Tag Archives: opening credits

MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

by Millicent Evans

The opening title sequence to Mad Men, probably one of the most poignant openings in the history of television, 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 every week. The viewer follows a black silhouette of Don Draper as he enters his office, sets down his briefcase, and takes a few steps. After a few seconds the office crumbles at once, sending the entire contents of Don’s office, including Don himself, cascading into a downward spiral of advertisements, smiling ladies, and slogans. It ends with Don resting in a chair with a cigarette while the title to the show appears and sets off into the episode. 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.

There is something visually stunning about the title sequence to Mad Men. The office is seen in an art deco style, with black bold lines outlining objects on Don’s desk and windows. 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. Unsurprisingly, the opening is no exception to Weiner’s obsessive perfection, and has the look and feel of the times.

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. Additionally there are ads of liquor and sex. 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.

If the viewer pays close attention, one can see that when 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 (and what I like to imagine a drink in the other 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. Even in the show’s fourth season, as everything is becoming the most intense, the viewer is still there with Don fully aware that he is capable of beating the odds.

Born and raised in Indiana, Millicent Evans comes from the heart and soul of the Midwest. An avid couch potato all her life, she dropped out of a real college after three years to pursue a degree in television writing from Columbia College. Ironically, Millicent grew up in a household where cable television was banned because her mother believed it to be impure and vulgar. As a result, she was forced to watch PBS where programs such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Are You Being Served? heavily shaped and molded the British television lover she is today. She will tell you the best television you are not watching comes from Great Britain. She thoroughly believes that beneath the scummy surface of reality television and Fox News rests a colossal land of intelligent television. The Don Drapers, Fran Fines, and David Brents of the television world make better friends than any real human could.

In her spare time she enjoys the rodeo, drinking and listening to Steely Dan records. Occasionally she reads books, but only if she suspended her Netflix account because of lack of funds. Her ultimate goal is to become the next Jack Donaghy. Or at least create and write the Night Court of her generation.

MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

by Joseph Riedel

Don Draper strives to live the American dream.  On the surface everything looks perfect.  He has the perfect wife.  He has perfect kids.  He has a perfect dog that lives with them in his perfect house in the suburbs.  This all sounds fantastic on paper.  However, when diving further into Don Draper’s mind one will find that this is all an elaborate decoration.  Don has designed it to cover up the structure of his life, like the facade of a building covers up the framing.  He has to balance his “American Dream” life and his other “Ad Man” life.  It is a difficult balance to maintain, and it can fall apart at any moment.  This brings me to the start of the Mad Men title credits.

At the top of the credits, a “Shadow Don” enters into an artist representation of his office.  His office represents his perfect job, and extends to his perfect life.  The way that the artist has created the office is essential to the credits.  Most, or all of the lines within the drawing seem to be connected.  Then suddenly, a line is tugged and everything starts to unravel.  This represents the fear Don has that one tiny mess up, one tugging of the string, can unravel his entire life.  Once his office falls apart, Don falls.

He falls through a jungle of advertisements.  These images that Don and his team design to convince the American public to buy certain products, are also meant to convince Don to buy into the reality that he has created for himself.  The adds contain a barrage of beautiful women.  Don has strived to surround himself with beautiful women.  I would argue that one of the points Mad Men attempts to promote is the amazing power that some women can wield.  Mad Men follows the struggles of Peggy Olson.  The viewer watches her start off as Don’s secretary.  As the series progresses she fights her way up the ladder.  She fights and manipulates.  Don keeps a series of beautiful women involved in his life other than just his wife Betty.  They all seem to have a certain power over him.

Other than the images of women, Don passes by a series of advertisements with words in them.  The first one that can be read clearly reads “enjoy the best America has to offer”.  I argue that this once again brings us back to the importance of the “American Dream”.  Don wants his life to be “ best America has to offer”.  The second image reads “it’s the gift that never fails”.  These words belong to an advertisement for a diamond ring.  This is not only a commentary about materialism, but the value of the fake over the real.  The “ring” is the important part, not the shared feelings in a relationship.  This returns to the point that I made earlier about Don’s family being a fake tool used to achieve his desire to have the “American Dream”.

It all concludes with Don sitting calmly on a couch with a cigarette in his hand.  He is cool and collect.  I believe that this is the only part of the title sequence that represents exterior forces at work, unlike the rest of the sequence which internalized all of Don’s experiences.  I say that it is exterior forces because I believe that this last shot is how the rest of the world sees Don.  They do not get a glimpse into Don’s head.  They do not get to see his world unraveling or watch him fall.  They all see Don as the cool, collect, and calm man sitting in his chair with a cigarette.

MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

by Adam Gasperoni Riddle

The beginning of Mad Men is a culmination of something new and something vintage. With contemporary artist RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine” playing a juxtaposition of new millennium electro with 60s jazz in the background, a silhouetted, mod odyssey of the Man in the Gray (black) Flannel Suit begins. He stands in an already minimalist office, which as he lays down his suitcase, starts to decompose.

Looking around him and finding a place to settle, the suited man’s world immediately starts to bottom out. The corporate office, the little cubicle of capitalism, starts to bottom out. This shows what little chances for advancement working in an office in postwar America offered. When looking at today’s times, it could also represent the current recession, the failing economy, and the complete lack of stability with today’s businesses.

From the grey-washed malaise, we black out into the suited man’s coat, only to pull out and discover he’s falling. Falling down past skyscrapers with a plethora of advertisements around him. His environment is completely detached from him, and vice versa. He drops down past the towering and showy success of Madison Avenue, and it lives on, unfazed by his descent. The ability of corporate America to use a person and move on has always been seen in capitalism throughout the years, and in an advertising world where one needs to thrive on the precipice of what’s happening in the world, the need to prove oneself is that much more crucial. When one fails, the company lives on. The advertisements are like dead souls and the fall like the River Styx. Everything the man has worked on and for will exist idly with or without him, and all he can do is watch everything as it’s taken away from him.

One advertisement reads: Enjoy the Best America Has to Offer.  This sentiment seems as empty as the smiles on the women’s faces that adorn the bikini, beer, and other ads in the city. It’s the fall of the American Dream. The 1960s were all about disillusionment and change, as well as the persistent desire to hold onto values of a promised life. The title sequence strips away everything the 50s built up: new business, happiness, nuclear families, American promises and aspirations. When the world breaks down its infrastructure and tries to redefine itself, what is one left to but oneself?

Thus, the suited man seated in a world of grey. All he has is a chair to rest in and a cigarette dangling between his fingertips. Whether he is happy or unfulfilled is as uncertain as the world he is looking at. Perhaps the only essence to be understood from the ending shot is freedom.  Absent of positive or negative connotations – simply, freedom. The suited man is no longer confined by the cookie-cutter office life; he is no longer surrounded by towering business and pervasive American values; he is no longer falling into a cluttered abyss of everything he worked for. To quote Don Draper, “Change is neither good or bad. It just is.”

The title sequence leaves us filling in what world the suited man is in now, and entices us to see what world he will create for himself.