Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Aliens Aren't Scary, Dad"

When District 9 came out, I was geeked to see it opening weekend. My older daughters wanted to go but my wife was busy. So, finding a babysitter for my ten-year-old twins remained the only obstacle. Unsuccessful, I would not to be deterred. Why not just take them with me? Because of its "R" rating I was nervous that it might be too intense. Of course, they balked at any such notion. After some due diligence (don’t judge me), I determined that D9 earned its rating based on violent content. I (correctly, it turns out) assumed that the carnage was of the sci-fi/video game variety as opposed to the more visceral gore (pun intended) presented in the Hostel/Saw genre. Nonetheless, as the movie unfolded, I kept a close watch on their reaction (like I said, don’t judge me). Every fifteen minutes I’d ask if they were “doing okay.” Each time, they assured me that they were. After my fifth such inquiry, one of the twins looked up a bit irritated and whispered, “Aliens aren’t scary dad…sheesh.”

And they really weren’t scared. People and “prawns” were getting blasted right and left. Yet my youngest kids were unmoved (my oldest for too, for that matter). My guess is that the subject matter seemed so far removed from their own reality that it didn’t have the desired effect. That got me to thinking about what scared me as a child. As laid out in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the horror icons of my youth in the late '60s and early '70s were represented by Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman (both Lon Chaney Jr AND Oliver Reed) or the creature from the Black Lagoon. In their day, I suppose they had scared a lot of adults. But as a ten-year-old they left me unfazed. In fact, I thought they were kinda cool. As it turns out, MY kids think that the title character in Ridley Scott’s Alien is kinda cool too.

So WHAT did frighten me as a kid? Here’s a list of "scary" moments that stayed with me for a LONG time. The employment of a naturalistic approach seems to be a common thread running through all of these examples and may illuminate my child’s comment.

Read the full post at The House Next Door.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Food, Glorious Food

One of the major motifs used in The Gypsy and the Hobo is food.

It’s introduced by former (and potential) Sterling Cooper client Annabelle Mathis of Caldecott Farms. Her company manufactures dog food out of horse meat. Caldecott Farms is trying to overcome negative public opinion after news of their product’s main ingredient becomes widely known. Mathis is mystified by that reaction because, as she points out, everyone eats something.

In Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency, Don compared his business philosophy to a snake that can only eat “one meal at a time.” Similarly, from an emotional standpoint, Don’s approach to relationships is like that of a hobo who moves from place to place (meal to meal) without leaving any permanent roots. These last few episodes have depicted his struggle between the concept of freedom represented by Suzanne versus the satisfaction inherent in the more firmly grounded relationships Betty and the kids provide. The Gypsy and the Hobo further establishes a symbolic connection between eating and the search for personal fulfillment through countless references to meals.

Read the full post at Basket of Kisses.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bewitched, Bothered and BAM'D

Melissa Joan Hart tries to get sassy with Jimmy Kimmel. This is why cowgirls should never draw on hired guns.

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Begging the Question

Here's a promotional survey I saw the other day in Facebook for the soon to be released The Fourth Kind. It asks "Do you believe in alien encounters?"

The choices are:
  • Yes, I believe
  • I have seen one,
  • Not sure
I need a fourth option: NO!

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Truth in Labeling (Mad Men 3.11)

Like many Mad Men episodes, The Gypsy and the Hobo derives its title from a minor plot point. In this case, it refers to the costumes Sally and Bobby wear for Halloween. However, in a broader context it’s arguably a metaphor for three relationships: Betty/Don, Annabelle/Roger, and Greg/Joan. In each case, the “gypsy” is a woman who selects a partner based on pragmatic considerations as much as or more than emotional ones. The male, like a “hobo,” wanders a seemingly aimless route seeking some undefined goal just around the next corner.

In Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency, Don compared his business philosophy to a snake that can only eat "one meal at a time." Similarly, from an emotional standpoint, Don's approach to relationships is like that of an hobo who moves from place to place (meal to meal) mostly without leaving any permanent roots. These last few episodes have depicted his struggle between the concept of freedom represented by Suzanne versus the satisfaction inherent in the more firmly grounded relationships Betty and the kids provide. The Gypsy and the Hobo further establishes a symbolic connection between eating and the search for personal fulfillment through countless references to eating.

Betty and the kids are preparing to leave town for a week. She asks Don for some additional cash. He tells her to swing by the bank. "You have no more money?" Betty asks. Don pecks her on the cheek without responding.

Betty, wearing a blue overcoat, is packing to leave Don. However, he thinks that she is going away for a week to settle some of her late father's affairs. In Mad Men, blue generally represents adherence by the characters to established institutions while green symbolizes breaking free of those institutions. The final scene of The Color Blue shows Betty (who has discovered Don’s secret identity) with an expression indicating that she has emotionally (if not actually) left Don. At that moment, her blue and green dress suggests that she’s in a state of flux. The blue overcoat, she wears, instead of her usual blue blouse, at the start of The Gypsy and the Hobo seems more of an affectation to maintain the illusion for Don that she’s still with him.

Betty opens a drawer, flashing back to the dramatic moment from The Color Blue when she found Don’s secret shoebox of paperwork. She will be shown opening drawers three times in this episode.

Don, who is still wearing his "disguise," discusses Halloween costumes with Sally and Bobby. Sally says that wants to dress up as Minnie Mouse while Bobby wants to be an astronaut. They will both be other things this year.

Roger, Don, and Cooper meet with Annabelle Mathis – an old flame of Roger’s. Annabel’s company, Caldecott Farms, is losing market share because consumers have learned its dog food contains horse meat. She's challenging the big ad agencies to reverse public opinion. The ground rules: She won't change the recipe, or the product's name.

Annabelle tells Roger, Don and Bert that she got the company according to her father's will (much like Gene's will that favors Betty over William). Mathis comments that her late husband died of lung cancer followed by a cut to Don lighting a cigarette.

The food motif present throughout the episode is introduced in this scene.

It’s because of the film The Misfits that the public becomes aware of Caldecott Farm’s main ingredient for their dog food. In that film, the male characters are cowboys (who round up horses for a dog food manufacturer) and lead aimless lives (hobos) and women seeking out husbands for practical reasons (gypsies).

Mathis is mystified at how consumers reacted because, as she points out, everyone eats something. People just call it by a different name. Cow becomes “beef,” chicken becomes “poultry.” She is interrupted after saying “pig.” This seems to be a reference to Don who, who, like the foods Mathis lists, has two names and has been established as having a dislike for pork. The former Dick Whitman will later be frustrated by Annabelle’s reluctance to change the name of her product.

"What are you doing here?" Roger later asks Annabelle, a recent widow. Her business needs help, she explains, and she wanted to see him. The two arrange to have dinner.

That Roger and Annabelle arrange to meet for dinner continues the food motif mentioned earlier.

At her apartment that night, Suzanne laments that she and Don can't dine in public, but then backpedals: "I swear, I'm not talking about our future," she says, though she adds that whether she pictures herself in Don’s life or not, she sees an unhappy man. "I’m happy now," he replies.

Suzanne’s planned dinner for Don is spaghetti, butter cream, and cheese. Note that it doesn’t include meat (horse or otherwise). This would be consistent with Suzanne’s more modern sensibilities.

Interestingly, unlike Betty, Annabelle, and Joan, Suzanne is the only female character who selects a partner based primarily on the emotional connection she has with that person rather than because of pragmatic considerations for the “future.”

Joan coaches Greg for a psychiatry residency interview. He reveals a family secret -- that his father underwent psychiatric treatment -- and she encourages him to be as open with the interviewer as he was with her.

Greg practices interview techniques with Joan. In a way, this is similar to a scene from Souvenir showing Don and Betty role-playing while in Rome. Also, just as Betty discovered Don’s secret in The Color Blue, Greg reveals his own family secret to Joan (his father's mental illness).

Joan calls Roger for help finding work. "I like that you thought of me," he says.

While trying to reclaim the past, Joan calls Roger on a blue phone.

At Gene's house with their father's lawyer, Milton, William and Betty discuss selling the property. "This is ugly," William declares when told that his proposal to purchase Betty's share at a discount violates the terms of Gene's will.

Betty, seeking Milton's advice in private, describes Don's secret past. Divorce could leave her broke, Milton explains, and she could lose custody of the children. "It's a lie so big," Betty argues. After getting her to agree that Don is a good provider and wouldn’t harm her, Milton counsels Betty to try to salvage her marriage.

