The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 9, 1999 - 21A
trand name advertisements infiltrate popular films
Los Angeles Times
In an early scene in "Mystery Men," this summer's super-
hero movie parody, the mighty Captain Amazing routs a pack
f thugs terrorizing a retirement home party, then strides off
with his publicist to meet the press. As reporters pepper him
questions about.a Pepsi endorsement, of all things, we
fnally make out the patches crowding the insignia on Captain
A.mazing's chest - they're advertisements bearing names
uch as Pennzoil, Konica, Ray-O-Vac and Reebok.
Based on comic-book characters, Universal's "Mystery
Men" offhandedly pokes fun at a culture in which heroism is
sut a path to celebrity, and the prime benefit of being famous
s that you get to shill for corporate America. That the movie
atirizes commercialism at the same time that it pushes con-
umer products (with a sly self-awareness that marks a num-
er of recent films) is part of the fun.
I some other current movies, though, there's nothing
about it - advertising hits you in theface with the sub-
lety of a billboard. Sometimes literally: Early in Disney's
Inspector Gadget," a billboard topples toward the screen
earing the Yahoo.com slogan writ large - "Do You Yahoo?"
)bliterating the line between advertising and story, the
Yahoo yodel" the company uses in its TV commercials
ccompanies the scene.
It almost makes endorsement-hungry superheroes seem
"Inspector Gadget" is one of the more blatant examples of
n ever more visible school of market-driven filmmaking,
is itself part of a larger phenomenon: the overall ascen-
ae of commercial values in all walks of American life.
dvertising, it seems, is everywhere. And when it's missing
om the picture, we nevertheless get its look and style. We've
>me to expect it. We may even want it.
Acquisitiveness has ever been a part of the culture, but this
n't even that. Brand names and commercial messages
efine the spirit of the age. For baby boomers, the saying
oes, rock music provided the soundtrack for their lives.
owadays, what is rock without the video? And flashy ads
id videos joust for attention on MTV
j'Ach advertising today evades our defenses, the defenses
ose who try to resist it, by coming from places we least
peet. It's embedded in our entertainment; it's in the names
our sports arenas; it's disguised as segments on the evening
aws. And increasingly in our expanding Advertising Age,
-itics say it molds our popular art, perhaps even in the long
in altering our notion of what art is.
In the summer hit "Runaway Bride," USA Today gets more
reen time than the supporting players. Starbucks plays a
ajor role in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me."
ederal Express scored two recent coups, landing attention-
eog placements and glowing mention in both "Bride" and
And viewing "Inspector Gadget" is like watching a
aturday morning kiddie show with the commercials - gra-
itous shots of brand names'such as Tommy Hilfiger and
nited Airlines - blended in. The hero's car comes with its
en candy and soft-drink dispenser (Coca-Cola, Sprite and
&Ms are among the favored products). The movie even
ids with a spoken commercial for Disneyland.
New York City-based columnist for USA Today, the kind of
man's man who writes his column at the neighborhood bar,
who's on a first-name basis with construction workers, and
whose chauvinistic views so anger women that they can't
resist hitting him on the street.
The filmmakers needed a nationally distributed newspaper,
the kind read both in New York and in Maryland, where Julia
Roberts plays a woman locally famous for dumping men at
the altar. But it strains credulity that Gere's kind of column
could find a berth tn the studiedly unprovocative USA Today,
and that a paper aimed at business travelers and people too
busv to read would be the news source of choice for so many
different types of people. In the film, almost everyone walks
around with a copy of USA Today in their hands.
It's old news that corporate "synergy" has turned movies
into marketing tools for soundtracks and vice versa. But with
giant corporations eating up more and more media compa-
nies (Time Warner, for instance, not only owns the Warner
Bros. film studios, but also 1HBO, CNN and Time magazine,
not to mention the WB television network and Warner Bros.
Music), the opportunities for synergy - and artistic compro-
S mise - are endless.
And new forms of "synergy" are constantly being created.
In one of the more inventive examples, Miramax Films is a
major financial backer of Talk, Tina Brown's new magazine,
which exists in large part to find and publish stories that the
movie company will then adapt into movies.
