The Mad Men theme is a piece of “A Beautiful Mine” by RJD2. I think (surprise!) that the use of modern music on the show is extremely significant. We’re not watching a show that only uses music from the time it takes place in - the soundtrack to the show also includes songs meant to take us out of the story for a moment. One great example is here. Another is in the show’s early promos featuring “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse (which is like NOWHERE on the internet).
We’re not watching a documentary; we’re not even watching a period piece. The Mad Men story isn’t about the 60’s, it’s about the present. Using modern music or music not from 1960 is a way of reminding us that these stories and themes are relevant to us today. We’re seeing stories that wouldn’t get told if the show were actually made in 1960. RJD2 is a cool shorthand for that idea.
The sequence itself, directed by Mark Gardner and Steve Fuller, and produced by Cara McKenney, has quite a bit to unpack. First, here’s Matthew Weiner’s comments on it:
When he mentions Saul Bass, incidentally, here you can watch one significant Saul Bass opening title sequence. First of all, coupled with the Bernard Herrmann music, the speeding lines, moving to form a building in New York City, create a great deal of tension. This must have influenced Weiner’s idea of the buildings representing the inner demons of the lead character. The slower score from the Mad Men theme is kind of a way of playing with this notion: while Cary Grant’s R-O-T’s world is about to explode, and fast, Don Draper’s world, and the meticulously homogenous bubble of Sterling Cooper, is slowly deflating. Even as the world around them is changing fast, these institutions took much more time to even acknowledge change. It wasn’t until Season 3’s “Pete invents demographics” episode that Bert Cooper even seemed aware of the civil rights movement.
As to the man’s facelessness, there are two important facets to this. One is again a callback to Hitchcock. The now-iconic shot of the back of Don Draper’s head seems a strong callback to this scene here. Hitchcock’s formalist style meant that any deviation from a boring two-shot (basically just “here is the room, here are the people in it”) was Significant. The scenes in Vertigo that don’t involve Jimmy Stewart going crazy are pretty boringly filmed, to maximize the effect of the scenes where he’s suddenly falling through a concentric-circle rabbit hole. And this scene where all we see is the back of Cary Grant’s head is meant to say to us: “Hey! Who the hell is this guy?!”
The other important element of this faceless man is that you may recognize the director’s name: Steve Fuller. He also directed the little-loved Nurse Jackie intro, and once you know this, you’re kind of like “Oh, yeah. I could see that. These things are pretty similar.” One important difference is that we can see Nurse Jackie’s face as her various demons tumble around her. As I discussed here, faceless cartoons universalize a character. The man falling from the building here isn’t necessarily Don Draper. He’s Whitey. Straight white cismen: you have built a world of power on the backs of the oppressed. And that foundation will not stop fighting to bring it down. And, at the risk of being too cliched, the higher your building, the longer you have to fall.
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