Again, as with Annabelle’s father’s will, Gene has written a will which is favorable to Betty. Continuing the food motif, William announces that Judy has fixed lunch. Visible on the wall is a mounted fish.

Behind a desk, Betty opens a drawer for the second time. On the desks sits a lamp with a green shade that is consistent with Betty’s desire for change.

The lawyer’s clear advice to Betty is that she should try to make her marriage to Don work for practical, not emotional reasons.

Over dinner, Annabelle reminisces about being young and in Paris with Roger, who reminds her that she dumped him for someone her father found more suitable. Roger, she counters, was adrift, walking around "like you were hoping to be a character in somebody else's novel." The two drink heavily, but when Annabelle says that she knows Roger still wants her, he replies, "So what? I'm married," and sends her away.

During this scene, Annabelle and Roger refer to Casablanca. In that movie, Rick has lead a nomadic sort of life forming no permanent affiliations. Elsa, like Betty, chooses to a partner for reasons other than love. Annabelle's husband was selected as someone who could run her father's dog food business.

Roger comments that he is on drink “number three.” This could also be a reference to the fact that he has had three loves: Annabelle, Mona and Jane.

They discuss enjoying Paris and “eating at cemeteries” while people were “jumping out of windows.” Annabelle will later comment that she “missed the window” between Roger’s two marriages. Roger is described as having hobo-like qualities as he seemed to drift aimlessly while trying to find himself. He also pointedly remarks that he never wanted her affections to be based on pity. Don will later regain Betty's affection based mostly on her pity for him.

Before Roger rebukes Annabelle’s sexual overture, there is a quick exchange about peanut butter (food). Also note that by not succumbing to his client Annabelle, Roger is guilty of the same thing he fired Sal for (not succumbing to client Lee Garner Jr).

At their apartment, Greg sulks to Joan because his interview went poorly. Referring to his surgery career, he says that she doesn't know what it's like "to want something your whole life" and not get it. Joan bashes his head with a vase.

The idea of food is again presented in this scene. When Joan returns home after Greg has bombed his interview, their refrigerator is placed at the center of the shot. Also, the voice of famous chef Julia Child can be distinctly heard on the television set Greg is watching (moments before Joan smashes a vase on his head).

Also, as with the lawn mower in Guy Walks Into An Ad Agency, the Lee Garner Jr character in Wee Small Hours, and the car scene Paul stages in The Color Blue, what may arguably be this week’s JFK assassination reference occurs when Joan crashes the vase containing red roses on the back of Greg’s head. After which Greg ironically makes his first (and last) psychiatric diagnosis by proclaiming Joan to be "crazy."

Annabelle watches behind a two-way mirror as focus-group participants become incensed when told their pets are eating samples of Caldecott Farms dog food. "The name has been poisoned," Don says. She will find another agency to solve her problem, she declares.

Mathis arrives at the focus group wearing a coat that has a leopard skin collar.

Don and the others mention the fact that people in focus groups think they are describing something else (in this case their dogs) but are actually describing themselves. Thus, the costumes that Don and Betty later get their children to wear (a gypsy and a hobo) may similiarly be a reflection of how they see themselves.

Again, Don sees no trouble with changing the name of the dog food because it's “just a label on a can.” This can also be said of his name.

"Is this about last night?" Roger asks Annabelle later. He concedes that she broke his heart years ago. "Well it was a mistake," she says. "You were the one." "You weren't," he replies softly.

Annabelle and Roger have their tense conversation in the Sterling Cooper lunchroom. An open refrigerator can be seen in the background.

Suzanne remains in the car when Don stops at his house before their trip.

Note that the location Suzanne had selected for their ill-fated trip is Norwich. This is more serendipity than design, but it’s worth pointing out in an episode laden with food references that Norwich Pharmaceuticals is the company that introduced Pepto Bismol to the world in 1919.

Discovering that Betty and the kids have returned early, he says that he left his hat in the car. "Get it later," says Betty.

Don reaches into his pocket and, for a instant, his keys can be heard jingling. This may be a sublte way to show that he is still trying to guard his secrets.

Betty orders Don to open his desk drawer. He refuses. "You know I know what's in there," she says, opening the drawer.

This is the third time Betty opens a drawer.

Unsteady, Don says that he needs a drink. Regaining some of his composure, he asks quietly, "Where do you want me to start?"

Don explains how he assumed the real Donald Draper’s identity following an accident during the Korean War. "I found out it was easier to be him than to start over," he says.

Looking at photos, Don tells Betty about his prostitute mother; his father, Archibald Whitman; and Archibald's wife, Abigail, who raised him. Don sobs over his half-brother Adam’s suicide. "I turned him away," he says. "He just wanted to be part of my life and I couldn't risk all of this."

Don and Betty's dramatic final confrontation very much incorporates a food motif. Don initially tells Betty that he only came home to "feed the dog." He tries to leave by making up imaginary "dinner" plans with a client. More pointedly, the picture of Don's deceased half-brother shows Adam sitting on a horse. In effect, an emotional Don recoils at the realization that he sacrificed Adam to maintain a manufactured life in the same way that the protesters of Caldecott Farms recoil at their use of horse meat to manufacture dog food.

Don and Betty sit at the kitchen table next to a sewing machine. Visible beneath the sewing machine are pieces of blue and green fabric. In a sense, the couple is trying to reconcile (patch together) the past and the future nature of their relationship.

Baby Gene cries and Betty reports that he has kicked off blanket. Likewise, the secret Don was hiding has been kicked away presenting the couple with a fresh start (birth) for their marriage. As mentioned earlier, Betty buys into Don’s sincere sales pitch very much out of her sympathy (pity) for his story.

Over at Joan's apartment, Greg returns with flowers, an apology for "feeling sorry for myself," and a surprise announcement: He's joined the army. He'll be able to work as a surgeon, and Joan won't have to return to work.

When Greg announces that he’s enlisted in the service, Joan is setting the dinner table. Greg tells her that they won’t have to eat soup any longer. Joan seems genuinely happy at the news. Given their history (Greg once raped her), this would suggest that Joan’s commitment to the relationship is not based on love. It also invokes a third film: 1970's M*A*S*H. A dark comedy about wartime surgeons.

Outside Don's house, Suzanne exits the car and walks away.

Like Betty earlier, Suzanne is now leaving Don while carrying a suitcase.

Don brushes his teeth, lost in thought while in front of a mirror reminiscent of the two-way mirror used for the dog food focus group. His five o’clock shadow resembles the beard Bobby will color on for his hobo costume.

Don calls Suzanne from his office the next morning to say that he can't see her anymore. "Are you okay?" she asks. "Only you would ask about me right now," he says.

The next morning, Don is again shown looking in a mirror. Also, the headboard of the Draper bedroom looks less blue and more greenish. This perhaps reflects the change which has taken place in their relationship after Don’s confession.

When Don comes into the kitchen, Baby Gene is sitting on the same table where the Draper children eat breakfast. This again equates personal fulfillment (a child) with meals. Both Don and Betty wear outfits that are black with white highlights. For the first time in a while, they are both on the same page regarding the state of their marriage.

Don surprises his secretary Allison by showing up at Sterling Cooper the next day. She asks about scheduling a meeting with "United Fruit" just he calls Suzanne to break off their relationship. Notably absent from Don's desk as he puts a to halt his new life with Suzanne is the green colored paper weight that had been there for the last few episodes. Suzanne’s wall is adorned with a piece of art that shows a rooster looking up at the sun. This is consistent with Suzanne’s association with the sun from previous episodes. Likewise, the depiction of Don as a rooster is appropriate for his personality. Note that only when the relationship is over does Suzanne express concern for more practical matters like her teaching position. Again, this distinguishes her from the other women in the episode.

That evening Don and Betty take the kids trick-or-treating. "Look at this," says Carlton, Francine's husband, to Sally and Bobby. "We've got a gypsy and a hobo."

Glancing up at Don, he asks, "And who are you supposed to be?"

Betty offers Don something to eat and he takes it. Ultimately, it is Betty's offer of food, not Suzanne’s, which Don is shown accepting. This choice does not seem a completely satisfying one. While trick-or-treating with the kids, Don is jokingly asked by Carlton who he's "supposed to be." In a way, Betty and Don are themselves disguised as a happy couple.