Miramax snapped up a story from the very first issue,
optioning the rights to a first-person account of a Ugandan
Courtesy o s.M.P.s.P. hostage situation. Nobody yet knows the extent to which the
magazine will be used to promote films made by Miramax or
of five parents its parent Walt Disney Co. But cross-merchandising was in
buy items that evidence the night before Talk hit newsstands, when ABC's
ut of three want "Nightline" - ABC is owned by Disney -- devoted its pro-
gram to a story in the magazine, featuring on-air close-ups of
products. "Star the Talk logo. A few nights later, ABC's "20/20" did another
o product place- segment derived from the magazine. And the A&E network,
o push Twinkies in which Disney owns a significant stake, will plug Talk with
d the movie of a special on the star-studded party Brown threw on Liberty
I for action fig- Island to kick off the magazine.
t and character The problem with the blurring of so many lines --between
narketable com- advertising and art, advertising and news, advertising and life
links and Boss - is that eventually no one will know whom or what to trust.
the 136-minute What in the world can you believe in when everything is a
lion-dollar mar- pitch? And how do you guard against it when so much of it is
X. unseen, hiding in plain sight'?
discuss product What bothers Miller and others is the use of placements for
Disney and no purpose other than to sell a product to an unsuspecting
lystery Men," viewer. As the Consumers Union noted in its report:
) all declined "Advertising invites skepticism. When others urge us to do
perspective, the what they want, one is alerted to the possibility that their
exchange for wishes may not be in our best interest."
it partially off- Ayers, the placement association official, blamed over-
commercialization for the box-office failure of both the 1988
r products are "E.T." rip-off "Mac and Me" and Bill Cosby's 1987 comedy
se associated in "Leonard Part 6."
d never appear The public's embrace of "Inspector Gadget" --- which
grossed S75.9 million in its first four weeks of release -sug-
a provocative gests that today's audiences don't seem to mind.
The film "Inspector Gadget" is a prime example of the commercialization of this summer's movies.
Of greater concern, though, are the influences that aren't responsible consumption, found t
visible. Media critic Mark Crispen Miller believes it's believe marketing efforts pressur
"inevitable" that the growing commodification of popular art are bad for them or too expensive
will have long-term effects. It goes beyond the placement of limits placed on youth-targeted at
products to the way movies and television shows look, even In the movies it doesn't stop wi
to which ones get made, he says. Wars: The Phantom Menace Epis
With their simplified story lines, quick cuts and striking ments as that term is generally use
but empty visuals, movies look more and more like commer- in outer space), but some critics1
cials, and they'rejust-as disposable. It's hardly surprising that being little more than a two-hour
so many currently successful movie directors come from ures and toys. George Lucas sac
advertising. Challenging, more deliberately paced movies get development, they charge, in favot
pushed out of the mainstream marketplace. puer-generated characters sucha
"If we're constantly exposed to bombardments of hyperac- Nass. Such characters make up 60
tive spectacle, that's going to change our expectations of art movie and also figure prominently
in general," said Miller, author of "Boxed In: The Culture of keting tie-ins by Pizza Hut, KFCa
Television" and editor of "Seeing Through Movies," a collec- Studios and filmmakers are re
tion of essays on film. , placements . Spokesmen for
Movies and television shows aimed at children seem to be Paramount (which respectively
the ones most laden with advertising. In a 1995 report titled "Inspector Gadget" and "Runs
"Selling America's Kids: Commercial Pressures on Kids of requests for interviews. But from
the '90s," the nonprofit Consumers Union cited product rationale for taking payments or
placements, along with merchandise licensing, in-school pro- placing commercial products on s
motions, celebrity endorsements and advertorials (ads dis- sets the high costs of production.
guised as games or comics), as ways in which commercial Companies benefit not only b
messages "permeate most waking hours of our children's shown on screen but also because
lives.' viewers' minds with actors who p
And last month a survey released by the Center for a New in an outright commercial, he said
American Dream, a nonprofit organization that advocates In "Runaway Bride," Richard
hat four out
e youths to
, and two ou
ode I" has no
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and Taco Be
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Rroducer takes time off to try directing
as Angeles Times
There is an old joke in Hollywood.
he subjects have been myriad -
lother Teresa, the president, even
e pope -but the punch line is
ways the same: "... but what I real-
want to do is direct."
