortion-themed Defenders to the Belle Jolie lipstick company. The representative doesn't bite but is impressed nonetheless - and Roger Sterling is too. Harry is promoted to the head of the one-person "television department" and summons up the courage to ask for a raise. He proudly returns to his expectant wife to announce that he now earns $225 instead of $200, although he hesitates to tell her the subject of the episode that vaulted him to a (slightly) higher level.

Meanwhile, Don's secretary Lois falls while Harry rises; Don fires her when she proves unable to "manage expectations" one time too often, and Joan temporarily steps into her place. Don's primary task in "The Benefactor" is to manage a troublesome client, the cutting and often drunken comedian Jimmy Barrett (the always-unsettling Patrick Fischler, seven years after Mulholland Drive and nine years before Twin Peaks). Jimmy has brutally mocked the overweight wife (Jan Hoag) of Hunt Schilling (Steve Stapenhorst), the owner of Utz Chips. Don's attempt to smooth things over involves a dinner date with himself, his wife, the Schillings, and the Barretts: Jimmy and his wife/manager Bobbie (Melinda McGraw). There's a lot more going on here than just a business arrangement - Don has already had a fling with Bobbie and he may be as eager to wield Betty for her benefit as for Jimmy's (who acts absolutely smitten). When Bobbie tries to force Don to bribe her into making Jimmy apologize, Don shoves his hand up her dress and threatens to destroy her husband/client if he doesn't comply. Jimmy says he's sorry and on the way home, Betty begins to cry - not because of the cynical way Don exploited her (or any suspicion of his behavior with Bobbie) but, ostensibly, tears of joy because she's glad that she and Don can spend time together this way, working as a team.

My Response: 

Black Panther (The Unseen 2018)

"The Unseen" is a series in which I watch popular films for the first time (reviews contain spoilers). The list, which moves backwards in time, is based on the highest-ranked film I've never seen each year on Letterboxd (as of April 2018). Black Panther was #1 for 2018.

The Story: After a terrorist attack on the United Nations kills his father, T'Challa becomes king of the African nation Wakanda. Presenting itself to the world as a humble agricultural country, Wakanda is actually a bastion of advanced technology, secretly developing flying ships, weapons, and clothing like the highly responsive, skintight, bulletproof "Black Panther" uniform. The king wears this costume while engaged in battle or more smallscale combat, for example pursuing the ruthless arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to South Korea, allowing him to slip from mythology into the familiar superhero dynamics of the Marvel universe. Tasked now with ruling and defending this kingdom, T'Challa struggles with doubts about his readiness for the monarchy, discovers a dark secret from his father's past, and both loses and reclaims his throne, returning from near-death in the process.

If he is the central, title figure, the primary plot arc is nonetheless driven more by T'Challa's nemesis Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a Wakandan by birthright but an American by upbringing. Scarred by the poverty and persecution he saw around him as a child, orphaned at a young age when his father was killed, and radicalized by his father's belief that Wakandan technology should be used to help in the struggle of the oppressed, particularly those of African descent, Killmonger grew up to become a black ops combatant in the U.S. military, racking up kills and subverting governments around the globe. He assisted imperial conquest with the long-term goal of subverting the empire once he was trained enough to assume the Wakandan throne and lead a worldwide revolution. It is Killmonger whose family tragedy launches the film and whose needs and desires drive many of the narrative turning points - and he is the film's most striking, memorable character.

The Context:

Mad Men - "Flight 1" (season 2, episode 2)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on August 3, 2008/written by Lisa Albert & Matthew Weiner; directed by Andrew Bernstein): The strange, strained relationship of Don Draper and Pete Campbell takes a new twist in "Flight 1", although they only have two scenes together - one of them quite short. In the first scene, Pete stumbles into Don's office as if in a daze. Earlier that morning, everyone in the office huddled around a radio in stunned silence, listening to news of an American Airlines crash into Jamaica Bay off Long Island. Before long, jokes broke the mood and Pete pitched in a few of his own, but at this moment he isn't laughing. We don't know why yet, although we may suspect: he's just come off a phone call with his brother. As he walks out of his corner office, everyone is carrying on as normal yet there's a slightly eerie tinge to the character's point of view shot, suggesting a heightened yet vaguely disoriented awareness (I thought maybe his reaction implied that his wife was pregnant, which says something about Pete I suppose). Then Pete tells Don, and no one else, that his father was on that flight. Don pours a drink, offers advice ("Go home. Be with your family," and above all, "Do what you're supposed to do"), and a reminder of the Dick Whitman affair as Pete asks if Don would go to his family's side if his father died. Don says yes, and Pete narrows his eyes in an oddly-timed bout of curiosity and queries, "You would?"