Don’s reaction shows that the remark hit too close to home while the song "Where is Love" from Oliver!, a musical about another hungry orphan, plays in the background.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Master of Their Domains

I haven't seen Saw VI and doubt I ever will (either in the theatre or on DVD). The movies don't interest me all that much.

That said, I wondered just how many sequels were being planned for the series. So, for laughs, I "whois'd" some "saw" domains.

Lions Gate Entertainment has only grabbed one more; and (which is supposed to start production in January 2010). Of course, this doesn't preclude them going after the higher numbered ones if they want to.
  • Lions Gate Entertainment (



  • Maciej Schwager (

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Death By Chocolate

For $120.00 (plus shipping), you too could have a genuine chocolate skull for your next Halloween event.

From The Chocoloate Skull website:

Doesn't this skull made from a blend of Cuban and Mexican Dark Chocolate look delicious? Oh it is, but trust us, you'll probably want to share it with some friends; This is a 2.5 kilo, life sized, solid cast of an ACTUAL HUMAN SKULL!

It doesn't say WHOSE skull they used.

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Think Fast!

Are these posters hanging in Downtown Detroit a) props from the new "Red Dawn" movie that's currently in production or b) left over from the Obama campaign?

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Theeme Songs

TMZ reports that in 2005, Richard Heene (the father of "Balloon Boy") came up with theme songs for TWO proposed television shows: "The Psyience Detective" and "The Contractor."

Not sure if you need a psyience detective or a contractor? Well, make up your mind, he's got to adjust the chair.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Group Therapy (Mad Men 3.10)

As has been mentioned in previous posts, a motif that has been used throughout Mad Mens third season is the juxtaposition of the colors blue and green. Blue has symbolized a worldview that, in varying degrees, has a confining affect on those characters conforming to it (the blue uniform on the stewardess in Out of Town, Don’s blue Cadillac, the blue background in the anachronistic film clip from Bye Bye Birdie). Meanwhile, the depiction of a new “anti-establishment” societal paradigm gradually taking hold in the Mad Men universe is represented by deliberate placement of the color green (the grass in the Maypole dance at the end of Love Among the Ruins, Miss Farrell’s sweater, the shirt on one of the anti-social grifters in 723).

In The Color Blue, this use of color is explicitly suggested by the title. While Betty’s storyline starts out slowly, when she discovers Don’s alternate identity, her character faces what is arguably the most dramatic conflict of the episode. At the end, she will literally be wearing both blue and green as she contemplates her next move.

Don arrives early for dinner one evening but informs Betty that he won't be spending the night. "Betts, I don't have a choice," he says. "I see how hard you're working," she replies.

In the first of many uses of the color blue, Carla and Betty both wear blue outfits. Betty and Don discuss an upcoming Halloween masquerade party. This foreshadows Betty’s later discovery of Don’s “disguise.”

At various points in The Color Blue, Betty is shown reading Mary McCarthy's 1963 novel, The Group. When Betty is initially shown reading the book, she is the tub surrounded by the blue tiles of her bathroom wall (a baptism perhaps?).


Mary McCarthy's most celebrated novel portrays the lives, and aspirations of eight Vassar graduates. "The group" meet in New York following commencement to attend the wedding of one of their members and reconvene seven years later at her funeral. The woman are complicated, compelling, vivid, and, above all, determined not to become stuffy and frightened like "Mother and Dad" but to lead fulfilling, emancipated lives. "

This would seem to correlate with two threads developed in the episode.

The motif of school ties (particularly female), like those of the women in the novel, comes up a number of times in the episode. Don asks Sally about school but not Bobby. Lane Pryce comments that Americans never ask him where he went to school.

But much more significantly, Betty's reading of the novel parallels her discovery of Don's secret life. This will be a watershed moment in Betty's own quest (conscious or not) for personal emancipation.

Don drives to Miss Farrell's apartment. "I want you to spend the whole night," she whispers. In bed, she describes a student who asked if everyone sees the color blue the same way. "People may see things differently," Don says, "but they don't really want to."

When he greets Miss Farrell, Don notices that she has a star shaped sticker adhered to her cheek from grading school work. This continues the association developed in Wee Small Hours between Miss Farrell and the sun. Don has given Conrad Hilton’s people Farrell’s phone number. When Farrell informs Don that someone from Hilton’s office had called, she adds that Hilton was probably “in the air” at that moment. This ostensibly refers to the fact that Hilton’s airplane has taken off. But, as with Miss Farrell and the sun, it continues the use of a metaphor also established in Wee Small Hours comparing Hilton to the moon.

Don and Suzanne’s discussion about seeing the same color “differently” will literally be demonstrated later by the green and blue dress Betty wears to the Sterling Cooper party.

In his office the next day, Don objects that there's "too much story" in a television commercial Paul proposes. Peggy improvises a shorter narrative that Don approves.

The scene from Farrell’s bedroom cuts directly to an exterior of the Sterling Cooper office building which is dominated by a blue hue. Don enters eating what is presumably datenut bread given to him by Miss Farrell which he carries in a blue napkin.

The Aquanet commercial Paul demonstrates for Don shows two couples. One of the women is jealous of the how firmly the other woman’s hair is held by Aquanet. In a way, this applies to Betty’s attitude when she later discovers another “Mrs. Draper.” While talking about the ad, Peggy suggests a visual where a transparent kerchief is pulled across a can of Aquanet. This may be foreshadowing Betty pulling the veil of mystery away from Don’s carefully crafted façade.

Another campaign Peggy and Paul work on in The Color Blue is for Western Union. They are trying to sell the merits of an outdated product that is losing business to the modern and more personal telephone technology. This corresponds to the societal shift shown taking place from a controlled, formal worldview (telegram) to a more relaxed, less formal paradigm (telephone).

Peggy makes a point of describing the telephone as a “cheap” mode of communication.

Lane arrives with a check: Don's signing bonus. A rare smile from Don amuses Lane, who says that Don will be the final speaker at the upcoming Sterling Cooper anniversary party. He should be prepared for "prime time."

Interestingly, the signing bonus Don gets from Lane is five thousand dollars. In a first season episode aptly titled 5G, Don’s brother Adam Whitman, comes looking for Don. Adam stays in room 5G of a hotel. Also, Don brushes Adam off by giving him five thousand dollars. The rebuke from Don ultimately leads to Adam committing suicide. The guilt Don feels over this certainly ties in later to the kindness he shows toward Suzanne Farrell’s brother Danny.

In Lane's office, Rebecca weeps, ostensibly over a cabbie cheating her, but really because she remains homesick for London. "You like it here," she accuses. "The smells and the noise and the criminals at every level."

Mrs. Pryce is wearing a blue dress when she talks to her husband. She complains about “fat ladies in furs.” Roger will remind Bert Cooper in the next scene how he discovered Don selling fur coats.

That night, Don and Miss Farrell make love but are interrupted by the arrival of her brother, Danny. Don dresses to leave, but Miss Farrell wants the two to meet. Danny says he's lost his job because he has epileptic seizures. Don wishes Danny well, but Danny calls him arrogant after he departs.

When Miss Farrell first sees her brother Danny (who turns out to be an epileptic), she looks at a bandage on his head and asks “is it bad under there.” In a symbolic sense, Miss Farrell is asking for an update on Danny’s condition. Again, Danny reminds Don of his brother Adam Whitman (who Don did not treat particularly well.)

The next day, Roger and Cooper reminisce about their careers. Neither is looking forward to their company's fortieth-anniversary party. Roger loathes the thought of watching Don achieve an award "for his humanity." Likening the event to a funeral, Cooper says he won't attend.

Don and Roger, reminisce about the Sterling Cooper "class" of '33 (a subtle school reference) and point out a past female employee ("remember her?"). Continuing the phone motif used throughout The Color Blue, the woman in the photograph is holding an old fashioned telephone.

That night, the Drapers' phone rings. Sally answers, but no one responds.

While it’s never made clear who phoned, Don and Betty both think that the call came from the respective individuals with which they have an extramarital relationship. As characterized by Peggy in a different context, this would certainly represent a “cheap” use of a phone (or “tawdry” as Betty may say).

Paul and Peggy work late in their offices on a concept for Western Union: When is a telegram more appropriate than a phone call? Paul drinks steadily as he works.