W for Jeremy Thomas, the
M on-based producer of such
ties as "The Last Emperor" and
Fhe Sheltering Sky," and smaller
Ims such as "Naked Lunch" and
nsignificance," the adage was no
"I intended to be a director, but I
arted making movies as a producer,
id then I got sort of big success
len I was in my mid-20s. And then
ddenly one day I said, 'You know,
middle-aged man and I never
So he took a year off from his "day
b" as one of Britain's most estab-
hed and prolific producers to
rect "All the Little Animals," a tale
an innocent man-child who flees
evil stepfather for a bucolic life
the country, where he becomes the
>tege of an animal-loving misan-
ope. The film opened in Los
es, New York and 10 other U.S.
"I read the book 'All the Little
imals' when I was about 20 years
I and l loved the book --adored it
and I thought, 'I want to direct this
'self.' Of course I sort of put it on
Id and got on with my producing
when the rights became available
the mid-'80s I bought them."
it's an example of the paradoxical
ure of Thomas, now 50, that at
tme time he was negotiating
th the Chinese government for
rmission to film Bernardo
rtolucci's lavish production "The
st Emperor" in the Forbidden
:y, and jetting around the world
oing international financiers, his
tatest personal satisfaction was
luiring the rights to Walker
milton's small, cult novel, with
long-harbored dream of direct-
"The themes in the book -animal
hts, the place of animals in the
net, the way we are with nature
I the environment -seem to be
>nger today than they were in '68,
ich is quite depressing. We have
E (bovine spongiform
:ephalopathy, or 'mad cow' dis-
e) in England. We damaged our
d chain and we have all suffered.
jare changing what is there, so
131y, and destroying all things
'he film, however, is not explicit-
about animal rights and environ-
ntalism; it's a metaphor about a
rid wildly out of balance with the
'he main character, Bobby, an
otionally damaged young man
yed by Christian Bale, suffers at
ands of his stepfather,c
~(played by American actor
Daniel Benzali), a man so hateful he
kills his stepson's small pets. When
Bobby runs away from home, he is
taken in by a kind hermit, Mr.
Summers (John Hurt), whose "call-
ing" is to travel country roads and
bury animals that have been killed by
But this tale has anything but a
simple, happily-ever-after ending.
"There's a twisted morality in the
film. All of the characters are killers,
even Bobby. And there's a whole
thriller element in it."
While De Winter is clearly the
story's villain, Mr. Summers is not
without 'his dark side, which was fas-
cinating to Thomas.
"Whilst the script was being writ-
ten, there was a lot of Unabomber
stuff in the news and I read the
Unabomber manifesto on the Web. I
thought, this guy is not unlike Mr.
Summers - they both withdrew
from society because of misdeeds by
society and lived off the land in the
woods and sort of disappeared. A lot
of what Mr. Summers believes, his
ethics, are in the manifesto."
"I made the film as an adult fairy
story which could be shown to chil-
dren as well. Ideally, I would love a
family to go out and see the film and
then go out for coffee or a sundae
and have the children talk about what
they thought the film was about."
Apparently someone forgot to
inform the director about the film's
R rating because, when it's men-
tioned, Thomas is caught off guard
-way off guard.
"What! No, surely not. How could
it be an R, it's a children's film. Well,
that's sad because that will stop fam-
*ilies from taking their 12- or 13-
year-olds to see the film and they see
much more violent things every
night on television. I'm shocked, I'm
shocked," he says, before adding
philosophically, "That's my bad
(Lions Gate Films, which is dis-
tributing "All the Little Animals" in
the United States, did not respond to
inquiries about why Thomas was not
informed of the Motion Picture
Association of America's rating.)
Thomas is restrained about his
expectations for the film. "I'm
shocked at the price it costs to mar-
ket films in America. It's incredibly
expensive compared to other coon-
tries. It's impossible to go and spend
S25 million marketing my little film,
or even SS million or even SI mil-
Meanwhile, Thomas has returned
to producing with his usual vigor. "I
just finished shooting a film, as a
producer, called 'Sexy Beast,' with
Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone, and
I'm about to commence a film with
Takeshi Kitano, the Japanese star
and director, in English, called
'Brother.' And I also recently com-
pleted 'The Cup,' which debuted at
Cannes and will be released by Fine
Line in January. It was directed by a
Tibetan lama (Khyentse Norbu); the
first film directed by a Tibetan lama.
It's a very unusual film."
As for directing?
"Oh, I'll direct again as soon as I
can, maybe in a few years time. I
have a few ideas I'm dickering
around with, and we'll see what hap-
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