2007年8月23日 星期四

A Return to That Drop-Dead Year 1960

drop-dead (drŏp'dĕd')
adj. Slang.
  1. Very impressive; spectacular: “a special video of the best-dressed women making drop-dead, knockout entrances at parties and fashion shows in Paris and New York” (André Leon Talley).
  2. Of or relating to a deadline that cannot be changed: a drop-dead date.

drop-dead gorgeous
extremely attractive:
He's not drop-dead gorgeous or anything, but he's quite nice.

(from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)

drop-dead informal

a drop-dead person or piece of clothing is very beautiful
Her exquisite figure was shown off to the full in a drop-dead black
dress. [always before noun]
He turned up to the concert with a drop-dead gorgeous woman on his arm.

A Return to That Drop-Dead Year 1960

Nicole Bengiveno/New York Times

FLASHBACK In “Mad Men,” obsessive details evoke its era.

Published: August 23, 2007

I’M from Bay Ridge. We have manners,” Peggy, the pony-tailed secretary, scolds the colleague who has just propositioned her in “Mad Men,” the new drama on the cable channel AMC. Do Peggy’s colleagues at Sterling Cooper, the turbo-powered advertising agency where she works, fall a little short in that department?

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Carin Baer/AMC

BRYLCREEM-SLICK From the secretaries’ lipsticks to tables coated in cigarette ash, every little thing tells a story in “Mad Men.”

Craig Blankenhorn/AMC

No matter. They have style.

The “girls” in the steno pool, the nakedly striving junior executives, the smooth-talking bosses and their stay-at-home wives have done their best to acquire the veneer of graceful gestures that stand in for real courtesy. Their mannerisms, and their sleek appurtenances, come with the turf: the steel-and-glass landscape of Madison Avenue in 1960, where burled wood and frosted-glass-panel interiors form a sumptuous backdrop against which the players stride about in sheaths and glen plaid suits.

  1. A thin surface layer, as of finely grained wood, glued to a base of inferior material.
  2. Any of the thin layers glued together to make plywood.
  3. A decorative facing, as of brick.
  4. A deceptive, superficial show; a façade: a veneer of friendliness.

n. - 薄板, 膠合板, 單板
v. tr. - 鑲飾, 虛飾, 膠合

日本語 (Japanese)
n. - 化粧張り, 単板, うわべだけの飾り, 虚飾, 付け焼き刃

ap·pur·te·nance (ə-pûr'tn-əns) pronunciation
  1. Something added to another, more important thing; an appendage. See synonyms at appendage.
  2. appurtenances Equipment, such as clothing, tools, or instruments, used for a specific purpose or task; gear.
  3. Law. A right, privilege, or property that is considered incident to the principal property for purposes such as passage of title, conveyance, or inheritance.

Taking it all in, viewers may find themselves hooked, not just on the show’s artfully shaded characterizations and plot twists, but on its insistent attention to detail. To a style aficionado, “Mad Men” is that rare TV show in which an ashtray, a lipstick or an aerosol tin gets star treatment, and is a protagonist in its own right.

Why not? “The story is told in the details, and those details have their own life,” said Matthew Weiner, who conceived and wrote the series. Spiffed up by amber lighting, the camera lingering almost lewdly on a whiskey tumbler, a gilded compact or the polished surface of a conference table, those details reflect the growing materialism of the Eisenhower years.

Jaeger-LeCoultre watches, Delman pumps and Buick sedans are as essential to the action as a glistening smile or arched brow — projections of the characters’ idealized selves. His hair slicked with Brylcreem and flashing cuff links, Don Draper, Sterling Cooper’s brooding creative director, can imagine himself an impenetrably suave Lothario. In her scarlet-lined kimono, Midge, his mistress, can convince herself that she is a faintly louche, spirited adventuress. Floating into a party, Betty, his wife, can play the suburban princess in crinolines and pearls.

