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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No Commercial For Old Men

Since TV commercials these days look like short films anyway, it should be no surprise when a big-name movie director tries his or her hand at one, like a novelist penning a short story. It gives the filmmaker a chance to experiment with style and work with a certain amount of anonymity — there are no credits at the end of a Coke ad, after all.

The trade-off is the fear that you'd be sacrificing your craft to shill for Madison Avenue. But first-time commercial directors the Coen Bros. — the team behind "The Big Lebowski," "O Brother Where Art Thou" and "No Country For Old Men" — seem to have circumvented that qualm, taking the helm of a recent ad for the Reality Coalition, a band of environmental groups focused on climate change. It's part of Reality Coalition's campaign to discredit so-called "clean coal."

The ad is basic: A fake commercial for something called Clean Coal air freshener, which, when used, fills your house with toxic smoke. Everything about the ad works, from the grinning spokesman to the cheesy production value. There's even a flying piece of coal that sparkles. Yet if you didn't know the Coen boys directed it, you never would have guessed. The ad is funny, but doesn't have that Coen quirkiness. I'm not saying the family in the ad needed to stuff the spokesman into a wood chipper or anything, just that overall the commercial doesn't scream "Coen Bros."

Other directors have had more success at the film-to-commercial transition. For example, when Gap asked Spike Jonze to come up with a spot advertising the store's 2005 makeover, the "Being John Malkovich" director crafted this hilariously mocking 90-second commercial, in which Gap customers and clerks tear the store apart.

Gap only ran the ad a few times before yanking it. Could be they didn't appreciate Jonze's manic energy, rapid-fire editing and deft stunt work. Or maybe they just can't take a joke.

A more successful marriage of auteur and product occurred in 2002, when David Fincher crafted an ad for Adidas. The "Fight Club" director's love for visual effects and preference for technology over emotion perfectly suited this spot, where a pair of robot legs test out a pair of basketball shoes.

Probably the best example is what many consider to be the greatest commercial ever made: Apple's ad to introduce the Macintosh in 1984, directed by Ridley Scott. The minute-long ad was set in a dystopian alternate universe where drones line up to watch their Big Brother-like ruler on a huge TV screen, before he's smashed by a hammer thrown by someone who may or may not be Markie Post. Scott brought the same bleak sci-fi feel of his recently released "Blade Runner" to the proceedings, and the result was a classic piece of advertising.

Adam Reinhard,



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