April 13, 2010

Music Drives Brit TV Award Winners



I thought that viewing 75 award winning British television and cinema commercials in one hour-long sitting might be a more arduous task than viewing the entire New York Film Festival in back-to-back screenings over two weeks. But this was a piece of cake. The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan has kindly scheduled three public screenings in December (the last is this Thursday, 12/13, at 5:00 p.m.) This is the 25th year the BTAA office in London has sent over its proudest work, and the one thing more 2007 winners have in common than anything else is that they're music-driven.


Not music-scored. Music-driven. There's a difference. The dazzling mini-movies that took home the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards remind me of the British music invasion of 40 years ago, that still occupies pride-of-place in my vinyl LP collection. Not just the marquee names like the Stones, the Who, Led Zep, Jethro Tull and ELP, the bedrock sounds of the Kinks, Small Faces, John Mayall, Jo-Ann Kelly, Spooky Tooth, Sweet Thursday, Fat Mattress and Savoy Brown. A tidal wave of dapper, rude artistry that nearly blew away my fascination with U.S. iron men and maidens like Grace Slick and Blue Cheer.


Click on photo to view spot

That's why BTAA's 2007 Commercial of the Year is cause for celebration. It's a classic demonstration spot for Sony Bravia television, that carries the theme "colour like no other." You've probably seen it--a Glasgow apartment building that's gloriously soaked by 1400 thundering geysers of colored paints. (The NBC peacock will never look as good.) The soundtrack scored to "Paint's" soaring streams forsakes rock for a Rossini opera, "La Gaza Landra," and it's magnificent.


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Then there's BBC Radio. Their message is that the BBC airs all your favorites, and their execution features Elvis Presley directing his backup band. Except his onstage support includes Jimmy Page and Noel Gallagher on guitars, Keith Moon on drums, Sheryl Crow, Marvin Gaye--are we getting it? The King is strutting around exchanging nods and winks with a lot of stock clips that match up smoothly. Killer concept.


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Do you remember Raymond Briggs' timeless (and wordless) children's book, "The Snowman"? Irn Bru, a continental beer, replaces the boy taking a joyous flight with the snowman with an adult lad holding an Irn Bru. The animation is exquisite and duplicates Brigg's style. The song "Walking In the Air" from the film has new lyrics sung by Scotland's St. Mary's Choirboys: "We're walkin' in the air...I'm sippin' on an Irn Bru/ My chilly snowman with me, says he would like some, too." It has the charm of the original Aled Jones' vocal.


Click on photo to view spot

Consider Nike's new top-of-mind Big Idea. Welcome Maria Sharna-pova, looking like 50 million bucks and going through her beauty regimen before she demolishes her next tennis opponent. And what are we hearing? Would you believe Leonard Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty," from "West Side Story"? There's a whole cast of characters watching and interacting with Maria who mouth the words. They even look like a West End company of "West Side Story." It's splendidly assembled and delicious and works like gangbusters.


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Speaking of delicious, here's this soup named Pot Noodle, which bills itself as the "Fuel of Britain." A whole chorus of grimy-faced coal miners go trudging off to labor in the mines, then come trudging back hungry and even more filthy, standing there outside the mine and gripping their cups of Pot Noodle, as they sing their hearts out to us and shovel down this hearty, steaming, he-man meal. It's not multi-national but this may be the most impressive group chorus since McCann's "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" back in the 60s.


Click on photo to view spot

Actually, the spot that looks closest to the classic Coca Cola jingle is by McCain's Potato Products, for their Oven Chips. This opens with a lad reinventing "Food Glorious Food" from the famous "Oliver!" into "Chips Glorious Chips." But he and a young Ann Miller type sing and dance their way through one set after another, flanked by endless chorus lines of boys and girls who look enthralled with the idea of putting on a show. The McCains' commercial has a choreographed dynamic that harks back to the glory days not of J. Arthur Rank (sorry, chaps) but MGM's Garland & Rooney musicals of the 30s.


Click on photo to view spot

The musical motifs aren't all upbeat showstoppers. They can deeper and darken. MTV's Against Drunk Driving spot uses the all-time seasonal favorite, "Jingle Bells," sung as sprightly as ever but played over scenes of drunken teens getting violently sick in the back seats of cars. Nasty, nasty.


Then there's a PSA designed to build awareness of breast cancer that's not like anything you've ever seen, and certainly won't be aired stateside on our primetime networks. This gorgeous stripper is working the pole in a lapdance club, in bra and panties, mostly with her back to us. She undoes her bra, then turns to face us, with her hands clasped over her chest. The music is loudly grinding along and we're wondering what this commercial could possibly be selling. Then she drops her hands. And reveals one of her breasts has been taken in a mastectomy. The camera holds on a respectful medium long shot, but it holds long enough that we're fully aware before the breast-cancer-awareness copy even starts what we're seeing. This is a chiller.


Overall, the 2007 award winners are carving not just new filmic paths, but new musical innovations as well. Peter Bigg from the BTAA in London will introduce this Thursday's screening at The Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street at 5:00 p.m. Kudos to Mr. Bigg and to Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator in the museum's Department of Film.

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