The distinction between Paul and Peggy in terms of how they work is demonstrated clearly here. Peggy’s approach to creativity seems more focused and direct than Paul’s (who doodles, listens to jazz, drinks liquor and, at one point, even masturbates behind his desk). Peggy uses a Dictaphone to record her thoughts which, in a sense, is ironic as that is the sort of technology which Western Union is trying fighting against. The difference, however, is that Peggy's Dictaphone leaves a “permanent record.” This idea will play into the solution Peggy, Paul and Don arrive at for the Western Union campaign.

At home, Don locks some cash in his desk drawer. Hearing baby Gene cry, he puts the drawer's key in his bathrobe pocket.

Don is wearing a blue robe and pajamas when he goes through his drawer. The baby crying distracts him. In Mad Men, Baby Gene represents the new world which has replaced the old one symbolized by Betty’s deceased father Gene. So, it’s worth mentioning that Baby Gene’s distraction causes Don to leave the key in his robe pocket. This leads to Betty's discovery of Don’s secret (which leads to Betty’s final transformation).

Back at Sterling Cooper, Paul has a sudden brainstorm about Western Union while chatting with a custodian. Paul celebrates with another drink.

Note that Paul’s muse, the custodian, is carrying fluorescent light bulbs when Paul gets his brainstorm. The effect is much like the sterotype of a person with a cartoon lightbulb over their head when they get an "idea." Also, that the custodian’s name is “Achilles” may be related to Paul’s “Achilles’ Heel.” In this case, it would be his lack of focus which causes him to neglect recording his thoughts (unlike Peggy).

The next morning, Miss Farrell briefly boards Don's train. He asks if she called his house, and apologizes when she says no. "I don't care about your marriage, or your work, or any of that," she says. "As long as I know you're with me." She has found her bother a job at a VA hospital in Massachusetts, she adds. He'll be gone by evening.

Noteworthy in this scene is the view from the train window. With the arrival of autumn, the leaves on the trees whizzing past are turning yellow. Since green is Miss Farrell’s color, it may suggest that Don and Miss Farrell’s relationship is starting to reach its end (though they don’t realize it yet).

At the office, Lois wakes up Paul, who becomes frantic upon realizing that he neglected to write down his brainstorm.

As usual, another Mad Men character under emotional stress is found unconscious on a couch. As Paul panics looking for his "brainstorm," the sound of office telephones ringing can be distinctly heard in the background. This is a subtle reminder of Western Union's dilemma. It also supports the symbolic use of the telephone as the deliverer of bad news in The Color Blue.

Lane's London bosses call. They're flying over for the party -- and, by the way, Sterling Cooper is for sale. Cooper's attendance is crucial, Saint John Powell says, "to encourage interest."

Once again an unexpected phone call leads to tension. As PPL, Sterling Cooper’s parent company, represents an even older version of the “establishment,” the color scheme of their London office is dominated by a dark bluish color scheme.

Just before the call, Lane is practicing his speech for the party. His remarks continue the school motif with a reference to American’s “teaching” the world about business.

Betty, doing laundry, discovers Don's key. Opening his drawer, she sees his money stash, along with the cardboard box containing Whitman family photos, the army dog tags of Richard Whitman's and the real Don Draper, the deed to Anna Draper's house, and the divorce decree dissolving her marriage to Don.

When Henry Francis made his unexpected visit in Wee Small Hours, Betty was also carrying around a laundry basket. On that occasion, she was dealing with her own "dirty laundry." With the Don’s robe prominently shown on top of the pile, now she is dealing with Don’s. Every time Betty handles the robe, a distinct “ting” sound can be heard. Of course, this creates suspense as the audience wonders when Betty will actually find the key. But the sound also ties in nicely with the longer “tings” made by the various phones ringing throughout the episode.

That evening, Danny is still present when Don arrives at Miss Farrell's. She plans to drive Danny to Massachusetts, but Don, concerned about her returning alone late at night, says he will.

On their drive, Danny tells Don he has no intention of taking yet another menial job because just people don't understand epilepsy. Don pulls to the side of the road, offers Danny money and his business card, and lets him out of the car.

That the Mad Men universe has undergone a shift is demonstrated further in this scene. Don and Danny discuss how Julius Caesar, like Danny, also suffered from epilepsy. The fall of Rome has been used as an allegory for 1960's society in season three. Before his death, Betty’s father Gene was linked with the Roman Empire. However, Gene had money and a big car. The Roman Empire is now associated with Danny who is continually broke and has no means of transportation.

At two in the morning, Betty returns the box to the drawer, places the key in Don's bathrobe, and goes to bed.

While when she first discovers Don’s secret, Betty looks as though she may swoon (perhaps onto the Wentworth purchased in 723). However, as the episode unfolds, the shock has a cathartic effect on Betty who seems to going through the final stages of a transformation that begin earlier in the season.

Before meeting with Don about Western Union, Paul confesses to Peggy that he had "something incredible" but can't remember it. He recalls a Chinese proverb: "The faintest ink is better than the best memory."

Peggy's ideas don't impress Don, who turns to Paul. Peggy encourages Paul to admit that he lost his idea. Don commiserates. Peggy gets Paul to repeat the proverb. The key to their telegram pitch is in there somewhere, she says. Don agrees. "See, it all works out," he tells Paul.

The approach the three arrive at (inspired by Paul’s experience and Peggy's creativity) for Western Union is that a telegram provides a permanent record of an event that the more informal telephone cannot. It’s noteworthy that permanent records left in a box are the root cause of Don’s current trouble with Betty.

"Look how pretty mommy is," tux-clad Don tells Sally and Bobby as the Drapers leave for the party that evening.

Don calls Betty from while pulling a fresh shirt that the drycleaners wrapped with a blue ribbon. At home just before the party, Betty is alone and lost in thought while sitting on the outside edge of the bathtub (where she was first shown reading the novel). The patterns on her dress consist of both green and blue. At that moment, the shot is lit in such a manner as to make the color green (Mad Men's color for change) seem to dominate. However, when Betty enters the bedroom seconds later and seen from Don's point of view, her dress appears more blue. In effect, the audience and Don (who doesn't realize that a change has occurred within Betty) see the same color differently.

Lane, stuck in traffic with Rebecca, tells her Sterling Cooper is being sold. She's delighted.

A blue neon sign is reflected onto the limousine window that the Pryce’s ride in. Rebecca’s happiness at Sterling Cooper's potential sale may not be as great if she realized that Lane probably won't be transferred back to London. In Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency, his new assignment was going to be India.

At the party, Roger introduces Don, alluding to his heroism in Korea and calling him a friend and "the man who will stand alongside me for the next forty years." To extended applause, Don kisses Betty and steps to the podium. "I'm very honored," he says.

As Betty regards Don, her expression is not enthusiastic at all. The shot is framed to show Don’s empty chair next to Betty as she is perhaps contemplating a future without him.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Credit MacDaddy

This is what happens when no one is brave enough to say "STOP!"

Hattip: Sports Illustrated's "Bad Commercial Of The Day" for Oct 19.
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blair Witch: The Home Game (Paranormal Activity)

I was part of the throngs that caught Paranormal Activity last weekend. It's the latest horror flick to incorporate The Blair Witch Project's faux documentary style. All hype aside, if you like a good ghost story, you'll enjoy this one. That said, Paranormal Activity doesn't really break any new ground. In fact, what struck me the most was how closely it followed the template established in The Blair Witch Project.

The Set-up
Blair Witch: In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary...A year later their footage was found.

Paranormal Activity: The relatives of Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat make this "found" video available.

It Begins as a Lark

Neither the kids in Blair Witch nor Paranormal Activity's Micah seem to take the subject of their "documentary" very serious at first. Of course, they learn the lesson that everything bad that happens starts out as "fun."

The Never Ending Argument

Blair Witch: After a while, I got sick of hearing the lost trio arguing about losing the "fucking map."

Paranormal Activity: Likewise, Katie and Micah continuously battle over when they should call the demonologist.

Critical Props

Just as with the "never ending argument," the characters in both films repeatedly express concern over "borrowed" objects. In Blair Witch, the would-be filmmakers stress at having to return a DAT recorder to its rightful owner by that Monday. In Paranormal Activity, Micah exploits a loophole in a promise made to Katie big enough to drive a demon through when he gets a friend to lend him a ouiji board.

