Sunday, September 13, 2009

Art & Copy

I have been looking forward to it for weeks. Months, perhaps. The premiere of Art & Copy, a little indie documentary commissioned by The One Club about the creative field of advertising.

Truth be told, out here in L.A., I have found myself chomping at the bit to be reconnected in any way with the world of creatives I found in San Francisco. Ah, that little conclave of bombastic creative opinions and cursing.

So I followed Art & Copy on Twitter, and put the premiere date in my I-Cal, with a two-week advance reminder to get tickets. I imagined that every ad person in Southern California would be flocking to the West Hollywood premiere and I wanted to make sure I would not be left without a ticket. After all, at best, this film promised access to the thoughts and stories of some of the greatest minds in advertising, and at the very least, we advertising folk thoroughly enjoy being reminded of the cultural significance and visionary genius of our industry.

I dragged along my boyfriend, who works in political digital campaigns, and my friend, Jay, who used to be a planner and now works as a qualitative research.

The courtyard outside the Laemmle 5 Theater was swarming with eager attendees...for another film. Our own little screening room was graced by the producers of the film and an almost half-full theater. My hopes to surrounded by anticipatory, creative electricity were immediately dashed.

Still, the opening scene seemed promising. Cave drawings and layered ad jingles started to draw a correlation between prehistoric cave drawings and the creative expressions of advertisers...but the full metaphor was never drawn. And, in fact, that is my major criticism of the film. Potential ideas were intimated, but never fully explored, leaving me to question the actual thesis of the film. Ironically, the film spent considerable time describing how advertising brought humanity and story elements to business sales, and yet the film itself lacked any sort of narrative arch. Instead, it seemed to relay a series of anecdotes and Power-Point-worthy factoids in a loosely chronological order.

It seems to me a film suitable for first semester advertising students, to indoctrinate them into the religion and lore of advertising, but as someone pretty familiar with both, I found myself growing a little bored with the film. As an insider, it seemed to me that likely only someone in the industry would actually be interested in the film, but my boyfriend, Shane, thinks anyone in a creative field or marketing would find the movie interesting, and his own mind was buzzing with how to bring greater creativity and relevancy to his client work (mind you, Shane already does a pretty good job of this).

True to industry form, the movie was peppered with profanity and hubris, most notably from famed art director, George Lois. His presence in the film actually made me squirm a bit, in part because some of his claims seemed so hubristic as to make all us advertisers seem kind of like asses, but also because I had just heard a podcast of This American Life, in which his former ad partner, Julian Koenig, and some of his other colleagues openly accuse George of frequently taking credit for the work and ideas of others. It made me want to question the credibility of the film.

Perhaps the most haunting line of the film was when Mary Well boldly claimed,"You can manufacture any feeling you want to manufacture." That definitely made me sit up in my seat (and perhaps cringe a little). But while Art & Copy had the potential to make this an indictment of the industry, it never carried through. Likely because of The One Club. As I remember one Rotten Tomatoes critic saying--it's an ad for advertising.

The greatest treat for me was seeing some of the great minds of advertising that shaped the industry in the 20th century, speaking, revealing their personality quirks, and sharing their values. In particular, I found myself inspired by Lee Clow (TBWA Chiat Day) who reminded me of a sage surfer uncle. I was wowed by the drive and energy of Mary Wells (Wells Rich Greene. I was charmed by the evocative campaigns of Hal Riney (Publicis Hal Riney). I was amused by the working relationship of Dan Wieden and David Kennedy (W+K) (and enamored with their Northwest offices). I was a little miffed Goodby & Silverstein didn't talk at least a little bit about the account planning that went into Got Milk? (of course). And I was surprised and disappointed not to see anything from advertising celebrity du jour, Alex Bogusky.

I might choose to buy a film like this, if I intended to teach. Otherwise, for inspiration and enrichment, I would be more likely to thumb through an issue of Ad Age or CMYK. Or re-watch Frida.

My next cinematic craving, which may also leave me a bit disappointed, but still happy:

The September Issue!

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