Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Work Image: Montage in Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad

Gilles Deleuze stated that montage is an "indirect image of time," in Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul it is an indirect image of work, or of a temporality dominated by work. I am primarily interested in the latter show, having blogged enough about the first. I just wanted to note that it is one of the stylistic points of continuity between the two shows; that and the odd close up and point of view shots. As much as the basic form remains the same the shifting tone and content of the two shows, from drug empire to the world of law firms, shifts the way the montages function, becoming less about the fantasy of accumulation and more about the particular frustrations and hopes of work.

In the scene above, we get a series of acts that punctuate the scene, the highlighter, the post-its, and the cell phone. Each of these delineate a particular action, in the case of Kim, a search for another contact and job opportunity. Kim becomes increasing demoralized. The scene could go on forever; Kim could go on cold calling potential leads and clients for ever,  never finding the client that gets her out of the basement. The song, in this case, A Mi Manera by the Gypsy Kings, does not just package the montage, turning the quotidian frustrations into something that could pass as entertainment, it also delimits its temporality. The song, however, gives us an ending, almost an arbitrary one, completing the task and making it possible to move on. The repetitions do not so much accumulate as the cycle is broken. 

Work, as Richard Sennett reminds us, is the intersection of cyclical and linear time, or at least used to be. The repetitions of doing the same thing from day to day eventually accumulate into a career, a trajectory and a direction. Better Call Saul reminds us exactly how arbitrary the connection between the repetitions and direction is, as arbitrary and conventional as the running time for a pop song. The actions do not so much add up, accumulate, as the song ends, fading out or ending abruptly. Unless of course what you are trying to do is get fired;  those actions, the little infractions and big blunders, add up without a problem. Getting fired is easy (and a lot more fun) getting work to count, to add up to something, is a lot harder.  

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