Come Fly With Me

I’ve always been curious to see some of Richard Lester’s TV ads. There were the caroselli, short visual comedies with a product tagged on the end, made to be shown once on Italian TV and then destroyed. I know there’s no chance of seeing those. But the frustration was that, since ads don’t have credit sequences, I was undoubtedly seeing his work without knowing it. Occasionally I might recognize a composition or an approach to gags and think “This COULD be Lester,” but I could never be sure.

I found this one by researching the boss of the company Lester worked for — an article published at the time of his retirement, and made available online, listed some of his most acclaimed productions, naming the directors, and lo and behold this one was on YouTube.

A utopian vision of air travel. The film isn’t actually that inaccurate about  what’s technologically possible — in other words, the film could all have come true. But instead of trying to make air travel attractive to the rich, the airlines have concentrated on making it affordable to the moderately well-off. This has led to a policy of treating their customers really badly, which has combined handily with the threat of terrorism to create an environment in which all travelers are treated as if they’re being admitted to prison. I guess for those in first class and its euphemistic variants, flight is still a little more like the Braniff dream vision, but it’s dragged closer to reality by the fact that anybody not in the Lear jet class still has to use the same aeroplanes as us plebs.

The ad has a strong resemblance to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and the world of advertising probably did move fast enough for Lester and co to have a commercial knock-off onscreen the same year Kubrick’s film opened. But I guess it could also be coincidence — the 60s approach to sci-fi costuming existed outside of 2001, though that was the only place where it didn’t look kitsch. We do know Lester admired 2001, since one of the Making Of books includes a congratulatory telegram he sent to the hermit of Abbots Mead: “YOU’VE GIVEN US ALL SOMETHING TO AIM FOR.” He doesn’t quite say he’s already aiming for the two-minute version.

If anyone else has any leads for tracing Lester’s commercial work, I’m all ears!

7 Responses to “Come Fly With Me”

  1. Simone Starace Says:

    This Carosello is usually credited to Lester:

  2. Wow, that was quick! Thanks — where have you seen the attribution? And I wonder how it survived the furnaces?

    Certainly the slomo leaping recalls A Hard Day’s Night. Also the toupee gag (Lester, balding since age 19, has always been inordinately amused by hairpieces), and something about the cutting — maybe the short duration of the wide shot is part of it.

    Excellent result — more, please!

  3. Simone Starace Says:

    Marco Giusti’s Carosello encyclopedia credits Lester as director. I am not sure why you suggest that all Carosellos were destroyed: I have seen dozens of them, and a 12-disc boxset has been released on DVD in 2013.

  4. Lester would say in interviews that the films had to be destroyed, by law, after one screening. The interviewer would then express horror and Lester would shrug and say he didn’t mind at all.

    The one-screening thing was probably correct — Lester liked this because if you’re dealing in comedy, the last thing you want is for the audience to be forced to see it twenty times until they’re sick of it.

    Anyway, I’m glad we’ve found at least one.

    If you have the encyclopedia, any more info would be appreciated.

  5. Simone Starace Says:

    I don’t think they had to be destroyed by law, yet it is true that in most of the cases each ad was aired only once. In order to overcome this limitation, advertising companies produced an entire series, reworking the same concept and featuring the same cast and crew. Usually, only one or two episodes from each series survive.

    According to Marco Giusti’s book, Lester also shot Carosello series for AGIP (1971, starring Raffaella Carrà), Barilla (1973, starring Massimo Ranieri), Caremoli (1971-1973, starring Freddie Jones), Caremoli again (1974), Cinzano (1971), Fontilevissima (1972-1975, the jumping ones), Martini (1972, starring Roy Kinnear), Shell (1972), Simmenthal (1973, starring Tommy Tune) and Simmenthal again (1974). Many of these were photographed by Jean Bourgoin.

    Not 100% sure, but this one should be part of the Barilla series by Lester:

    Here the first one for AGIP:

    (Allegedly Lester had a bad time trying to direct Raffaella Carrà, the Italian popstar whom you may have spotted in Mole Men vs. the Son of Hercules)

  6. I think you hit the jackpot — it certainly seems clear that these two ads were by the same team, and it’s possible to directly compare the handling particularly with Help! and it seems very close. Plus that big zoom into camera flare is the opening shot of The Bed Sitting Room.

    Many thanks!

  7. More info: the Braniff ad at top was lit by Nic Roeg.

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