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“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Reviewed

“The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Reviewed (photo)

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How did we ever live before TiVo and DVR? I honestly don’t remember. I seem to vaguely recall talking to people more. It was horrible.

TiVo and DVR have given us the freedom to control our tevision experience: to record and save our favorite shows or fast-forward through the stuff we don’t want to watch. That freedom, though, is such a complicated thing. We certainly don’t need more marketing in our cluttered lives, but that marketing pays for most of the content on television and the Internet. And as TiVo and DVR have made commercials easier to avoid on television, people have become more resistant to traditional advertising in all cultural contexts. Again, not a terrible thing… except for the people who make their money by creating content for websites that make their money selling advertising. If you won’t look at the ads, the site can’t sell the ads. If they can’t sell the ads, then they can’t pay the writer. If they can’t pay the writer, the writer has to go work at one of the places that put their ad on the site in the first place.

These are the issues at the center of Morgan Spurlock’s ingenious documentary “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” In their attempts to circumvent audiences’ post-DVR distaste for commercials, companies have had to find new ways to market to consumers. One of the biggest ways they do it is product placement, the near-subliminal use of brands and products within movies and television shows in exchange for cash. Spurlock wanted to make a film about the rise of product placement but he, like most of us, couldn’t afford to do it without outside funding. So he recruited advertisers to fund his $1.5 million dollar movie about advertising. Hence, the full title of his film “POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”

As he did in “Super Size Me,” Spurlock manages to turn a fairly dry issue into an entertaining and funny film by casting himself as its gregarious subject. His schtick is simple but effective: he enters into a high-concept premise with good intentions and limited knowledge, and learns through actions. What better way to understand marketing skullduggery than by becoming beholden to it yourself? As a filmmaker, Spurlock is kind of like Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly:” he’s got these amazing ideas, but to execute them he has to use himself as the test subject, and even if the experiment’s a success, there may be some unforeseen consequences. For instance, Spurlock doesn’t just have to recruit advertisers; he has to make them happy too. That means driving their cars on camera or pimping their shoes during interviews or even, in one case, agreeing not to disparage the entire country of Germany. Achtung!

Even while (POM Wonderful Presents) “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” dramatizes Spurlock’s quest to fund his movie through sponsors, it repeatedly breaks from its own narrative to offer opposing viewpoints on advertising from cultural critics and intellectuals who caution about the dangers and impact of marketing on our brains, children, and quality of life. You really do get both sides: this movie has an official airline (JetBlue), and an interview with an anti-product placement advocate conducted in that airline’s flagship terminal.

Making a movie about product placement by recruiting advertisers is an inherently gimmicky premise. But when you strip away the comedy, and even the modern relevancy, you realize that Spurlock is speaking to one of the fundamental and eternal questions of cinema: the war between art and commerce. How far should a director be willing to go to make and promote his movie? Some of the most interesting scenes in the movie are the ones in which Spurlock discovers that compromising your art for the sake of commerce comes with its own set of compromises. He pitches POM a whole bunch of ideas for a commercial he has agreed to intergrate into the film. His ideas are clever and funny, in keeping with the tone of the movie he’s making. POM execs reject them all and tell him what they want him to do instead. Selling out is one thing. Handing over the writing of your movie to a sponsor is another.

Despite the creative hurdles, Spurlock effectively straddles the line between selling out and poking fun at selling out. The secret, I think, is transparency. When someone on an evening soap opera calls out one of their friends for acting strange for drinking too much Dr. Pepper, there’s never any acknowledgement that you’re watching a commercial grafted atop a piece of entertainment. Spurlock is totally upfront about what products and companies support him and even tells us how much they’ve paid him in several instances. He doesn’t deny the moments where advertising has its perks, like free cars and drinks, but he’s not afraid to openly admit his reservations about what he’s doing, either. He’s self-aware in a field that’s typically defined by its complete lack of self-awareness.

Eventually, POM and Spurlock are able to agree on an idea for the commercial and, sure enough, it runs within the body of “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” There’s two other commercials during the course of the film too, for Hyatt and JetBlue, and it occurs to me that intramovie commercials of the kind Spurlock accidentally pioneers here could represent a new frontier for advertisers. Think about it: when you watch a movie in a theater, your attention is completely focused on the screen. You’re not distracted by the Internet or your phone (hopefully), and you can’t fast-forward. You’re the perfect, captive audience. But don’t worry. Even if intramovie commercials take off, you can still just wait for them to show up on cable and watch them on your DVR.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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