Tuesday, August 2, 2011

MIFF session 9: Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold

See that title, see the movie. It does what it says on the tin. Morgan Spurlock sets his sights on nefarious comedy of product placement, financing a documentary about it which ... is about it.

A series of meetings with a spectrum of intimidatingly urbane whitecollars, self perjuring Hollywood high-fliers, social commentators and consumer guardians takes us through the concept of co-branding as the arc: we are seeing this film pre and post natally at the same time. Spurlock cuts deals, thrills at acceptance and sighs at rejection and gets his film made. Here's proof!

We watch the erosion of everyday variety into a focussed travel from one product to the next from those who have coughed up the most to dominate the film until we are getting full 30 second tv syle commercials right there in the middle of a feature documentary. Spurlock keeps it light but our eye is always on his central question about integrity.

This film is never boring. It can't be. It's targets are the same as ours and they are easy to shoot. Does what it says on the tin. But here's my problem:

It can't work.

Everybody knows about product placement and few in any of this film's audiences would be under any delusion about commercial cinema being .... commercial. Spurlock's films veer even closer to the flame of entertainment over veracity than Michael Moore's. He did get away with it once. Supersize Me had an agenda and, by aiming a home made ging at a corporate Goliath none would quibble over his popcorn sensibility.

He's good at what he does. There is a lot of information in every minute of this film and it is served in perfect bitesized portions. Who cares that it's information we either already know or can guess at from what we do know? It's fun. Who cares that making a infotainment such as this needs only the very slightest of veils of commentary to give its creator's sellout an ethical cool? Dig? Morgan Spurlock isn't selling out, he's buying in. Morgan Spurlock isn't six of one, he's half a dozen of another. And the lossless march of market-proof irony goes on.

But it can't, really. At the bottom of all of this jokey dance with the devil and self parodic lamentation about artistic integrity is the idea that there is an art so pure that the most ethereal breath of Mammon woud kill it on contact. Without this point the film is next to meaningless and yet it cannot stand the most casual scrutiny. It is surely beyond cynicism. (Have yet the hallowed halls of academe produced a concept so apt, so progressive, so superliminal and so ... dicky as post-cynicism? No? Time.)

This is a clever prank but like most pranks can only be clever. The statement about money owning art is as old as human settlement. Playing corporations by playing into their hands is ok but then the film was made and did look as it did. I can't damn this film, it's brief eighty-eight minutes are packed with amusing and sometimes thought-nurturing material but the choctop that I didn't bother getting beforehand would have been similiary sugary and flavoursome, packed with enough scooped ice cream to give the impression that it's a legit dessert. Yeah, it's entertaining but so are the blockbusters whose posters we see repeatedly throughout in the offices of movie moghuls and on walls and the sides of buses.

I'd leave it there but for one thing that ruined my tolerance. In his quest for possible backers, Spurlock is often seen lurking around the shelves of supermarkets. He picks one bottle from a shelf and can only share it with us through helpless laughter. It's a shampoo for use on both human and animal. This is funny until you realise...why shouldn't it be? Hair is hair. Shampoo cleans it. Shooting at name brands is shooting cheap. Shooting at nonbrands (wih an assault weapon) is bullying.

"Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"

In the spirit of the neopostcynical environment let me be the first to say: Bullshit!

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