Keep It Rolling

Blair Witch: At the end, why do the character's keep taping while running for their lives in witch's house? The answer, of course, is because we'd never see what happens.

Paranormal Activity: Katie, who is against the idea of documenting their haunting from the start, nonetheless tapes Micah's actions in the hallway even while screaming at the top of her lungs.

The Dogs That Don't Bark (spoiler)

We don't get to see the Blair Witch nor whatever it is thats haunting Katie and Micah. I've never quite accepted the argument that it's "scarier" that way. It's just cheaper to produce.

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Friday, October 16, 2009


The "balloon boy" family is protesting a bit too much, methinks.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Acronyms Sometimes Suck (A.S.S., of course) is an awesomely funny site. In fact, the very first entry listed today on the "Moro Islamic Liberation Front" (M.I.L.F.) is a scream.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Lunacy (Mad Men 3.09)

The idea of unfulfilled desires is a strong theme in Wee Small Hours, Mad Men's ninth episode for Season 3. It takes its name from song about a would-be lover who can't sleep while waiting for the girl of his dreams to call. Before it is over, each of the main characters in the episode will either fail to meet the demands of others or succumb to their own needs (or both). For instance, Conrad Hilton will literally ask Don Draper for the moon. Failing that request, Draper will be be driven to Miss Farrell who has been on the fringe of his life since he first encountered her in Love Among the Ruins.

In the "Wee Small Hours of the Morning:" (Mann/Hilliard)
In the wee small hours of the morning
While the whole wide world is fast asleep
You lie awake and think about the girl
And never ever think of counting sheep

When your lonely heart has learned its lesson
You'd be hers if only she would call
In the wee small hours of the morning
That's the time you miss her most of all

In the middle of the night, Betty dreams that a man is caressing her. As he leans in to kiss her, she’s awakened by the telephone. It's Connie, calling to offer Don the chance to "earn" Hilton's international business. Connie envisions having his hotels everywhere -- even on the moon.

Betty is presumably dreaming about Henry Francis caressing her in the Wentworth she bought after their meeting in 723. This ties in with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech referenced throughout the episode. Betty’s fantasy is interrupted by a baby crying. This will happen again later. Betty compares Hilton’s nightly phone calls to baby Gene’s 4 AM feedings. Both Hilton and the responsibilities of a newborn seem to be taking a toll on the Draper marriage.

Hilton has a dream too. Hilton asks to include the moon in his ad campaign. As stated, this is one of many requests that will be refused in Wee Small Hours. Others include Lee Garner Jr’s pass at Sal and, likewise, a sexual overture by Henry Francis to Betty.

Unable to sleep, Don drives to work and comes across Sally’s teacher, Suzanne Farrell, on her early morning jog. Accepting his offer of a lift home, she becomes reflective when she hears Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the radio. "Who are you?" asks a charmed Don. "Are you dumb or pure…"

A song about "feeling blue" is playing on Don's car radio. Miss Farrell is prominently wearing a Bowdoin shirt. Bowdoin's official college seal features a sun. The image of the sun has been a recurring motif in Mad Men.

From the Bowdoin college website:

The origin of the sun on the Bowdoin seal has been widely debated. Some believe the sun was chosen due to Bowdoin’s location: the easternmost college in the country at the time of its founding. More likely is that the sun was selected as a symbol of truth and enlightenment, and to represent the rising sun of knowledge and the light of learning
When he was first transfixed by Miss Farrell's Maypole dance and now during their "chance" encounter on the road, Don seems to have attached supernatural significance to her. This attraction to Farrell seems motivated by a longing for something Don's current life isn't providing. Of course, Miss Farrell is a little nutty. But so is Conrad Hilton, whose obsession with the moon would seem in place in him direct contrast with Miss Farrell. Coinciding with the solar eclipse from 723, as Don’s relationship with Hilton was beginning, he didn’t seem as interested in Farrell. In effect, the moon that was Hilton blocked out Farrell’s sun. However, with the eclipse over, Don now has two clear paths. He could stay with his established (and safer life) as Don Draper of Sterling-Cooper or he could take a risk and venture into the uncharted wilderness (of growth) Miss Farrell symbolizes. Of course, Don’s “welcome” into that world, as represented by Doug and Sandy in 723, ended badly.

As they drive, Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech can be heard on the radio. As one would expect, Farrell is captivated by King's vision and shares that with Don. Interestingly, just after the King speech, a news broadcast about two women being “murdered in the Upper East Side” is heard. This foreshadows the killings of four black girls by segregationists in Alabama that is referenced later in the episode. It also seems to hint at bad outcomes for the dreams of the characters in Wee Small Hours.

Don makes a clumsy pass at Farrell by suggesting they get coffee. This is the same approach Henry Francis took with Betty.

Before dropping her off, Don asks “left or right?” While Mad Men isn’t overtly political, in the context of the scene, it may be a symbolic political reference. It also could reflect Don having to choose between the two paths mentioned earlier (his current life, or a new one in Farrell’s world).

Later that morning, Betty mails Henry a note: "Does anyone else read this? B."

When we first see Betty she’s wearing blue. While writing letters to Henry, she is wearing a green outfit. This is consistent with Mad Men’s use of green to denote change. Note also that Sally mentions a few times her need for a pencil case and how she’s shown doing her own school writing assignments. This comparison suggests that Betty’s efforts at writing are still at an immature stage. Betty is new at this. She is used to the “boy” making the first move.

At the office, Peggy, Smitty and Kurt pitch Hilton concepts to Don. He rejects them all -- even those based on his own ideas.

Like Betty’s dream, Don is shown at Sterling-Cooper lying on his office couch (a common Mad Men motif). His demeanor is stressed and unhappy. At that moment, the couch, like the identity of Don Draper, resembles a coffin which is confining the former Dick Whitman.

Don rejects the first ad that features the remnants of a fallen empire. Perhaps he’s starting to realize that social change is upon him. However, by also rejecting the newer, arguably more modern ad, Don demonstrates that he’s not clear where he should go next.

On the set of a Lucky Strike commercial, Lee Garner Jr., the son of the cigarette magnate, addresses Sal as "Sally" and meddles with his direction.

The Lee Garner Jr. character would seem to be more foreshadowing of the JFK assassination. For instance, the name “Lee Garner Junior” has exactly the same number of letters (15) in the exactly the same places as “Lee Harvey Oswald.” Also, during the television shoot, Lee Garner, Jr. looks through the camera lens in a posture that mimics taking aim with a sniper’s scope. Garner’s actions will have dramatic results in this episode.

At home, Betty receives a note from Henry that includes an address where she can safely send letters.

As with her dream of Henry caressing her on the Wentworth, Betty’s opening of the letter is interrupted by the sound of a baby in the background.

Late at night, Sal shows Lee an early cut of the Lucky Strike commercial. A besotted Lee puts his arms around Sal, who protests that he's married. "I know what I know," Lee responds.

The Lee Harvey Oswald connection is maintained when one the technicians in the editing room with Sal and Lee announces that he’s going to “the booth.” This could certainly be a subtle reference to another assassin of presidents with three names: John Wilkes Booth.

Lee locks the door to the editing room as Henry Francis will later lock his office door when Betty visits him. Just as Don will not fulfill Connie’s request to include the moon in Hilton ads, Sal will reject Lee’s come on. Afterward, an angry Sal throws film canisters across the editing room. Likewise, an angry Betty will throw a cash box at Francis when he fails to show up at her fundraiser.

Harry gets a late night call from Lee demanding that he fire Sal. Harry says that he doesn’t have the authority, but Garner insists and warns him not to tell Roger and Pete, who handle the account.

Just as the bell hop who Sal encounters in Out of Town was wearing a red uniform, Lee’s hotel room is dominated by red tones.

In a conversation with Paul, Harry mentions how his mother thinks he looks like Perry Mason. However, Harry will do a poor job of defending Sal later on.

That night, Connie calls Don to invite him for a drink. "It's my purpose in life to bring America to the world," Connie says when they meet. "We are a force of good, Don. Because we have God." Don's international campaign shouldn't explicitly include politics, Connie advises. "But there should be goodness, and confidence."

Their business discussion over, Connie calls Don "my angel" and says that sometimes Don feels like "more than a son" to him because he didn't have the advantages Connie's own boys had. "Thank you," Don replies. "I mean it."

