Opening Credit analysis
The opening title sequence to Mad Men sets forth the tone and style for the entire series. The creator Matthew Weiner does not waste the first thirty-seconds to tell the viewer who Don Draper really is. This opening matches the visual style of the show, sets meaning in the advertisements Don travels through that coincide with Don’s life, and takes the viewer to the ultimate conclusion that Don always lands on his feet.
The character of Don is represented by a black silhouette in a suit. It is highly stylized, very much like the show. It gives the viewer the same modern feel that encompassed the 1960s. The entire series is built upon perfecting every set piece, wardrobe and prop.
Don falls through a series of advertisements, that in some part represent the American dream: a family with kids, wedding ring, and an attractive female. Visibly noticeable is an ad for a Kentucky Bourbon called “Old Taylor 86” which comes with the tag line “Enjoy the best America has to offer.” Don specifically falls through these advertisements for a reason. His main motivation in the series involves finding that American dream. He wants a perfect family with children and a perfect smiling wife. However, Don is tempted by a darker side of booze and mistresses.
Additionally, he falls over the glass of whiskey, the liquid ripples and when he falls over the woman’s naked leg it moves up and down. This could be symbolic of how he will continually give into liquor and affairs with other women, and how powerful their impact is on Don’s life. These distractions cause his life to crumble and fall out from beneath him, just as in the first ten-seconds of the title sequence when the office falls apart.
At the very end of the sequence we have the iconic image of Don sitting in a chair with a cigarette in one hand. This image of Don has come to represent the entire series. It depicts the buoyancy that Don is capable of and the reason viewers come back each week to watch. No matter how crazy things in Don’s life become-Betty divorcing him, the agency being bought out, the death of Anna-he continually bounces back gracefully. Although everything is becoming the most intense, the viewer is still there with Don fully aware that he is capable of beating the odds.
I found their choices of opening shot very interesting. As the camera tracks out from the painting between two ladies discussing about the quality of art, they have portrayed stereotypical femininity culture here, then the shot comes wider and shows two men sitting in FRONT of females talking about business and places the women BEHIND the men. In this way, the show visually emphasizes 60s gender hierarchy system, demonstrating ‘good/wise wife’ as who obeys and serves their husband at home.
Mad Men paints an effective portrait of emotionally isolated people. As this episode shows Don’s complicated life between his work and his relationship within the family, it creates potential meaning behind the scene, where the audiences realize the importance of family.
After delivering his most memorable pitch to date (in which he waxes poetic on the nature of nostalgia to sell Kodak’s Carousel), Don hops on a train home just in time to join his adoring family for Thanksgiving—or so we think. After that alternate reality in which Don isn’t completely married to his work plays out, we see what really happened: our hero returns home to an empty house, plops himself down on the staircase and, consumed by guilt, stares longingly into the distance as this Dylan classic helps close out season one. The scene is Don in a nutshell: he wants to be better, but he just can’t, and it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why.
The way that they have created two contrasting moments highlights his loneliness and regrets about his decision, as we see different lightings and shot length, setting opposing mood. In first sequence, the footages are filled with warm lights and there are more close up shots between him and his family interacting – showing close relationship. Here, he is been greeted by his children and wife with the exhilaration for thanksgiving holiday. However, the audiences are immediately reminded that it was all his imagination as we’ve been shown the same opening shot of him walking into the house and saying “hello” to check if anyone is at home. This time, his voice sounds excited and nervous as we’ve already seen his happy ending thoughts. However, wide angled shot from up on the stairs isolating him in the middle of darkness directly gave us the idea of failure in his expectation. The dim lighting on his face, creating dark shadows on his half of the face reflected his emotion – sad and lonely.
All these carefully selected cinematography, background set-up, props, costumes, lightings and music successfully reinforced the story and meaning behind them.