According to a recent report from Reuters of Rome, Oscar-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci, during a tribute in his honor by the American Academy, claimed disappointment with the Hollywood feature film world that once inspired him. Instead, he prefers to watch television shows like Mad Men, explaining that such programming offers superior casting and direction above and beyond movie-house productions.
Bertolucci, who guided classic cinema gems like Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor and Novecento, said his "generation had an affair with American culture, there's no doubt about it. A street lamp and a fire hydrant made me sing in the rain….But the American films I like now do not come from Hollywood studios but from television series, like Mad Men,” among others.
Bertolucci may have chosen the 1960s-based Mad Men as one of the best TV has to offer because this particular show presents itself like classic shows of days-gone-by… and not only with regard to premise, setting and style. The show may be presented as a nostalgic period piece of a bygone era (which, by the way, was inspired by the work-world of classic TV advertising man Darrin Stephens on Bewitched), but there is nothing organically revolutionary about its core content and presentation.
Darrin Stephens on "Bewitched" (here played by Dick York, later played by Dick Sargent) was the television world's first "mad man"
As such, it’s somewhat amusing that Bertolucci, and others of his stature, find Mad Men so enthralling and media-mind-altering when, in reality and ultimately, its production is not innovative at all. In fact, the show is rather mundane and simplistic. We’ve seen this style before, executed countless times – by any number of classic television programs and feature films.
With its lengthy, still camera shots on its actors such as the hammy Jon Hamm, and minus the manic pacing and swift dialogue exchanged (that was so overtly-ignited by Gilmore Girls in the early 2000s), Mad Men displays a tranquil elegance and sophistication that harkens back, yes, to a more fashionable era, but it’s receiving way too many accolades for allegedly paving the way for genius.
The innovative style of classic TV's top attorney (as portrayed by the iconic Raymond Burr) was evident from the get-go, as in this still from the show's opening credits
That path has already been gaited, certainly on the small screen, by the likes of Perry Mason, Peter Gunn, and yes, even Father Knows Best (which contrary to popular belief, was one of the most realistic family shows of its time). Each of these properties, and hundreds more, were produced in the traditional manner of filming a television show (or feature film, for that matter). There were no spastic camera angles…no hand-held cameras…no constant, chronic musical score to hide a less-than-worthy script. Music was utilized almost as a character and for certain emotional effect; but not in every frame (like so many TV-movies, in particular, today).
Actual stories and characters were allowed to develop, as opposed to being thrown at the audience, seemingly and shamelessly begging for their attention. Unfortunately, such strategies are employed by contemporary programming-powers in hopes of preventing viewers from changing the channel (or exiting the theatre).
But no such gimmicks are required by the likes or dislikes of today’s Mad Men, or were deemed necessary by the roads and by-ways of yesterday’s Route 66.
In each of these cases, whether in first run airing, syndicated reruns, or on DVD, viewers are invited into the small and big pictures with grace and sophistication; the audience feels that a measure of respect is placed upon them by the given show’s producers and writers. And the reward for that regard is a following of loyal fans, with high-ratings or, if for theatrical release, solid box office.
What else could any television or film writer want for his or her creation?
Herbie J Pilato is an actor, writer, producer, and singer who has worked for Syfy, A&E, TLC, Bravo, The Discovery Channel, Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony. As the author of a number of acclaimed classic TV tie-in books (such as The Bionic Book,Life Story -The Book of Life Goes On, The Bewitched Book, Bewitched Forever, The Kung Fu Book of Caine, The Kung Fu Book of Wisdom, and NBC & ME: My Life As A Page In A Book), Herbie J is the Founder and Executive Director for The Classic TV Preservation Society (a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gap between positive TV shows and education; the Creative Director for Erie Street Entertainment (a TV production company that is geared toward sci-fi/fantasy, and family-oriented material); and the President of Pop-Culture Consultants (an entertainment consulting firm). Herbie J makes frequent television appearances on shows like the TV Guide Channel's 100 Moments That Changed TV and Entertainment Tonight. He's performed on daytime soaps such as General Hospital and The Bold and The Beautiful, as well as on classic TV shows like The Golden Girls and Highway to Heaven. Herbie J's newest books include Twitch Upon A Star: The Bewitched Life and Career of Elizabeth Montgomery, which was published by Taylor Trade in November 2012, and The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery: A Guide To Her Magical Performances, which Taylor Trade will release in October 2013. For more information, log on to http://www.herbiejpilato.com/.
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