Commercialism and Classic Film

I’ve often pondered the reason why major marketing firms neglect classic films when designing campaigns for clients.  Classic films boast countless worthy scenes just waiting for an enterprising soul to transform them into commercials. Apparently, someone has finally hit upon this goldmine since we now have three campaigns designed around classic films and their iconic stars.

Mastercard is using images of Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne in their new “Perfect Jeans: Priceless” ad. Before I comment, have a look for yourself:

As a whole, I’m impressed with the treatment of the stars. One of my major concerns with the effort to “mainstream” classic films is that the films and stars would be mocked by modern barbarians who have no appreciation of greatness.   I was afraid after seeing such a commercial, my response would be, “How dare you!”    However, after seeing the current Mastercard ads, I discovered I rather liked them.  To my tremendous relief, the producer of this commercial understands the magnificence of classic film and most classic film actors. The producer handles classic film with care. The three legendary giants pictured (Brando, Monroe and Wayne) are glorified as the creators of (dare I use this dreaded and overworked word?) cool. Not cool in the revolting modern sense, either. No low-slung pants, foul language or violence needed to prove coolness. This is cool in the first and true sense of the word.  It’s the cool that means class.

Although, I believe there is room for improvement.  From a purely stylistic graphic design standpoint, the grunge layout is highly unsuitable for the subject matter. (If you don’t know what grunge is: it’s a copout shortcut graphic designers use when they either have no talent or have run dry creatively. It is characterized by excessive use of Photoshop brushes in the shapes of paint splatters and drips, dirt, ripped pages, sand and sometimes flowers.) In case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of the grunge style. It’s so overused! Look around you right now. Flip open a magazine or turn on the tv – I bet you can find some piece of graphic design with elements of grunge on it.  As someone who hopes to enter this field someday, I have no respect for the designers who revert to this style for every project they work on. Aside from my own prejudices against the style, it just doesn’t convey the proper meaning about these fabulous classic films. These films are works of unbridled creativity, incredible talent and perfected skill. Using a two-bit modern design style as the vehicle of  delivery is a complete insult.

By the way, the font used for the word JEANS in the final scene with Marlon Brando is called Bleeding Cowboys. It is one of the most overused free fonts on the planet. Watch – now that you know what it is, I bet you recognize it everywhere. I find it inexcusable that it appears in this national campaign.


Next, we have the new Direct TV ad using a clip from the recent remake of King Kong:

I never saw the  2005 Peter Jackson remake, so I don’t have much of an opinion of the use of this film for a commercial. Although, I do not feel the same indignation to see the remake used as a TV spot, as I would if Direct TV had chosen to spotlight Fay Wray instead of Naomi Watts.


Finally, the ultimate insult – saved for last, of course. I refer to the Breyer’s Ice Cream commercials.  Apparently, Breyer’s isn’t content anymore with doctoring ice cream, they’ve decided to pair their “special recipes” with classic films.  In particular, I am talking about the Breyer’s commercials using real clips from Gone With The Wind and King Kong (What is it with King Kong, anyway?) with new footage of this modern actress named Jane Krakowski spliced in. Don’t ask me who she is – I have no idea. And after this abomination, I don’t care to find out.

This is offensive on so many levels. 1st- Replacing a perfectly cast classic era actress with one of our modern wannabes. How could anyone with a basic knowledge of classic films ever even attempt such a horrifying task? Even worse, if you submit yourself to the torment of viewing the “Behind the Scenes” video of this spot, you’ll see the crew boasting about the thrill of replacing dear Vivien with Jane. It’s like a nightmare from a parallel universe or something. How on earth can they all be so blind?

2nd – Jane K.’s dialogue. All that ridiculous modern innuendo, trying to photograph Gable with her cell phone, the crass references to her own body. Apparently, the writers are trying to “modernize” Gone With the Wind. From the info of the Behind the Scenes video: “Re-discover classic films with a new, modern twist” Heaven forbid! Who ever said it needed modernizing? Give me their email, I’ll set them straight. It’s perfect just the way it is! Who gave you permission to mess with it?!

