Monday, May 30, 2011


Hey! Have your heard about this thing called advertising? Yeah. It’s apparently everywhere you look. It turns out companies, all kinds of companies, big, small, and in-between, will pay money, sometimes lots and lots of money, to make or keep people aware of the fact that they exist. Sometimes this money even makes its way to those in the entertainment business in exchange for endorsements, commercials or, most shocking of all, product placement. Yes, that’s right: product placement. Filmmakers and show-runners will actually take money in exchange for having characters use certain products on screen.

I’m so glad Morgan Spurlock, the documentarian who has previously told us that eating only fast food is bad for you (Super Size Me) and that Osama Bin Laden is – oops, make that “was” – hard to find (Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?), has decided to reveal this side of the art/commerce divide heretofore unknown to the movie-going public. How could any of us have ever realized how much money from advertising is poured into the content we enjoy without his help? To make such an important discovery, Spurlock has made a movie called The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and decided to fund it entirely with product placement.

He interviews some people (Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, for example) who are around just for the sake of saying that advertisements are bad. The rest of the film is given over to Spurlock schlepping his concept from meeting to meeting trying to get the funding he needs to make and release the movie. The extent to which he succeeds should be evident by the fact that it is now a completed product playing out on movie screens across the country as I write this. The documentary is a self-referential, self-parodying advertisement for product placement that ends up feeling like its really only interested in itself.

Spurlock gets [company] to provide their [product] for prominent featuring in the movie. They also give him quite a bit of money to purchase the rights to above the title sponsorship, so I suppose the name of the movie is officially [Company] Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. This is a feature-length block of paid advertising that tries to rail against that very concept. At least Spurlock thinks it’s funny. He also gets help from [company], [company], [company], and [company], among others.

This is less a film and more of a publicity stunt. It’s fairly well concocted and Spurlock’s certainly an amiable presence on screen, but the actual content presented here is a series of tonally squishy screeds interspersed with winking ads and the types of gimmicks and stunts that even Michael Moore would probably find too over-the-top and unnecessary. I’m sure there’s an actual interesting documentary to be made out of the subject, but it would have to be interested in history, context, and economics more than surface observations that just about anyone who has ever seen a billboard or a stadium or a broadcast TV show has already made.

What the movie taught me most was that if you want companies to finance what you’re already planning on doing, you just have to ask. You hear that, companies featured in this movie? Go back and take a second look at the fourth paragraph up there. I’d be willing to remove one of those generic labels and name your company specifically if you just pay up. The amount’s thoroughly negotiable. I look forward to hearing from you.

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