Sound and Silence and Imagery in Mad Men

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The look of Mad Men is a stylish 1960’s period piece.  Advertising is all about image and style, and the imagery in Mad Men really plays up to that aesthetic.  The pilot opens with a shot of Don Draper from the back.  He’s wearing a dark suit and sitting down with a drink.  This is a direct reference to the opening credits and establishes that this man is the main character of the show before we even see his face.  Don is at a bar doing research on cigarettes.  The bar is loud and as he looks around he sees well dressed, beautiful people drinking, smoking, and laughing.  This is the glamorous world to which Don belongs, the glamorous world of advertising.

 The lively music gets louder before cutting to silence and then Don knocking on a door.  A pretty woman wearing only a button down shirt answers and lets Don in.  The cut from loud music to silence is startling and signals the entering into another world in the life of Don Draper.  He has left his loud, trendy world of advertising and entered into the quieter world of a secret relationship.  It is truly a striking contrast to see him in this quiet and plain apartment with a girl who is barely dressed, after just coming from a loud and glittering bar with fashionable people wearing fashionable clothes.  

A new burst of music and a scenery change and the audience is introduced to another important location in the life of Don Draper: the office.  The music is bustling during a shot looking down the building of Sterling Cooper to the people rushing on the street below.  This shot reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, and there is another similar shot looking up at the building of Sterling Cooper later on in the episode.  

northbynorthwest (a shot from North by Northwest – 1959)

In the scenes that take place in the office, I noticed that there is usually constant background noise of typing, except when Don is in deep thought.  During these appearances of memory and inspiration, there is silence followed by the slow introduction of deep tones and drum beats (somewhat reminiscent of a heartbeat).  When Don snaps out of these spells the sounds of typing inevitably reemerge.

Jumping to the end of the episode, tense and rushed music blares as Don makes his way home.  The music conveys the stress of a long day of work.  Don walks into his house and we see his family for the first time.  As Don sits with his gorgeous and two children in his perfect looking house, the episode ends with Vic Damone singing “On the Street Where You Live.”  This wholesome song is the perfect accompaniment for the image of the perfect family that Don has created for himself.

These are just a few examples of how important sound is in the various scenes of a Mad Men episode.  It’s not just background noise but the sound, or lack of sound, really contributes to the mood of the scene, especially as the viewer is lead through the various different parts of Don Draper’s life.  The sound acts as a harmonious backup to the imagery that is presented on screen.

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One Response to “Sound and Silence and Imagery in Mad Men”

  1. julorean Says:

    Those spells of deep thought really caught my attention. The music makes it seem especially noticable among the hustle and bustle and constant noise of the office. The feeling I got from those moments was calm and thoughtful. I found myself wondering what he was thinking of at those moments, where he went mentally. The contrast in sound removes him somewhat from his surroundings.

    I was intrigued by the anomalousness of the booming sounds that invaded the calmness when he was laying down for a nap. They sounded ominous – where did they come from, and why would he be thinking of them then?

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