March 27, 2017
“I have a gun in my hand but all I really want to do is talk.”
Sometime during this season (7) of AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead the show toppled over its own hubris and died. “Jumped the Shark” as it’s often called in popular culture. Though leaping over an apex predator would be more exciting than the demise of this once wonderful show.
Before getting into it, allow me to qualify. I loved The Walking Dead before it even came out. Devouring the source material comics and any and all related content. Without sounding like a preening fan boy, I was a zombie freak before the genre became a genre. The nihilism and terror of reanimated corpses feasting on a terrified and dwindling population spoke to me like no other type of story could, ever since I saw George Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead at a drive in movie theater(!) I was gutted. Something about people “turning” into their own worst enemy resonated, igniting my deepest fears: “They are us.” More than just ghoulish, the undead delivered the perfect allegory for our overpopulated, corrupt and polluted world.
Now zombies, like vampires before them, have become a tired trope, instead of rampaging into our nightmares they are lumbering on pub crawls and into low budget, straight-to-video oblivion. The “Dawn” has become a great yawn.
But because of its superior characters and production, The Walking Dead had largely avoided that fate. Until now.
The show has become a sequence of two-shots and medium close-ups comprising lesser characters talking endlessly to other lesser characters. In other words a soap opera. Might as well be called, “The Talking Head.” No doubt the producers feel that people are what drive the show, not zombies, that it is the living who are the real enemy -an understandable evolution but one that has, this season, gone too far. Look, we all know that in the last (or second-to-last) episode there will be a big battle with evil Negan and his Saviors. But must every episode prior be so damn talky? When I find myself trolling the Internet during the show, I know the magic is gone. Sadly, I went from riveted to mostly bored.
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Coen Brother’s masterful TVC for Mercedes AMG demonstrates why quality film making still matters in advertising.
January 27, 2017
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
Grotesque and irrelevant, Ringling Bros finally shuts down. Yet its mark on advertising remains indelible.
January 18, 2017
Gorgeous yet ugly. The poster says it all.
After almost 150 years, the fabled Ringling Brothers Circus is finally shutting down. I say “finally” because for the life of me I don’t know what took so damn long. This creepy institution was antiquated when I was a boy, before distractions like the Internet and smart phones and social media. I loathed the circus back then, preferring to stay home listening to my Rush albums or watching reruns of the Brady Bunch on the Zenith in our living room. Even before the endless reporting of cruelties under the Big Top (animal and human), I found the circus guilty of the biggest sin of all: being boring as hell.
Then and now, the Circus came off as a Victorian concept: a traveling freak show of creepy clowns, defanged tigers and bearded ladies. While those “attractions” may have appealed to kids in simpler times (say before the Kennedy administration), these days “children of all ages” were no longer willing to look up from their smart phones to watch so much boring and crappy cruelty. Thank God.
That being said, from an advertising and promotion perspective, we should give the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey their due. The “Greatest Show on Earth!” demonstrated the power of marketing on so many levels, starting with that killer tagline. From teasing the public to creating brand mythology, for better and worse, we in Adland owe these founding fathers a nod, if not a debt of gratitude, for ushering in the era of modern marketing. Selling the circus touched all the bases: social, promotional, experiential, advertising and the graphic arts in general. That much is true. Unfortunately, the wizard behind the curtain always was a monotonous and brutal entity. And the more obvious this became the more the circus suffered.
Ironically, the beginning of the end probably began way back in 1941, with Disney’s classic animated feature, Dumbo. As beautiful as that movie was, it highlighted the gruesome reality of circus life, in some ways like a horror movie. The circus was nothing more than a traveling prison camp. Precious few characters in it were spared the whip, caged living and daily abuse. Even those paying to see the circus were depicted as gaping, sadistic hordes. Deep down I think we all knew that besides a flying elephant everything else about the movie was grimly true.
How Ringling Bros and other such “entertainments” lasted so long defies reason. It also points to some uncomfortable facts about the human condition: that we would place tradition above grotesque.
Say what you will about the horror franchise but the latest Purge movie is eerily prophetic in its depiction of the divisive state of our Union. For those unawares, the concept deals with a government sanctioned night of rage that takes place once a year in America. All crimes, including murder, are legal for 12 hours. The subsequent carnage is supposed to “purge” everyone’s pent up frustrations and lead to less crime overall. Something like that anyway.
Regardless of what we think of this science fiction one cannot deny how prescient the idea is. So ripe is the concept I don’t know where to begin. Ragged race relations? Check. Police brutality? Check. The gun debate? Check. Political unrest? Check. Rich vs. poor? Check. And on and on. Clearly, The Purge has tapped into the zeitgeist in ways unimaginable and uncomfortable.
None more so that the latest entry, aptly titled The Purge: Election Year.
One scene has a corrupt, white officer shooting a young black man dead through the window of his car. Another has angry black civilians rampaging against a stronghold of rich white people. At times it was like watching You Tube videos of chaos in our streets. And I haven’t even mentioned the gross similarities between the “Election Year” depicted in the movie and the one we are enduring now. The two Presidential candidates are a fearsome and corrupt rich white man and a liberal leaning female. Sound familiar?
Of course the film is over-the-top and grossly distorted. But it’s all too freakishly on point. That the film was produced well before the recent mayhem in our country further adds to its power. If America wasn’t going through what it is going through right now this movie would come and go as a mildly entertaining piece of pulp genre. Instead, it damn near passes for a documentary.