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Robert Downey Jr.’s “The Route” and the Lost Art of the Long-Form Car Commercial

Robert Downey Jr.’s “The Route” and the Lost Art of the Long-Form Car Commercial (photo)

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Last week, the Internet was abuzz with a new stop-motion ad for Planters that featured Robert Downey Jr. as the new voice of Mr. Peanut, but it was actually a commercial featuring a pre-“Iron Man” Downey Jr. that caught my eye when I came across One Cool Thing A Day‘s selection of “The Route,” a 12-minute ad produced by Volvo for its line of V50 station wagons. Produced by the Swedish carmaker in 2004, “The Route” does indeed show off all the amenities of the V50, but also functions as a surreal, elliptical piece of noir, courtesy of “The Grifters” director Stephen Frears, wherein Downey Jr. confronts himself as a not-so-compatible travel companion for himself in his search for a town called Confidence. The first part is here (and the link to part two is here):

At the time, Martin Buckley, a strategic planner from the ad firm that produced the short, said of “The Route,” “If you want people to come to the Internet and spend their valuable time to view your film and product, you better make it worth their while. We know the true Volvo prospect is highly curious and appreciates advertising that is both creative and intelligent.”

Whether “The Route” can actually be appreciated as something beyond advertising is up for debate, yet besides being a quick payday for its creative team in between films, it was notable for being a rare moment when the auteur theory made its way into marketing. While big-name directors make commercials all the time while waiting to direct their next feature, it’s far less often that they get to helm something longer than 30 seconds. And for car companies looking to make an impression on the Internet, the mid-’00s was a prosperous enough time to throw millions at burgeoning area of viral marketing.

“The Route” was actually the less successful follow-up to “The Mystery of Dalarö,” Volvo’s eight-minute 2004 ad that seemed like an undercooked BBC report about the strange occurrence of 32 people buying the same sedan in a Swedish village at the same time and even calls upon Karl Jung expert to explain the meaning. (“We all born with collective unconsciousness,” says the expert.) The ad campaign, which never targeted the U.S., caused something of a sensation in Europe where many speculated about the film’s credited director Carlos Soto, until it was revealed that “Soto” was really a pseudonym for Spike Jonze, who continued to play tricks on the public by questioning the initial ad with a director’s cut.

In an interview with The Internationalist, Volvo’s director of global advertising at the time said “Dalarö” was a product of having an ad budget half the size of other car companies and needing to be creative. However, Volvo wasn’t alone in pouring money into these mini-movies. “L.I.E.” director Michael Cuesta helmed a softly-lit 15-minute promotional film for Lexus in 2003 called “Three Journeys,” following three couples as they made their way to the California coast, that was handed out at auto events around the country on DVD and have now become collectibles.

However, they are not nearly as prized as the granddaddy of the form, BMW’s “The Hire” series, which was launched in 2001 to hawk Beemers and showcase Clive Owen as an elusive chauffeur simply known as “The Driver.” The ads were spearheaded by David Fincher, who never actually directed one of his own, though it’s probably no coincidence that “Se7en” screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker penned the first installment “Ambush” for the late John Frankenheimer to direct. Shorts from Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ang Lee, John Woo, Joe Carnahan, Tony Scott and Guy Ritchie followed, not to mention my personal favorite, Wong Kar-Wai’s moody, introspective “The Follow” with Forest Whitaker and Mickey Rourke:

Incidentally, it was Whitaker’s involvement that was reported to have kept the DVDs of the Web series in limited supply since his contract required “The Follow” to only be shown online. BMW ultimately decided to end the series after 2002 because of cost, instead putting out a comic book that continued the adventures of the Driver. Though “The Hire” is widely seen as changing car advertising for good, it was a pioneer of a trend that was short-lived. Still, its influence can be seen today even in shorter car commercials directed by less famous names like Ivan Zacharias, who lensed this 2009 Audi ad featuring Jason Statham.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.