Art & Copy (2009)
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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.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
The film fails in three ways:
1. Failure to show any mediocre or failed campaigns (Nova anyone? New Coke?)
2. Failure to reveal ads as the cynical propaganda that they necessarily are, rather pretending that they are some sort of pure art form. It would have been nice to see these folks held accountable for their part in, say, America's obesity epidemic, advertising food -- something we already know we need. Near the end, one talking head actually condemns ads that talk about product features. (Oh the horror!)
3. Failure to show those ugly ads that still work (pizza and sex shops for example). Some of the people refer to "bad ads" and such, but no examples or characteristics are really ever given (except actually stating the product features).
Anyway, this film is an ad promoting established ad people, and we've (literally!) seen it all before. In the sense that most commercials are (by design) pleasant to watch, it's not a bad way to waste your time. But recognize that it is a waste. 6/10
Countless times we are treating to disquisitions on the creative nature of what they do, how it "reaches so many people" and this "at the same time", as if this meant something. Comparisons to the work of Toulouse-Lautrec are made. The suggestion that the work consists in getting people to buy useless products is rebuffed with the argument that it is impossible to get people to do what they don't want to do. Yet many of the subjects boast that they can get people to feel whatever emotion they want and that they can create mass movements out of thin air.
While there are occasional inserts of ad-industry data which might or might not shock you (likely not), no consequences are drawn. Many of the interviews are intercut with shots and images that flatter the subjects' self-image as mavericks. If the director has any critical distance on his subjects, it is so well-camouflaged as to be indetectable.
Towards the middle of the film, one adman explains that great ads are based on truth, and that people can tell whether you are telling the truth and will react to it. If this film is telling the truth, then Michelangelo missed his calling.
Art & Copy really could have been so much more with a tighter focus and insights from the director. That said, the film is redeemed by a few interesting bits of trivia such as the origins of the slogan "Just do it"