No cultural reference in Mad Men goes unnoticed, yet many viewers of this week’s episode will have struggled to identify the film Don Draper watches alone in a cinema, smoking and morose and still on enforced leave from the advertising agency he founded. Luckily the internet tells us the film is Model Shop, by French director Jacques Demy, released in 1969 when this final series of Mad Men is set.
Model Shop was a portrait of hippie-era Los Angeles. As his relationship with an aspiring actress is crumbling, its lead character becomes infatuated with another woman. And as Don sits in that cinema, his wife Megan is trying to make her name in Hollywood. Like a finger of Don’s favourite Canadian Club whiskey, their relationship is on the rocks.
Perhaps Don is trying to convince himself that he wants to move to LA to be with her. In one scene from Model Shop, the film’s protagonist insists to a friend: “It’s a fabulous city. To think some people claim it’s an ugly city when it’s really pure poetry it just kills me.”
Demy’s film was a flop. Yet Mad Men has a record of salvaging work from the bottom drawer of cultural history: poet Frank O’Hara was barely in print until Don read aloud from his collection Meditations in an Emergency. Sales boomed by 1,000 per cent.