There’s an interesting piece at the Guardian from David Cox, who sees end times-signs in the fact that Shane Meadows’ “Somers Town” (which, I know, enough already) was paid for by Eurostar: “A fateful Rubicon has been crossed,” he declares.
Meadows didn’t extract money from Eurostar to facilitate a project of his own. He agreed to place his skills at the service of one of theirs. Of course, plenty of directors make commercials, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Advertising tries to sell us something, and it doesn’t pretend otherwise.
Somers Town, however, carries no warning message, like the ‘Advertorial’ banner atop of every page of a sponsored newspaper supplement. Corporate authorship isn’t acknowledged until the very last line of the credits, and then simply by the word ‘Eurostar’ attached to a copyright symbol in tiny type. For its Â£750,000 or so, the company bought not just an advertisement, but the capacity to disguise its advertising as art. A pretty good deal by the current standards of the ad market.
Cox does acknowledge the retorts that immediately come to my mind — that every film that isn’t paid for out of the filmmaker’s own pocket has outside obligations to work with, whether they’re studio, government or, ahem, advertiser expectations. But he calls for an upholding of the “separation of editorial from advertising,” as seen in print and broadcasting — which, given the current state of the media, is like suggesting that because your roof is leaking you should take shelter at your neighbor’s house, which is on fire. “Somers Town” is just the nearest example of a line that was crossed, at least in the U.S., years ago — see (well, don’t see) 2005’s “Supercross: The Movie,” produced in partnership with Clear Channel Entertainment, also responsible for the televised races for which the film is an incoherent advertisement.
Incidentally, Brandcameo’s Product Placement Awards are trying to stake out a spot in that depressing, if prescient, area, declaring the year’s best and worst incidents of product placement, including “Iron Man”‘s Burger King up/down:
It wasn’t enough to have Tony “Iron Man” Stark scarf a few BK burgers straight from the bag. Taking product placement to a whole new level were Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr.’s comments to Empire Magazine stating that it was a trip to Burger King that convinced him to clean up his life. Though, in true product placement tradition, the brand doesn’t always get to control how it is placed: “I have to thank Burger King. It was such a disgusting burger I ordered. I had that, and this big soda, and I thought something really bad was going to happen.”
[Photo: “Somers Town,” The Works International, 2008]