Connie and Don drink Prohibition era “moonshine” from a bottle labeled “hair tonic.” Don, his real name Dick Whitman, also masquerades as something he is not. Hilton expresses his need to have someone to talk to. Their connection will be short lived. After Don's relationship with Hilton sours, he will later tell Farrell about his own need for someone to talk to.

The next day, Henry appears at Betty's door unannounced. "I wanted to see you," he says. "I wasn't thinking." When Carla arrives moments later, Henry blurts out that Betty's house would be an excellent venue for a fundraiser. Betty says that she'll check with her husband.

As Betty comes down the stairs to answer the door, she is carrying a laundry basket. Carla, seeing Francis and Betty acting suspicious in front of her, pretends not to notice before carrying Betty’s “dirty laundry” away. Betty refers to Carla as her “girl.” This supports the theme of African American’s playing subservient roles to white employers developed in Wee Small Hours. In addition to housekeeper, Carla plays nanny to the Draper children. During the subsequent fundraiser in Betty’s home, the women discuss the poor conditions for African Americans in the South. Meanwhile, Carla is clearly visible in the background wearing a maid's uniform doing servant's work.

Lee arrives at Sterling Cooper to review the finished Lucky Strike ad. When he sees Sal in the conference room, he storms out. Harry comes clean to Roger about Lee's phone call. "Sal, you're fired," says Roger.

At the start of the ill-fated meeting Sal is having difficulty threading the projector. This may relate to the difficulty Lee will cause for him by “projecting” his own self-loathing as a repressed homosexual onto Sal. Also, Don's later anger at Sal may be partially motivated by a projection anger over his own past actions (such as having Don himself having sexual relationships with clients). In this regard, it's noteworthy that when Don yelled at Peggy in 723, he was accusing her of the same thing that Bert and Roger were chastising him for (ingratitude).

Later at home, Betty tells Don about Henry's visit while Carla is in the room. Later, within earshot of Don, Betty calls Henry to say that her husband has approved a fundraiser. "I guess you're going through with this," Henry says. "I had to," she whispers.

It’s significant that during Betty’s conversation with Henry, Don can be seen in the background sitting on a couch out of focus. This demonstrates the deteriorating state of the Draper relationship.

Don presents his team's campaign to Connie: How do you say "Ice Water" in Italian? Or "Hamburger" in Japanese? Hilton. Connie concedes that the concept is good, but scolds Don for ignoring his instructions about showing Hilton on the moon. "When I say I want the moon," Connie says, "I expect the moon."

Hilton, feeling let down, basically retracts his earlier statements about being a “father” to Don. As stated above, with his emotional attachment to Connie broken, it’s as if the moon represented by Hilton is no longer blocking Farrell’s sun.

At the fundraiser, Betty becomes piqued when Henry sends a female representative in his place to promote Governor Rockefeller’s presidential bid.

Like Lee, Hilton and Betty are both furious when their requests (dreams) go unanswered.
Before the scene at Betty’s house to Henry’s office, the female representative refers to the fundraiser as a “taking of a pulse.” When the representative says this, the camera is on Betty. As is shown in the next scene, by deliberately not going to the fundraiser, Henry is actually taking measure of Betty’s feelings for him.

Betty drives to Henry's office the next day and hurls the fundraiser cashbox at him. "I watched the door all night like a sap," she says. "You had to come to me," Henry contends. "You're married." Henry and Betty kiss, but when he locks his office door she changes her mind. "It's tawdry," she says.

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of parallels between Betty’s encounter with Francis and Sal’s encounter with Lee. Both take place in a work environment. Both Henry and Lee lock the door. Both Betty and Sal, throw an object in anger. Like the lyrics in the song for which the episode is named, Henry has been waiting for Betty to call him. Henry suggests that they get a hotel room. This would certainly tie in with the ad campaign that Don is working on for Hilton.

Roger visits Don’s office to chastise him for letting two clients -- Hilton and Garner – leave angry within a week. "You've got your face so deep in Hilton's lap, you're ignoring everything else," Roger says. "You are in over your head."

When he fired him, Don suggested to Sal that he should have agreed to Lee’s sexual suggestions. When Roger tells Don that his head is "deep in Hilton’s lap," he is metaphorically accusing Don of doing for Hilton what Don had literally suggested that Sal should do for Lee.

Prominent in this scene is a green paperweight on Don’s desk. That Don’s performance at Sterling Cooper is coming under closer scrutiny motivates him to be more proactive with Farrell later. The green paperweight underscores those feelings inside of Don.

Sal calls Kitty from a phone booth to say that he's working late. "I love you too," he says as he hangs up.

Before leaving Stering Cooper, Sal goes through his portfolio of past campaigns. There are two quick cuts to the Popsicle ad (phallic imagery) and a sketch of a barechested man under the words "relax." This may represent Sal's continued struggle with his true nature. When he calls Kitty, Sal is in what Betty would describe as a “tawdry” section of town where men meet for homosexual liaisons. Sal’s exit from the phone booth to presumably engage in such liaisons could be characterized as his “coming out” of the closet.

Later that night, Don tells Betty he needs to meet with Connie again but instead visits Suzanne. "I can't stop thinking about you," he says, challenging her to admit the same. She allows that she’s been thinking about him too, but says that she also knows how things would end with Don. "So what?" he replies.

"I want you," Don continues, adding that he doesn't care about the consequences. "Doesn't that mean anything to someone like you?" The two kiss and end the night asleep in bed together.

Don replaces Hilton with Suzanne as his late-night destination. Note that the color scheme of her entrance is green. While this situation would seem doomed to have a negative outcome, Don is finally able to sleep.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009


Just who's running this zoo?

From The London Times:


Outside England 's Bristol Zoo there is a parking lot for 150 cars and 8 buses. For 25 years, its parking fees were managed by a very pleasant attendant. The fees were £1 for cars ($1..40), £5 for busses (about $7).

Then, one day, after 25 solid years of never missing a day of work, he just didn't show up; so the Zoo Management called the City Council and asked it to send them another parking agent.

The Council did some research and replied that the parking lot was the Zoo's own responsibility.

The Zoo advised the Council that the attendant was a City employee.

The City Council responded that the lot attendant had never been on the City payroll.

Meanwhile, sitting in his villa somewhere on the coast of Spain (or some such scenario), is a man who'd apparently had a ticket machine installed completely on his own; and then had simply begun to show up every day, commencing to collect and keep the parking fees, estimated at about $560 per day -- for 25 years.

Assuming 7 days a week, this amounts to just over $7 million dollars!

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Friday, October 09, 2009


Warlock's basement in Live Free or Die Hard is better equipped than the NASA control room for this launch. And why are they wearing jeans? Is it casual Friday?

From USA Today:

NASA probe strikes moon's south pole in search of water

NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission successfully slammed into the moon's south pole at nearly 6,000 miles-per-hour Friday morning, sending up a plume of lunar dust with twin impacts.

The $79 million mission aims to allow inspection of the plumes for sin of ice frozen inside shadowed craters, such as Cabeus, the target of the mission.

"Showtime," said science director Michael Bicay, of NASA's Ames Research Center, moments before the impacts, which sent the LCROSS booster rocket crashing into Cabeus crater at 7:31:53 am ET followed by the mission's "shepherd" spacecraft, which sampled the plume of the first impact, before hitting the crater at 7:36:10 am ET.

"Hard to tell, what we saw there," he said, after the impact. "We're confident the instruments performed as expected."

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sordid Projections

Given the current debate in some Hollywood circles over Roman Polanski's arrest for a thirty year old incident involving drugs and unlawful sexual intercourse with an underage girl, my submission for the Double Bill Blogathon features two of his films (Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown) which incorporate seedy sexual elements into their respective storylines. Twenty-twenty hindsight is always a fun diversion. And in this case, I cringe at art and life seeming to overlap each other.

Polanski dabbled with rape in Repulsion (1965). However, it's unclear if the character actually experiences the event depicted in the film or is dreaming. Likewise, some argue that a similar scene from Rosemary's Baby (1968) leaves open the possibility that it's all an hallucination. I subscribe to the literal interpretation. In Polanski's faithful adaption of Ira Levin's bestselling novel, Rosemary Woodhouse's husband makes a deal with the Devil to advance his acting career in exchange for allowing his wife to to spawn Lucifer's child. But this will be no immaculate conception. Rosemary is drugged and raped (and when I say "rape," I mean "rape-rape").

