Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Frank Zappa as an Influence on "Breaking Bad"

People have commented over the years on the various influences on Vince Gilligan's work, but I haven't heard anyone mention satirist Frank Zappa. Zappa's work, like Gilligan's, is characterized by conceptual continuity, with ideas and characters reappearing across works.

Most of Zappa's satire starts with simple but careful observations.

Among the most-prominent alumni of Zappa's Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (UMRK) studios were Warren Cuccurullo, and Dale and Terry Bozzio, who formed the 1980's New-Wave band, "Missing Persons." Among their most-popular songs was "Walking in LA," which satirically notes how few people walk anywhere in sprawling Los Angeles, and more-importantly, that "only a nobody walks in LA."

The 1993 film "Falling Down," starring Michael Douglas, is virtually the prototype of "Breaking Bad." The film follows a nobody named Bill Foster (the proto Walter White) on a walk across central Los Angeles. Many "Breaking Bad" themes are directly-anticipated: the same gallows humor, Golden-Age decay, Latino hoodlums, complaints about wretched consumer service, obsession with family, a neo-Nazi, and interactions with the police. In addition, many visual elements are anticipated too: a pesky fly, Art Deco architecture, playground equipment, hanging lamps, and Whammyburger as the proto Los Pollos Hermanos. And the music is very similar too.

Vince Gilligan took a lot of the elements of "Falling Down" and weaponized them for "Breaking Bad."

In some ways, "Breaking Bad" is Frank Zappa's direct descendant.

Scenes From "Falling Down" (1993)

An annoying fly.

Bill Foster just walks away from his car.

Walking in LA.

Latino gangstas.

Bill Foster (Michael Douglas) picks up an arsenal when the Latino gangstas crash.

"Not Economically Viable."

Los Angeles Streamline Moderne on the left.

El Pollo Loco.

The grid of windows on the Korean Market anticipates Breaking Bad's glass block windows.

Busting up the Korean Market under the windows.

La Barata Theater.

Art Deco theater front.

MacArthur Park Art Deco architecture.

MacArthur Park playground equipment.

A Neo-Nazi.

Octagonal pavilion at the end of Santa Monica Pier (representing God's protective grace).

Grid of portraits on the wall.

Police station windows.

Whammyburger. I love 'Sheila Folsom' here.

"The customer is always right."

Hanging ceiling lamps are shaped as icosahedra with tetrahedral symmetry, a Platonic solid representing water. Platonic solids represent a premature "Theory of Everything" which modern physics is still working on.

"Breaking Bad" objects to positivism. So does "Falling Down." The hanging ceiling lamps, for example, are icosahedra with tetrahedral symmetry, a Platonic solid representing water. Platonic solids are a premature "Theory of Everything" - alluring but misleading - as are orders of fries at Whammyburger, or Gus Fring's spices at Los Pollos Hermanos.

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