That fixation on objects, surfaces and status signifiers also holds up a mirror to the fetishistic obsessions of the present day. It would hardly seem alien to an aspiring red-carpet queen swinging an outsize Balenciaga tote, or to an ambitious young Manhattan trader girded for battle in a Hugo Boss suit.

Or, for that matter, to a fashion addict, who would surely note that the show’s aura of pulled-together formality is in step with the look of the runways, which returned this fall to mannerly 1950s-inflected tailoring.

From a modern vantage, it is easy to forget that 1960 was a watershed. An election loomed, the Pill became widely available, and there dawned a conviction, one later promoted by Andy Warhol and his ilk, that image trumps content, that style and substance may in fact be all but interchangeable.

The seeds of that notion were planted during the newly prosperous postwar years. Happiness then was not some hard-won spiritual attainment. In Don’s glib assessment, it was rather “the smell of a new car ... freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams: ‘Whatever you’re doing, is O.K. You are O.K.’ ”

In such a climate, a presidential candidate could turn unembarrassed to an agency like Sterling Cooper to rev up his image. Who knew better than Madison Avenue’s tastemakers that putting him across was largely a matter of packaging? As Don is told by Roger, his mentor: “Consider the product: He’s young, handsome, a Navy hero.

“Honestly, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince America that Nixon is a winner.”

Like Nixon’s infamous five o’clock shadow, a dusting of grit mars the otherwise sleek surfaces of “Mad Men.” That is by design, said Mr. Weiner, a former writer and producer of “The Sopranos.” Not a single prop is an afterthought, he said. “The metal fixture that clasps like a clothespin onto the guest towel — my grandmother had it, my mother had it,” Mr. Weiner said. “It’s actually written into the script.”

Roughly $2.5 million went into the filming of each episode. “All of that money has been funneled onto the screen,” he added, down to the conference tables coated in cigarette ash, and the homely touches bestowed on the characters — wrinkled shirts, sweat stains, ill-applied makeup — that lend the show an air of authenticity.

“The period is usually very glamorized,” Mr. Weiner said. Production teams, he pointed out, generally look to films like “The Best of Everything,” or Vogue or Architectural Digest, to ferret out examples of the crystal tumblers, towering beehives and pristine swing coats thought to typify the period.

“I told them that’s not the way it works,” Mr. Weiner said. “We are not doing a show from the perspective of the movies. We are doing a show about the people who watch those movies. Often they are imitating what they see.”

Imperfect creatures, they mix and match at home, placing a streamlined silver-tone coffee brewer in front of rustically patterned cafe curtains. Their drawers are full. So are their garbage pails.

Even their hair and accessories are not always tidy or up to date. “We looked at Vogue, but we also looked at the Sears catalog,” Mr. Weiner said. In the idealized world of a ’50s movie, Don might drive a Cadillac. In “Mad Men,” he drives a Buick LeSabre. In “The Best of Everything,” Hope Lange is coiffed to perfection, not a hair out of place. On “Mad Men,” chignons tumble, pageboys wilt.

“The secretary has to have a hairstyle that will basically degrade over five days of the week,” Mr. Weiner explained. “And each character has a closet — she will wear the same six dresses during a single season.”

At times throwaway gestures betray an infatuation with Hollywood and distinguish the characters from their modern counterparts. Women deftly roll down their stockings and shut their compacts with a definitive click; men flick at their lighters and habitually tug at their ties. As Mr. Weiner pointed out, they loosen the knots in private, but snap them back into place the moment a female enters the room.

n. (kŏm'păkt')
  1. A small case containing a mirror, pressed powder, and a powder puff.
  2. An automobile that is bigger in size than a subcompact but smaller than an intermediate.

An uptight move, it did not betoken good manners exactly. But it was good style.

up·tight (ŭp'tīt') pronunciation
adj. Slang.
  1. Tense; nervous.
  2. Financially pressed; destitute.
  3. Outraged; angry.
  4. Rigidly conventional, as in manners, opinions, and tastes: “She sees this headlong, headstrong, plunge into worldliness as a protracted process of shucking the shame of her uptight upbringing” (James Wolcott).