The significance for me, in light of real life events, is how Rosemary (Mia Farrow) ultimately comes to accept what has happened to her and agrees to raise the child. Am I the only one to see uncomfortable parallels between Rosemary and Polanski's real life victim, Samantha Geimer, who wants to drop the matter and get on with her life?

The idea of a woman accepting horrible events is even more apparent in 1974's Chinatown (which, for the sake of this discussion, could be subtitled "Evelyn's Baby"). Not only does Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) accept the incestuous affair she had with her lecherous demon of a father, Noah Cross (John Houston), like Rosemary she even embraces the result; a child named Katherine ("she's my sister, my daughter, my sister, my daughter"). At one point, J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) asks Mulwray if Cross raped her. Evelyn denies being raped (apparently the sex was consensual) and gives Gittes an exasperated look over the naivety of the question. Given what would transpire later in Polanski’s real life, I find that exchange incredibly ironic (in a BAD way).

My recommendation for the trailer before this double bill would be Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (1992). Allen’s subsequent high profile divorce from wife Mia Farrow (no less) adds a extra nuance to the depiction of the relationship between Rain (Juliette Lewis) and Professor Roth that never fails to make me squirm a little.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

When in Roam (Mad Men 3.08)

Souvenir, Mad Men’s 8th episode of its third season, is named for the gold Colosseum bracelet charm Don gives to Betty as a remembrance of their trip to Rome. Given that at different points in the episode each of the main characters seem to be performing a role, it's appropriate that the Colosseum is itself a sort of theatre. At the end, Betty, after playing out a “scene” in her marriage and also taking on Don’s role for a while, will finally verbalize that she's grown weary of her limited options. Travel (by bike, horse, balloon, boat and plane) is one of the major motifs presented throughout the episode that leads up to Betty symbolically (if not literally) trying to escape from the confines of her relationship with Don.

On a hot August Friday, Hildy describes her weekend beach plans to Pete, who is staying in town while Trudy is away. "Why is it that a man on his own is an object of pity?" Pete asks Harry and Paul before waxing nostalgic about the summers of his youth.

The first shot pans across the Sterling Cooper office past a baby photo on an employee’s desk. The theme of trying to mix family and work (which challenges Don and something Betty will dabble in) is established.

Pete reads Ebony magazine. This harkens back to his attempts to get Admiral to adapt to a new set of realities (specifically, Pete’s recognition of African Americans as an emerging and profitable consumer class).

Pete tells Paul, Harry and Ken about the downside of being alone in New York in August. This is reminiscent of The Seven Year Itch where a married man is tempted to stray when his wife and kids go away on a camping trip. Ken references local “fat girls” putting their feet in fountains. A fountain will be seen behind Betty and Don in Rome and referenced in a conversation between Francine and Betty at the end. Pete comments on Trudy’s horseback riding (both a sexual reference and a mode of travel).

That night at home, Betty makes calls for the reservoir campaign. A call from Conrad Hilton's office interrupts her efforts: Don is to fly to Italy on Tuesday to inspect the Rome Hilton with Connie. When Betty bemoans this latest excursion, Don invites her along. “I guess our two month old isn’t an issue,” Betty replies.

Don feels that Betty should get paid for her campaign work. Just as in his first meeting with Connie, Don doesn't seem to have much interest in doing things for "free." Even though her “office” is cluttered with baby bottles and cooking utensils, Betty is taking on Don’s role as a “working” parent.

A standard Mad Men motif, couches play a role in this scene. Pete (childless and with no bosses in town) is shown in his empty apartment sitting on a couch that is much larger then he needs. By contrast, Don (with three kids and a heavy workload) is crammed onto a couch that is too small.

Betty makes calls off of a mailing list. While it’s not all that significant, two of the last names visible on the list are "Duck" and "Campbell." This may be a subtle reference to Duck’s efforts to recruit Pete. Don, while talking on the phone to Hilton’s office, clearly shows no respect for Betty’s efforts by jotting down notes on her mailing list. It’s also clear that Don is at the beck and call of Conrad Hilton’s whims. Betty suggests that Don should try to spend time with the children who are trying to “catch lightening bugs.” This could be a reference to Betty’s later realization that the “first kiss” is the best (lightening doesn’t strike twice).

Don and Sally’s going to Rome ties in to the late Gene’s fascination with the fall of the Roman empire. It also ties into the theme of traveling developed in Souvenir as Rome is a homonym for “roam.”

Pete idles his Saturday away watching TV and napping. Emptying his trash that evening, he happens upon Gudrun, the au pair of his neighbors, the Lawrences. Gudrun is in tears over a dress she borrowed from Mrs. Lawrence and stained. Pete offers to help obtain a replacement.

Pete looks childlike in his pajamas eating breakfast and watching animated kid shows on television. When Pete first sees Gudrun (certainly a theatrical sounding name), she’s stuffing a dress in a garbage chute. The dress looks like a wedding gown at first. This certainly relates to Betty’s feelings in this episode. The first of what are arguably three references to Shakespearean plays is the fact that Gudrun is trying to get a stain out of the dress (Lady MacBeth). This is in keeping with the theme of individuals playing roles. Betty is further linked to Gudrun in the next scene which shows her rising from bed with a stained nightgown (in the same spot ad Gudrun's stain). Furthermore, as an au pair, Gudrun is, in a certain sense, what Betty aspires to be: a working parent. Also, Gudrun is from Germany and there’s a bike visible behind Pete. This alludes to the idea of travel in Souvenir. Mirroring her emotions, a red emergency hose cabinet next to Gudrun. The distinct sounds of sirens during scenes with Don and Betty will indicate emergencies of a different nature.

On Monday evening, Sally watches Betty primp before leaving to attend a meeting of the Tarrytown Board of Trustees. Henry appears at the meeting just in time to request a suspension of the reservoir project pending additional water quality studies. The trustees acquiesce.

Don mentions to Betty a mix-up with his shirts at the laundry. Certainly, this reflects on Don’s secret alternate identity. But, given that Betty has a stain on her nightgown, it may be the first indication that they will be switching (“mixing up”) their roles. Furthermore, Betty will later be shown carrying in what looks like Don's laundry.

Sally watches Betty get made up for her “performance” at the board meeting. Just as Don and Betty will later play act in Rome, Sally will play act with Ernie in the Draper home.
At the board meeting (political theatre), one of the trustees makes reference to the community as a “hamlet” (which, like the stain, could be another reference to Shakespeare). Betty is wearing a blue scarf that indicates her confinement to marriage (not unlike the scarf Duck tries get to Peggy take in 723 as a way to form an alliance with him). At the end of the meeting, one of the trustees bring up “new business on the agenda” which is heard under a shot of Henry looking admiringly at Betty.

"When you have no power, delay," Henry tells the elated Betty and Francine outside. Alone with Betty, Henry says that it would make him happy to think he'd made her happy. She acknowledges that he did, and Henry leans through her open car door and kisses her.

In addition to the Roman adventure, Betty’s continued ties to her father are demonstrated by her driving his Lincoln (the same one Gene taught Sally to “travel” in). The flirtatious dance between Betty and Henry will be played out again by Don and Betty at the café in Rome. Henry tells Betty that she has made him “happy” and delivers a “first kiss.” Betty will later relate to Sally how the impact of the initial kiss is never duplicated. As she leaves, Henry tells Betty to “drive safely.” This would seem sound advice based on the respective driving records of Don and Betty (both have had car accidents while in emotionally charged states).

At home, Betty tells Don about the campaign's success. "That's real politics," he says. Agreeing, Betty repeats Henry's motto about delay tactics.

Don is looking for his cuff links from Conrad Hilton. This will tie in later with the bracelet charm that Hilton sends to Don for Betty. In a way, both are handcuffed by Hilton. Betty is excited at “closing” her campaign for the water tower. Shes experiencing the exhilaration she probably assumes Don feels when he signs a client. However, Don seems dismissive of Betty's efforts.

On Tuesday, Pete drops by the Bonwit Teller department store with Mrs. Lawrence's dress and discovers that Joan has taken a supervisor's job there. Joan approves an exchange and promises discretion should she run into Trudy – to whom, Pete tells her, the dress belongs.