Breyer’s wasn’t satisfied to defile only one classic film – oh no. They also took on King Kong:

I’ve got the same grievance with this one. “I’m so tweeting about this when I get home”? Ugh! Classic films are classic because they do not reference any modern inventions, people or popular culture. The makers of this ad actually think this “take” on King Kong is cute and sophisticated. Are they kidding?

The “Behind the Scenes” spot is even more disturbing for this one. One of the crew members has the nerve –the nerve!- to hope that this horrific practice of replacing a classic film star could become a trend. Oh…my…gosh. Get me a chair somebody, I’m feeling faint.

I promise, here and now, if a film is made either replacing or borrowing a classic film star and released in theatres, I will not go to see it. Even if Christian Bale is in it. I couldn’t possibly stand it. Even now, I’m practically throwing things at the TV when these Breyers commercials come on. I think I’d have to run from the theatre screaming in horror.

On a semi-related note: Why have our filmmakers become so creatively dry that they cannot dream up fresh, new, “modern” ideas for commercials and films? Why are they all constantly borrowing from the past? I’m not just talking about the commercials here. I mean rich and famous filmmakers like George Lucas, who brazenly admits Star Wars is a conglomeration of tons of other films, including The Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. What the heck is wrong with filmmakers? Are they just opportunists masquerading as creative people who actually just steal ideas from classic films to make their fortunes? Or are they genuinely creative people who have found themselves stranded in the Desert of Ideas? It doesn’t really matter, I guess. We have a small group of extremely talented people who are making fresh new films, but the rest are forever recycling tired old scripts, stars and gags. This is why I find myself disinterested and detached from modern Hollywood. It’s nothing but an unfulfilling  illusion and it looks like the little man behind the curtain is running out of tricks.



Filed under Film Bloggers, Rants

8 responses to “Commercialism and Classic Film

  1. ahhhH!!!! perfect. post.
    I couldn’t agree with you more, on every single thing!
    That mastercard commercial was definitely one of the more tasteful uses of classic film images in advertising (though I agree with you about the grunge… by the way, there’s a commercial for an insurance company, can’t think of the name of the company now, that uses the font “never” another free one, and it drives me crazy! I used to use it on my business cards and then realized it was getting old, but a huge advertising agency uses it for a commercial?!)

    Anyway! I haven’t seen the Breyers ads yet on television (thank goodness!) but seeing them on youtube was traumatizing. Whoever that girl is, she needs to be kicked out of the business — and whoever came up with those stupid ideas should never be allowed to make commercials again!! My main concern though is why on earth did the owners of the rights to these films license them out for the commercial? It was such a dumb move!!


  2. I remember a few years back there was a trend in adverts towards using classic films. I think it was in 2005 there was a Volkswagen ad which used the classic “Singin’ in the Rain” sequence from the classic musical of the same name. I think it was in 2002 that Casablanca was used for a Diet Coke commercial. Even earlier, around 1997 Fred Astaire was used in a Dirt Devil commercial.

    For me it comes down to whether the adverts are done with respect. I liked the “Singin’ in the Rain” advert for the VW Golf. It was cute and did not demean the movie or Gene Kelly. I can’t say the same for the Casablanca Diet Coke commercial or, worse yet, the Fred Astaire Dirt Devil commercial!

  3. Kate– I’m so glad I’m not alone here. :) I’m going to be on the lookout for that insurance commercial. Somehow, I’ve missed that one. I can’t see why these major advertising firms allow the use of tired old free fonts. Even in my graphic design classes, our professor advocates the use of purchased stock photos and fonts. Both for liability protection and design potential. They have huge budgets to produce these commercials and they can’t afford a purchased font?

