Archive for advertising

Farce Among Equals

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2014 by dcairns

lester ritz from David Cairns on Vimeo.

The penultimate outtake from my second video essay on Richard Lester. Someone complained that THE RITZ always gets left out, which is true. It’s not that it isn’t good — Rita Moreno as Googie Gomez makes it a near-classic — but it doesn’t fit the overarching narrative of the second phase of Lester’s career — the period movies and explorations of heroism. I wonder if, having been part of the Beatles’ public image machine gave Lester his fondness for peeping behind the curtain and exposing the feet of clay or whatever mucky body parts are involved. Or possibly his work in advertising — if you spend a lot of time erecting a pristine edifice, there’s probably pleasure to be had in iconoclasm. Here’s a bit of a 1969 interview I found in a book called Directors in Action (bought in Toronto) —

“But I’m quite proud of some of those early commercials. The After-Eights Chocolates, for instance. I did all of them from the beginning and I was faced with a new project and an image which needed to be put over. This is what pleases me–when a problem is present and solved.

In the After-Eights the problem was: these things are going to cost four shillings a packet and are bloody expensive! How are we going to sell it? In terms of making a film image, we decided to go for the fake classy stuff–dinner jackets among the pseudo-luxury. It was half a dream world, and half what people had no money imagined luxury to be. It was a callous attempt–and it worked. They sold out after the first commercial!”

I have no idea if this is one of Lester’s After-Eights ads but it fits the pattern — and the feather boa matches the one’s worn by Julie Christie in PETULIA and Shirley Knight in JUGGERNAUT… (This sort of thing is why Ken Russell found he couldn’t work in ads. He did one for a new washing powder where the advantage was supposed to be that the suds drained faster from the old-fashioned washing machine. But they didn’t — they just clogged the bottom up completely. Ken suggested starting with a clean, empty machine and then pumping a lot of suds in, then running the film in reverse. Everyone was delighted with this solution, and Ken was guilt-stricken and stayed out of ads from then on. There’s an echo of this in  when Ann-Margret is bathed in the products of various commercials as they spew from her TV set.) Rita Moreno and Treat Williams in The Ritz, 1976.

Anyhow, THE RITZ — Lester here talks about the difficulties of filming farce, which I think are a more intense version of those involved in filming any play — you are faced with a bunch of limitations, usually, which are essential to the theatre and irrelevant to movies. Do you cling to them, or explode them, or what? Farce as a form can be highly successful in cinema, but it’s notable that Renoir’s THE RULES OF THE GAME, which has many aspects of farce, was an original work for the cinema and indeed could hardly be more cinematic, using a different set of limitations — the limits of what the camera can see of a bunch of complicated simultaneous events. Fun fact: Renoir was a big fan of Lester’s HELP! Buy: The Ritz Rules of the Game

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Come Fly With Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 7, 2014 by dcairns

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!