That the dress is a “Bonwit Teller” foreshadows Pete “telling” Trudy about his infidelity with Gudrun (or Gudrun "telling" her employees what happened with Pete). In the store a Hermes sign (a nod to one of Duck’s clients at Gray) can be seen in the background. Also, a yellow outfit is clearly visible on a clothes rack behind Pete. When Ed Lawrence later confronts Pete about Gudrun, he’ll be wearing a yellow sports jacket. In an interesting play on words, Pete tells the saleswoman that he wants to get “out of ladies dresses” (he certainly wants to get Gudrun out of her dress).

In her new job status, Joan is wearing purple (a new color for her). Both put on performances for each other’s benefit. Pete pretends that the dress is Joan’s. Joan pretends not to realize that it's not Trudy’s dress. Joan also acts as though she is doing fine. Pete makes it clear that Trudy should not be told about the dress so as to avoid “drama” (more theatrics).

Betty and Don arrive in Rome, where Betty's fluent Italian comes in handy at the Hilton. While Don naps, Betty calls the concierge to arrange an appointment at the beauty salon.

Betty’s ability to speak Italian allows her to play another role. Her cigarette will be lit by a man for the first of three times (a harkening to an "old fashioned" approach to women). The room Hilton reserves for them has the same color scheme as Sterling Cooper (for instance, the doors are blue). This reinforces the notion that Don is there to work and not on vacation. A basket of fruit is visible in the first panning shot of the room. Fruit will be discussed later by Pete and Trudy (another couple whose marriage is in trouble).

At the Hilton's outdoor cafe, the meticulously coiffed Betty banters with two Italian men, not letting on that Don is her husband when he joins her. Don "wins" the contest for Betty's affections. After the glum Italians depart, the Drapers continue their flirtation until Connie arrives. "By golly, you are an indecently lucky man," Connie says to Don upon meeting Betty.

As mentioned before, Betty in black dress and Don put on a play in café. One of the Italian men lights Betty’s cigarette (the second time someone has lit a cigarette for her). He makes an overt pass by saying that he would be happy if he were a cigarette in Bettys’ mouth. Earlier, Henry Francis talked about Betty making him “happy.” When Don arrives, a fountain (not unlike the one Ken references in the first scene) can be seen in the background. Later, Hilton's attention to Betty borders on lecherous.

"He adores you," says Betty when she and Don return to their room. Kissing as they slowly undress, the Drapers fall to the bed.

As they lay down on the bed, a siren can be heard from outside. When they kiss again in the morning, a siren will also be heard in the background. Like Gudrun, Betty and Don would seem to be facing a personal emergency (even if they both don’t realize it yet).

Back in Ossining, Bobby spies on Sally and Ernie while they play grown-up. When Sally kisses Ernie, Bobby makes fun of her. Sally tackles Bobby, hitting him repeatedly until Carla separates the siblings.

Like Gudrun's dress and Betty's nightgown, Bobby’s shirt is stained. Sally and Ernie, in a bathtub surrounded by blue walls (Mad Men’s color for traditional institutions such as marriage) play act that they are a couple. Sally gives Ernie (who wears the "same shirt," as Miss Farrell pointed out to Don in 723, like the other fathers) their “first kiss.” After Sally’s incident with Bobby, Carla threatens to not let Ernie play at the Draper’s house anymore. Sally and Ernie glance at each other like the two star-crossed lovers from Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juilet.

Pete presents the new dress to a grateful Gudrun. He suggests they celebrate with a cocktail, but Gudrun declines, saying that she has a boyfriend. Pete returns to his apartment and pours a drink. Later, he awakens Gudrun and reminds her of the great pains he took to procure the dress. "I think I at least deserve to see it on you," he says. In her bedroom, Pete kisses her.

Pete is alone in his apartment. Many of the characters in Souvenir spend time looking reflectively out the window--the sound of traffic in the background. A siren can be heard briefly outside before Pete goes to Gudrun's apartment. It’s worth noting that Pete and Trudy live in Apartment 14G. Likewise, in Out of Town, Don and the stewardess were also on the fourteenth floor. Most buildings label the thirteenth floor "fourteen." So, in a sense, these characters are playing out their “dramas” in a fictional setting. Pete’s “first kiss” with Gudrun is a decidedly unpleasant looking experience.

Back in Rome, Connie invites the Drapers to breakfast, but they beg off to stay up in the room together.

That Don has reversed roles with Betty is shown by the fact that he’s sleeping on her side of the bed. As with Pete, there’s a shot of the open window. Don comments that he enjoyed the sounds of buses outside. This reinforces the notion of characters longing to escape their situation. Don tells Betty to order room service as a reminder that they are still working for Connie (evaluating the hotel from a guest’s viewpoint). As mentioned earlier, a siren goes off when Don and Betty kiss.

The same evening, Pete's neighbor, Ed Lawrence, confronts him about Gudrun. Ed doesn't care about Pete's escapades, he explains. He just doesn't want to lose the rare nanny his wife can get along with. Pete should leave Gudrun alone.

At the start of the scene, Pete is wearing grown-up clothes and eating a meal like an adult in the dining area of his apartment. The encounter seems to have bolstered his self-image (it's almost as if he's now playing the role of sophisticate). However, that facade will come crashing down after Pete's neighbor, Ed Lawrence (who is wearing a yellow jacket) confronts him about the incident with Gudrun.

At home, Betty confronts Sally about fighting with Bobby. She needs to control her temper, Betty warns.

Bobby is playing with toy airplane (another travel reference). Betty now seems bored when Don lights her cigarette (this, for the third and final time).

A jolly Trudy returns from her vacation. As she and Pete board their building's elevator, Gudrun enters with the two Lawrence children.

Tipping that trouble is coming, Trudy remarks on the trouble her father had with his boat. Gudrun is carrying a toy sailboat when she enters the elevator.

In the Campbell apartment, Pete grows sullen. Trudy assumes that seeing the Lawrence children triggered his guilt over their lack of offspring. "I don't care," she says. Pete shakes his head. "Did something happen?" she asks. Pete doesn't respond. Trudy walks to the bedroom and slams the door.

Though it's the same one from earlier, the couch Pete and Trudy are sitting on seems smaller than it looked in the first scene showing Pete sitting on it alone. A yellow pillow, perhaps a reminder of Ed Lawrence’s jacket, is prominently placed in the middle of the shot.

The same day Betty tells Sally, "You don't kiss boys. Boys kiss you." Sally's first kiss should be special. "It's where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone," Betty says.

In 723, Betty put the Wentworth there in a vain attempt to fill what her decorator had identified as the “soul” of their home (in Betty’s case, it’s empty). Now, before talking to Sally, Betty takes a deliberate glance at the Wentworth. While advising Sally about boys, Betty seems to be reflecting on the Draper’s now empty relationship (which the Henry Francis incident served to highlight for her).

Pete arrives home from work. Trudy chatters about inconsequential matters until he interrupts her. "I don't want you to go away anymore without me," he says. "Good," she replies. "I won't."

Trudy acts as though nothing has happened. Pete makes an overture that he doesn’t want to ever be left alone. Before this, Trudy has been taking about her inability to find fruit to serve. As noted before, the Drapers had a fruit basket (a gift from Hilton) in their hotel room. That Trudy couldn't find fruit would seem to hint that the Campbells will be more successful in dealing with their issues than the Drapers.

The last travel reference is when Pete, talking about his day, describes a ketchup filled water balloon that they played with at work. The result of such a contraption would surely cause a stain (like the stains that Gudrun and Betty had to deal with).

Francine, at Betty's house, says that the trustees may have reversed course on the reservoir, then quizzes a noncommittal Betty about Rome. Switching back to the reservoir, Francine suggests that their setback could give Betty "an excuse to get more help from high places." "I'm done with that," Betty says. "We made our stand."

Betty dusts off dress as if it were stained. She is still troubled by something.

Later Betty tells Don, "I hate this place. I hate our friends. I hate this town." The two will go away again, Don assures her, directing her attention to a gift he's brought: a gold Colosseum bracelet charm.

Betty, accepting the souvenir impassively, replies that now she’ll "have something to look at when I tell the story about the time we went to Rome." She walks slowly away.

Unlike Carmela in The Sopranos, who always seemed placated by Tony's gifts, Betty is nonplused by Don's present. Like Don’s cuff links, Betty’s bracelet charm came from Connie. Thus, both are symbolically handcuffed to Hilton. Perhaps Don has come to terms with this after his experience in 723. This time, it is Betty who more strongly feels trapped by her life and longs to escape.

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