'Cannes Goods III' commercials show U.S. creativity deficit


October 16, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The collection of prize-winning commercials opening today at the Charles under the title "Cannes Goods III" is enjoyable, but its lessons are by this time commonplace.

Taken together the commercials simply illustrate a principle that has been obvious on the feature screen for some time now, and explain why so many commercial directors end up as feature directors, and that's simply because the methodology of television advertising has so aped the methodology of the feature film that by now they are nearly interchangeable.

So "Cannes Goods III" is a festival of mini-movies in a variety of styles and to varying degrees of success. The best tend to be from the English, who are over-represented, just as the English commercial makers are over-represented in the ranks of American feature film makers, with such boyos as Anthony and Ridley Scott, Hugh Hudson and Alan Parker.

Why English humor is so much more supple and sophisticated than the rest of the world's -- and particularly their American counter parts -- is a mystery I leave to the Cambridge Department of Ontology; perhaps a crushing class system hones the wit of its victims to a much higher degree. But the Brits fill their screen with info, have such a gift for incisiveness and a sheer love of their craft that it's breathtaking.

Another commonplace revealed here is that European commercials make much better use of sex and are far less fearful of it. The French, for example, have an ad for men's briefs that is so far beyond anything yet imagined for American television as to be somewhat disorienting.

And even the inscrutable Orientals are catching up. A Japanese ad in which two engineers dance an obscene tango with giant mechanical compasses is hysterical, as is a very clever piece in which a cleaning lady bumps the superstructure from a piano to reveal its miniaturized reality.

It seems to me that American creativity is somewhat on thhTC wane. The DuPont ad featuring legless Vietnam vet Bill Denby still moves, even after 10,000 repetitions, although its hypocrisy seems somewhat appalling. It plays on veterans' malaise, that terrible sense of having given up too much for not enough, allowing DuPont to have it both ways. It takes credit for developing plastics for prosthetics and avoids ill-feelings for its line of napalm and high explosives.

Viewers who sit through the entire hour and a half presentation in order to reach the climactic revelation of the grand prize winner risk major disappointment. You're waiting for a lion; what you get is a mouse that roars -- like a Volkswagen, no less.

'Cannes Goods III'




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