Posts Tagged ‘Mad Men’

What makes things “dramatic”?

February 22, 2010

The following two random pieces of text offer some bizarrely similar insights here.
First, from a recent Onion AV Club interview with Olivia “Teacher from Rushmore” Williams:

“We had an ancient Prussian acting coach at my drama school who said the worst offense you could commit was to let your subtext show. He would say: [Prussian accent] ‘Your subtext is showing.’ That is the point of acting, it is to be saying one thing and not be allowed by society or your predicament to show what you’re reallying feeling. In a way, I think that’s why the therapy generation has killed scriptwriting, because all you ever get is people going, “Hi, I’m feeling really angry right now.” And if you say that, you’ve got nothing left to act. The excruciating moments of drama are when people are allowed to show or way what they feel.”

Second, from an article on Mad Men that appears in the latest issue of Jump Cut — (if you haven’t seen Season 2 of the show, watch out for SPOILERS):

“In season 2, episode 8 (A Night to Remember), when Office Manager, Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), temporarily takes on the job of script reader for the newly formed TV sales department, the opening may be in part due to Peggy’s earlier successes. It’s easy to project some proto-feminist movement, even as the harsh sexist environment reasserts its dominance through the hiring of an inexperienced man to permanently take over the new position. The department has become successful because of Joan’s insight into how to sell soap to women and when interest will be piqued on daytime TV. When Joan discovers that she has been unceremoniously replaced — the torpedo bra torpedoed — and is expected to train her replacement, her disappointment is overwhelming. (Or is that our disappointment?) The emotion is allowed only the briefest moment of escape before Joan’s façade reasserts control.

The program’s richest moments are ruptures like these, brief moments when the characters experience confusion or disappointment but then struggle not to let it show, when their real selves and the images they have constructed come into conflict. These are moments of vulnerability, of reality asserting itself briefly into the world of the image. Our clean, colorful 60s fantasy is interrupted by such casual brutality. We are reminded of the real constraints under the binding clothing, the actual challenges and limitations of the period.”

Mad Men is set in a world where social norms that we take for granted haven’t arisen yet, so it’s doubly poignant when Joan gets passed over for that promotion and can’t do anything about it. I’d argue that you also see this effect in non-Mad Men period pieces where great attention is paid to courtly facade — Jane Austen adaptations, Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, the movie version of Remains of the Day…etc.

So, with respect to Ms. Williams’ remark, *is* acting all about hiding the character’s feelings while also expressing them? Or could it simply be the case that British actors are trained with a certain type of drama in mind?

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