Mad Men Weekend with NY Magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz, February 5th-7th
MAD MEN WEEKEND spotlights four of the many classic films that influenced Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed drama Mad Men, which ran from 2008-2014 on AMC. Although it was mainly a character study rich in period detail, following executives, creative people and office workers at a struggling New York ad agency in the tumultuous 1960s, the series was also a meditation on the effect of popular culture on society’s collective dreams; as such, cinema played an enormous part, not just in the consciousness of the show’s main characters (the agency’s creative director, Don Draper, fed his imagination at matinees) but in the look and feel of the series, which drew equally on the era’s Hollywood studio productions and classics of European art cinema. – Matt Zoller Seitz
Each screening will be accompanied by a video essay from film editor Serena Bramble, which Seitz will perform live. A book signing of Seitz’s latest book “Mad Men Carousel: The Complete Critical Companion”, will also follow each screening.
“I’d hate to take a bite out of you, Sidney,” powerful New York gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) tells toadying press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis). “You’re a cookie full of arsenic.” Based on Ernest Lehman’s novella, and adapted by Lehman and playwright Clifford Odets (who supplied many of the more corrosive and baroque insults), Sweet Smell of Success is one of the ultimate New York night films, and a study in power. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and his writers had it in the backs of their minds throughout the series’ run because of the story’s fascination with how images can be shaped or shattered, and because the dialogue has a bowstring snap. Many of the ad agency’s scandals, power plays and rivalries echo scenes from “Success”, in particular any scene between Don or Roger and their ambitious and sometimes treacherous underling Pete Campbell. Alexander MacKendrick, a veteran of Ealing Studio comedies, directed the entire film on location in New York after sundown, which made it one of the more expensive films released by United Artists in the 1950s; it was a box-office flop, but its reputation continues to grow.
Friday at 7:00pm. Tickets here.
1957, 96 min, DCP // Free or discounted for members.
Directed by Billy Wilder from a script by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, this groundbreaking comedy-drama about the power dynamics in the Manhattan offices of an insurance company is still startling and moving, thanks mainly to its grasp of just how cruel and deluded people can be when sex, love and approval are at stake. Jack Lemmon plays C.C.”Bud” Baxter, an office drone who lets executives use his apartment for extramarital dalliances; Fred MacMurray is Jeff Sheldrake, a top boss who promises to promote Bud in exchange of the exclusive use of his flat; Shirley MacLaine is Fran Kubelik, who becomes the latest of Sheldrake’s conquests, with disastrous results. The film is filled with situations familiar to Mad Men fans, including an office Christmas party that becomes an emotional disaster area, the use of Broadway show tickets to curry favor, and the institutionalized practice of treating female office workers as playthings or prizes. Edie Adams costars as a secretary whose last name is Olsen.
Saturday at 7:00pm. Tickets here.
1960, 125 min, DCP // Free or discounted for members.
Frank Perry directed this suburban drama; his wife, screenwriter Eleanor Perry, adapted the original 1964 short story by John Cheever, about a man named Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) who acts out his midlife crisis by returning home from a cocktail party by “swimming” through every pool in his neighborhood, believing that together they form a “river” back to his house. Essentially a depressive 1960s Connecticut cousin of “The Odyssey”, this film and Cheever’s original short story were cited often by TV critics writing about Mad Men, especially in conjunction with season four’s “The Summer Man”, in which Don Draper tries to pull himself out of an alcoholic tailspin through a regimen of journal writing and swimming laps at the YMCA pool. But the film resonates with the series in more general ways. Like much of Mad Men, The Swimmer is concerned with upper-middle class East Coast suburbanites who fancy themselves sophisticated but who seem dissatisfied and depressed, and whose misadventures with sex and alcohol make messes of their home lives. Also like Mad Men, its tone is at once realistic and curiously dreamlike, and the characters’ specific actions could be interpreted as metaphors if the viewer chose to go that route.
Saturday at 9:30 pm. Tickets here.
1968, 95 min, DCP // Free or discounted for members.
See if this sounds familiar: a New York executive with a beautiful home and a beautiful wife and a regular routine that includes taking the train into Grand Central station decides one day that he’s had enough of his supposedly perfect life, adopts a new identity and goes off to California to become somebody else. That’s not too far from Don Draper’s story on Mad Men (though with a lot more complications and a Dickensian back story), but this film from director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) and screenwriter Lewis John Carlino adds Twilight Zone atmosphere and dashes of science fiction allegory: the hero, initially played by John Randolph, gets plastic surgery that gives him Rock Hudson’s face, plus a new career as an up-and-coming gallery artist, and the people who hook him up are part of a bizarre Amway-like organization based around “referrals.” Shot in monochrome and occasionally fish-eye by James Wong Howe (who also shot Sweet Smell of Success), Seconds is one of the oddest studio films of the 1960s, and one one of the most haunting.
Sunday at 8:30pm. Tickets here.
1966, 106 min, DCP // Free or discounted for members.