Kubrick, Commercials and the Weird Place Where Art and Adland Meet
Hey, so here’s something you might not know. Stanley Kubrick had a thing for well-made TV ads. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 1987 he said, ‘Leave content out of it, and some of the most spectacular examples of film art are in the best TV commercials.’ His favourite ad was ‘The Night Belongs to Michelob’, a spot from DDB Needham. I came across that surprising little nugget after going to see ‘Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick’ at London’s Somerset House this week. The exhibition sees artists and filmmakers share their own – often abstracted – interpretations of his films and creative ethos. There were a few ad industry related creators and companies involved in the show (RSA director Toby Dye, MPC, and Happy Finish) so I was curious to know what he might have made of that. Turns out that, when it came to sheer craft and storytelling, he saw commercials as ‘visual poetry’.
A group of LBB-ers headed along to a private showing on Monday night, hosted by RSA and MPC, who worked on Toby Dye’s intriguing immersive film ‘The Corridor’. The film, co-written by the joint heads of 4creative, Chris Bovill and John Allison, plays in a tricked-out screening room, in which every wall is a giant floor-to-ceiling screen. Each screen shows a moving corridor, criss-crossed by characters from various Kubrick movies. Aiden Gillan lurches and limps as a deranged Jack Torrance, earning the wrath of a Joanna Lumley’s be-wigged aristocrat, who has strutted straight from Barry Lyndon.
There were Kubrick fans and virgins in the group. For lovers of his work, there was the fun of figuring out the connections, and meditating on the deeper meaning behind the interpretations. For the noobs, it was a brilliant overload of contextless weirdness – which, all things considered, probably made for a very different experience.
Since going to see the show and stumbling upon that Kubrick quote online, I’ve been thinking a lot about advertising and art, that weird place where the two bump up against each other. It’s always been a bit gauche to talk about advertising as art, and that’s become more prevalent with the trend to sideline or diminish creativity in the industry. Advertising’s ultimate goal is to flog stuff, after all. That’s why the most exciting creatives, makers, thinkers in the industry have their side projects. Like… say… experimental film installations inspired by Stanley Kubrick.
Not even the most brilliant advertising is art, not really. It’s worth remembering – there are already too many deluded peacocks with no sense of perspective in the industry. But let’s be honest, if you’d wanted to just sell or, ahem, ‘solve business problems’ you would have joined a bank or a consultancy or a double glazing company. However neglected and ignored, there’s a small (possibly fading) flame of artistic ambition in most people who end up in production or advertising. Some are thwarted by the day-to-day realities of their jobs, others find alternative outlets. I don’t think that’s automatically something to feel guilty about.
If someone like Kubrick could recognise that, at its very best, the industry is capable of producing something wonderful, of approaching a medium in a way that no other sector can… well… that’s something to aspire to, right?