The Storage Locker (2)

April 4, 2020

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Every day you brought another load, chipping away at the boxes in your soon-to-be-former home’s crawlspace, from the jammed shelves in the garage, from your wife’s endless wardrobes. Every day you filled the car with possessions. Public Storage Works was off the 101, skirting the freeway in a dilapidated neighborhood of San Rafael. It loosely resembles the fabled production lots where you once made TV commercials, but drearier. Here stuff got put away and locked down, each unit a tomb for the diminishing lives of its owners. Staring at the numbered lockers, you observe a sad looking man creeping out from under a half-lowered gate. Like a gaunt bear emerging from his den. Squinting in the sun, he lights up a cigarette. You flash on a moment. A music video was being made in the studio next to where you were filming, for the band Linkin Park. In the merciless, midday sun you had smoked a joint with the guitarist. In Hollywood anything could happen.

To be continued…

The Storage Locker (1)

April 2, 2020

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Your father once told you possessions possess you. Nothing reminds you of this more than a storage unit, the twilight zone between heirloom and the no longer relevant. Not yet junk. At least according to Craigslist. One day your grown children might fight over the contents. In the meantime, you put it all into storage. You did this once before, when you’d moved to California. Then the extra space had only been temporary, until you found a home. This time will be longer. The house you rented for your family is smaller. It had no garage. Fewer closets. Your extraneous possessions might be locked up until the day you died or divorced, or even longer. Out of sight is out of mind.

Until recently, public storage facilities were innocuous structures, occupying real estate below bridges, by factories, in ugly places. Then, by storm, they entered popular culture by way of Reality TV. Shows like Storage Wars made each dingy locker a potential goldmine. You wonder what yours is worth, a lifetime.

To be continued…

Fire & Ice.

February 10, 2020

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As a child you feared an impending ice age more than global warming, like the one you were taught befell the dinosaurs. You remember winter in Chicago as eternal, the city defined by it. Wind chill. Polar vortexes. Snowmageddon! From the car, you’d stare at the vast, frozen lake, observing the gulls huddled on chunks of blue-white ice surviving barely, or the poor soul walking his dog amid the ruts passing for sidewalks. Wondering if winter would ever end.

Now the world is on fire, heating up as if in a microwave. From California to Australia all is burning. It has become the new normal. You once read that a frog will sit in a pot of water unmoved by the flame beneath it, slowly boiling to death. (That this craven experiment might occur is not the point.) Unable or unwilling to leave, the reptile allows itself to die one degree at a time. Complacency? One of these days, you need to start driving an electric car.

(Author’s note: This is a small section from an autobiographical novel I have been writing for some time. It’s looking for a home. Thoughts? In the meantime, I appreciate your readership.)

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The best thing about this mildly amusing parody of those “Real People/Chevy” commercials, which have been running endlessly on TV, is that it proves I’m not the only one who loathes the source material. And I do. Unreservedly.

I’m not sure why I (and others) dislike these advertisements so much. On the surface they are but showroom testimonials. Hardly creative but hardly nefarious either.

I suppose it’s the little things.

Like the seemingly random and unaware “real people,” who act surprised and delighted by the appearance of… cars? Gosh, we’ve never seen those before! Yet the curtains lift. Walls part. And lo and behold cars appear. By oohing and aahing, the allegedly unwitting folks come off as witless. Even if a $19,000 dollar Chevy Impala were capable of eliciting such responses, playing the reactions as spontaneous rankles what’s left of my jaded advertising brain.

And how about the ringmaster? Another supposed regular guy, only smugger. Note to Chevy: Being in on a joke that is positively un-funny only makes one complicit to the insult to our intelligence.

Digging deeper (if that’s possible in such shallow material), maybe it’s the adoration for Chevrolet’s commonplace vehicles that vexes me most. Nothing against affordable sedans and efficient trucks. They are the meat and potatoes of America’s roads, and we appreciate them as such. But falling to one’s knees and hugging the bumper, as one character does, is too disingenuous for words. Yes, this would play on, say, The Price is Right after winning one of these vehicles, but merely being shown these cars? And after the pomp and circumstance of so many vainglorious reveals… It’s crummy stagecraft.

I’m guessing from the many executions and frequency of airing that on some level this campaign is selling cars. In which case Chevrolet and its agency, Commonwealth shall have the last laugh.

I’m also aware that on these very pages I’ve written about my reluctance to criticize advertising in purely negative terms, which makes me a hypocrite. Perhaps my excuse for such shameless behavior is the same as Chevrolet’s: I couldn’t help myself.

For content that’ll make you very happy, hit me up: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

 

The high degree of craft demonstrated by the Coen Brothers is obvious in this new “film” for Mercedes AMG. The casting, wardrobe, acting, editing: it’s all first rate. Seeing Fonda at the end is wonderful – the cocky peace sign he flashes. Yet, everyone in the commercial shines, transcending the biker stereotype. You’ve got to love the two brutes getting stuck in the silver chains adorning their leathers. Or the grizzled biker chick wearing her lines like so many badges. Good stuff, which is what we’d expect from a Super Bowl commercial directed by the Coen Brothers.

Beyond the obvious, however, a thing I really dig (60’s verb intentional) about this film is how damn analog it is, on both sides of the camera. No smartphones. No CGI. Nobody’s tweeting. Instead we see a jukebox. Playing Steppenwolf. Dude holds up a cigarette lighter not an iPhone. Gloriously absent is all evidence of the modern world.

That is until we see the sleek new AMG roadster at the end.

Lots of commercials riff on previous decades but we can often sense the phoniness, kind of like viewing an off-Broadway production of Hair. Something about the cast or wardrobe gives it away. And we’re like: Oh, here’s a commercial making fun of the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

But not here. The righteousness of this commercial lifts it above mere advertising content. Rich in detail, fun to watch and just plain good the Coen Brothers remind us of why quality filmmaking still matters. Even in advertising. Especially in advertising.

Agency credit (and kudos) to Antoni, Germany and Merkley + Partners, USA