    I think you’re right about Jane K. being kicked out. She is not interesting in any way! She’s dreadfully annoying. I worry about the film rights, too. It’s TCM/Ted Turner who has the rights to GWTW – right? Someone had to have green lighted those abominations. I’m trying to figure out who the target audience is for the Breyer’s commercials. I doubt they are really targeting us (the classic film fans). It seems they are trying to hook main streamers with a slight appreciation for classic film. Thanks so much for your terrific comment!

    Mercurie– Fred Astaire in a Dirt Devil commercial?! I’m so glad I missed that one. That really does sound like using the films to make fun of them. Even using Casablanca for Diet Coke sounds wrong. I agree with you. I don’t mind if they use the footage, as long as they respect the material. But, if we get commercials like the ones from Breyer’s, I think all agreements are off. Thanks so much for your splendid comment!

  4. I loved reading this!
    I agree with every word about those ghastly ice cream ads – it’s the condescending modern ‘humour’ that gets me most – “that’s beautiful stonework”, “that’s a swimmer’s build”, “okay, no longer a turn-on” etc… JUST SHUT UP!
    It’s historical chauvinism, a belief in the superiority of NOW that is so strong that the past is deemed free game for mockery and crass re-appropriation. And the worship of triviality – she’s in King Kong and she’s making quips about her dating service, oh how desperately hilarious…
    I found all that stuff about fonts interesting. I didn’t know anything about such matters, and it’s fascinating that there’s this whole new level of lack of creativity I had never spotted, on top of all the obvious stuff!
    Totally great post!

  5. I’m so happy you liked it, Matthew! You are absolutely right about the constant, stupid jabber! It’s infuriating.

    I’ve never heard it called historical chauvinism before, but that is exactly what it is. How truly sad that society has degenerated to the point of not being able to appreciate these amazing gems from the past.

    You know, I was wondering if some (if not most) of this disrespect coming from modern Hollywood is stemming from jealousy. Hollywood is totally overrun with wannabes completely lacking in talent. It’s obvious to any student of classic film that modern HWood just doesn’t have the capability of producing films on the same level as the vintage classics. I suspect this knowledge makes people in the industry bitter. And instead of working harder to produce quality pictures, it is much easier for them to lash out at the beloved classics and degrade them. I always find it so ironic that the Hollywood Studio System, headed up by all those evil money-grubbing moguls, produced better films in a 20 year span than modernists have been able to make in all the years since – and w/o the aid of modern technology, to boot. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad system after all.

    Anyway, thanks so much for your terrific comment. I am glad you enjoyed the bit about the fonts. It’s a pet peeve of mine. :)

  6. I think you’re right and jealousy may be a big part of it. But also simple incomprehension. Apologies in advance for trotting out a Shakespeare quote, but I break my no-Shakey-quoting rule for this one because it is so true and refers to exactly this phenomenon:
    “Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile, filths savour but themselves.”

  7. Hi, Casey! Great to catch up with you here… sorry so slow to visiting…busy summer here–LOL! But I just loved this post. Your topic and views are fascinating. I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, now seems to be of more consequence in the film industry and advertizing… a few flashes from the past would be so refreshing! Happy Days ((HUGS))

  8. Matthew – No need to apologize for quoting Mr. Shakespeare. The quote is stunningly profound. I think I may copy it down and post it on my bulletin board!

    Hiya, Tracy! So glad to hear from you! I’m slow with visits, too. My internet was infuriatingly down for nearly 3 weeks, and I still haven’t caught up. Thanks so much for reading my little rant! :) I’m not against flashes from the past entirely, but I can’t bear them when they don’t respect the material. I just heard today that Steven Spielberg is planning to make a remake of the classic Jimmy Stewart film Harvey (1950). I’m so tired of Hollywood stealing material from the Golden Era. It just makes them seem like no talent hacks. Anyway – thanks so much for visiting! I’ll be stopping by your site soon!

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