Their second scene follows another uncomfortable (how often that adjective arises) encounter between Pete and a co-worker. Duck is chomping at the bit to chase American Airlines as a new client; a contact at the company has tipped him off that they're seeking a new direction after the disaster. Don - despite bringing Duck to Sterling Cooper a few episodes ago - has clearly developed a hostile position towards Duck (and vice versa), only heightened when he's forced to dump Mohawk Airlines, a smaller rival whom he'd personally cultivated. In a cynical move delivered with graceless manipulation (a specialty of his) Duck visits Pete's office to offer his condolences, flatter him, and invite him to participate in the upcoming American meeting. Pete declines the awkward offer but we can see that he's adrift - he never got along with his father, isn't sure how he's even supposed to react to the patriarch's death, and turns to Don for some sort of guidance. But Don is in a foul mood and sharply shoos Pete away when he wanders into Don's office for the second time in several days. Had he let Pete speak, perhaps a plan could have formulated to save the relationship with Mohawk and stop Pete from going down this new road. Instead, the young man appears at Duck's meeting after all, unannounced and willing to work which shocks and impresses the American rep Shel Keneally (Vaughn Armstrong). Although Pete clearly just saved a deal that might have cost Duck his job, he's also revealed that he's much better at playing this game (or at least playing with a much stronger hand) than the senior adman - who looks both nervous and relieved at this turn.

Elsewhere in the office, Joan snarks at Paul when she discovers he's dating Sheila (Donielle Artese), a black woman who works at a New Jersey grocery store, and Paul gets revenge by posting Joan's real birthday in the copy room - revealing that she's actually in her early thirties. At home, Don and Betty have friends over to drink and play cards, and Betty vents about her son's propensity to cheat and lie (he traced a picture of George Washington which he passed off his own drawing, and soaked in the praise, which she finds reprehensible). Peggy, meanwhile, visits her own family homestead, where she is guilt-tripped by a Catholic mother Katherine (Myra Turley) and quietly resented by the sibling, Anita (Audrey Wasilewski), she left behind in her own rise up the professional ladder. There are hints of why she's there, beyond just dropping off a vacuum cleaner and saying hello to her mother and sister who are living a world away over the East River. A baby bib hangs from the wall near some cups and as she's about to leave, her sister asks, "Don't you even want to see it?" And so Peggy peeks behind a closed door to glance at a sleeping infant. The next day in church, her sister (quite pointedly) drops the baby off on Peggy's lap as she and her mother go up to communion, and Peggy stays behind. The child instantly begins crying and Peggy's anxiety rises. Both she and Pete are flooded by confused emotions when their relationships to their own kin aren't what they're supposed to be.

My Response: 

Working on videos + The Unseen, Mad Men & Movie Reviews: a fall update

For the next few months, I will publish Mad Men viewing diaries on Mondays and movie reviews, updates, and other content on Wednesdays - including the launch of a monthly “Unseen” film series - as I work on Journey Through Twin Peaks and other video essays behind the scenes.

When I introduced my Path to Journey Through Twin Peaks work schedule this spring, I was careful not to set a hard premiere date for the new video series. I’d made this mistake before; everything always takes longer than expected. Sure enough, although the very specific tasks of creating six months of podcasts and writing a viewing diary for Veronica Mars were completed in the time I hoped, the next two stepping stones to Journey - researching Mark Frost and re-designing my site - ended up swallowing the entire summer. Frost’s books ended up being consigned to a small window in the evening (they’re now accompaniments rather than prerequisites to creating the series). And the re-design ended up taking everything over, although it was worth it (I’m still checking everything and making tweaks here and there but the work is essentially done as you can see).

My not-so-secret hope was to launch a new fleet of video essays (two Montages, two Cinepoems, a 3 1/2 Minute Review, and two Side by Sides) on Labor Day, leading up to the premiere of Journey season 3 around my birthday, the first weekend in November. This would wrap the decade up with a nice bow, although Journey videos would have continued into the new year, and gotten this project out of the way before the craziness of an election year (and specifically what promises to be the most intense, divisive, decisive, and perhaps disastrous election year in a century and a half). Obviously that’s off the table now: Journey, preceded by the other videos, will simply appear when ready - probably some time in early 2020. Perhaps this is for the best but it does leave some open space on the site this autumn.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, I created a decent-sized backlog of work which I sometimes previewed for patrons. Now is the time to make some of that public, twice a week at 8am (except for today's late posting!). I’ve covered the second and third seasons of Mad Men without publishing any of my write-ups until a couple days ago, so now Mondays will be reserved for the Sterling Cooper crew, at least through season two, likely season three as well. On Wednesdays, I will publish some of the many film reviews I’ve written, probably including Lady Bird, The Cabinet or Dr. Caligari, and the Mary Shelley biopic among many others.

