I love it when the matter and the form align.
This is a documentary about the top creative folks in (US) advertising. It traces an explosion of influence from either putting creatives in charge or allowing the graphic/cinema guys to be up front — depending on who is being interviewed. And it is primarily about the interviews with the people who did some pretty memorable things, most notably for Nike and Apple, but interestingly for milk, Volkswagon, Reagan and Hilfiger. The people are engaging because that is their dual business: they have to be engaging in capturing clients and subsequently in capturing the public for those clients.
By themselves, the interviews are outstanding, and arranged in a way that first builds a story, then highlights the differences, even contradictory approaches of the competing personalities and firms. Then we have layered on the interviews the ads themselves, which we all know from previous experience. That also is a rewarding experience because it “explains” what we thought we already knew.
Layered on that is some infographics: facts about the size and influence of the business. This is less engaging. There are several framing devices. One has a specific billboard worker appearing throughout. Another has the space shuttle slowly advancing toward its pad and at the end taking off to the same uplifting techniques we have just had explained. Also, throughout are some very beautiful shots of landscapes and objects in landscapes, not always relevant but they establish temporal and visual rhythms that tells me that this filmmaker knows his stuff.
The interviews put some of the obvious things clearly on the table: most ads are junk and harmful to the imagination; the manipulation behind the most successful work has moral dimensions. While these are profound issues, they are glibly explained away by people who are professions at justifying themselves. This could easily have been one of those tsk tsk stories that we have about food, medicine and the defense industry, where society is destroyed for profit. Instead, this celebrates advertising as art, perhaps real art; perhaps the only real art.
The fold here is that the business of advertising advertises itself. In a sense, that is what we have here, and it works. Whether you will leave happy or not is up to you. But either way, you will likely wonder about it for a long time.
Posted in 2010
Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.