And finally, to bookend this update with the picture used above, on a monthly basis I will be unveiling the first few years of my “Unseen” series. This is a project in which I watch the top user-ranked movie (via Letterboxd) from a given year that I haven’t seen before, moving back in time. Although I’ll certainly be sharing my own impressions, the series as going to be at least as much about surveying the historical context of these movies - ranging from franchise juggernauts to quiet sleepers that stood the test of time. Next month I'll publish the directory page where all the entries will be gathered and the series officially announced, but for September I'm just going to jump right in next week with the first entry: Black Panther, for 2018.

Mad Men - "For Those Who Think Young" (season 2, episode 1)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review an episode of season two, possibly followed by each episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on July 27, 2008/written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Hunter): Having left off on one holiday, we resume on another - but far longer than two and a half months have passed between that Thanksgiving and this Valentine's Day. The series has jumped a year forward and signs of change are everywhere: the clothes and decoration are subtly different, more in that early sixties brownish-checked look than the lingering lushness of the late fifties. It's a style that initially seemed fresh and modern but might later ring a little kitschy (if still charming, especially from a glamorized forty-years-later vantage point). Most of all, it's exciting to see one of the series' central conceits (the evolving nature of the sixties) kick in as it only could in a second season. The Kennedy influence is everywhere, not just on the TV sets - every character watches Jackie Kennedy's tour of the White House - but also in a particular zeitgeist. Betty certainly channels the First Lady's upper echelon grace and independence as she strides into her redecorated home from a riding session, still wearing her high boots and posh equestrian outfit; no more domestic duties for the demure housewife of season one, who has housekeeper Carla (Deborah Lacey) working in the kitchen.

Indeed the marital dynamic of the previous season feels subtly reversed. If the pretty but childlike Betty was in over her head alongside her smooth, assured husband, Don now appears slightly schlubby and tired compared to the confident, glamorous Betty. Her entrance into a swanky hotel lobby for a dinner date is shot like the introduction of a movie star in a Hollywood melodrama, in which the earthy antihero is smitten by a cool high society blonde; when their date night turns out to be a dud, Don's status falls even further. This steady approach toward middle aged impotence is reinforced by Duck's push for younger recruits and a doctor's stern lecture at an insurance-mandated physical...no wonder his approach to an airline campaign shifts mid-episode, from skirt-chasing wanderlust to patriarchal beneficence - Don may feel like the rumpled sturdiness of fatherhood is all he has left now - see also his speech to Peggy (who comes up with the line, "What did you bring me, Daddy?"). If Don's relevance and virility are in question, however, he still retains a certain worldliness that Betty lacks. He (and we) are reminded of her naivitee when she runs into an old friend and doesn't immediately recognize her as a call girl; when she later flirts with a mechanic helping her out of a jam, she seems both newly cognizant of her potential sexual power and slightly, nervously in over her head.

Peggy's newfound confidence, gained under very different circumstances, is also on shakier ground that it may initially appear. She's no longer a fish out of water in the all-male conference room although still very much the exception to their rule. She may have established a tentative toehold in the male world of Sterling Cooper, but she's more at odds than ever with the other women. After Peggy has a snippy exchange with Don's receptionist Lois, Peggy's old rival Joan sticks up for her while scolding Lois (or rather, uses "Miss Olson"'s authority as a cudgel against this weak target)...but by the end of the episode, Joan has stuck the newfangled fax machine inside Peggy's office, a power play against one of the few women to escape the secretarial pool ghetto.

My Response: 

Welcome to the new Lost in the Movies

Today, as you must have noticed, I remade Lost in the Movies. This change has been a long time coming with particular thanks to Andrew Kersten, Conor O'Brien, and Tyer MacDonald, among others - patrons who offered very helpful advice for a new design since this past winter. Having heard from a number of readers that my site was difficult to navigate, I've finally shifted away from the long-frustrating blog format on my homepage (even though Blogger remains my platform).

Those who still prefer to take a "what's new" approach can explore this blogroll format but it seems most people prefer clear, clean direction to the subjects they're looking for, with options for further exploration presented visually and straightforwardly. From now on the home page will represent this, as will the new directories I've created to collect my work. I should also note this is still, in a sense, a work in progress - there will probably be kinks to smooth out and tweaks to continue making.

So go ahead and dive in! Hopefully you'll be able to dig up material that was hidden away under the old approach. Please feel free to comment under old pieces; I've even removed dates from the tops of posts (although they're still nested near the bottom) to encourage a sense of timelessness and make it all that much easier to get lost in the movies.

European New Waves in the Sunday Matinee

In 2010, I launched a three-month series called "The Sunday Matinee" for Wonders in the Dark which covered several films each from four different European cinemas of the sixties: Italian, British, Czechoslovakian, and French. The essays are finally gathered here for convenient navigation.

Search This Blog