April 13, 2010

Scorsese's Freixenet Ad Film


(Please click on any photo to view the film.)

No one has done more for the art and science of film preservation that director Martin Scorsese. Two of the features to be shown in the "Killer Movies VI: More Lost Films Noir" series in the spring of 2009 at the 92nd Street Y are pictures restored to their original, pristine form through Scorsese's efforts ( One is the 1947 "Pursued," with Robert Mitchum, which Marty calls the first noir western. The other is the 1945 thriller "Leave Her To Heaven," with Gene Tierney, the first Technicolor noir.) Because so many of Scorsese's own films are neo-noirs--like "The Departed," 2006's Oscar winner for Best Picture and Best Director--it's natural that Scorsese has an unmatched affinity and affection for the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.


Scorsese also has a healthy relationship with the advertising industry. He directed the outstanding "My Life, My Card" American Express commercial celebrating Robert De Niro's life and times in Manhattan, and Marty also appears as the fasttalking talent in another Amex spot. It's curious that eight years ago when David Lubars and his creative team at Fallon in Minneapolis innovated the first branded entertainment campaign for BMW. hiring a slew of world-class directors to demo BMW's long-lived position as "the ultimate driving machine" in 10-minute mini-movies, Marty wasn't one of the selected directors.

Maybe Scorsese was waiting for the perfect concept and advertiser and production team. Freixenet's Carta Nevada Reserva has certainty given it to him. The collaborative team behind this shrewd, enormously entertaining little movie is as rich as anything you'll pay to see at your multiplex. It's Marty's own group of artisans (including Harris Savides and Ellen Kuras directing the photography, and his Oscar-winning editor, Thelma Schoonmaker), partnering Ridley Scott's RSA Productions in New York, joining a roster of J. Walter Thompson execs out of Barcelona. It doesn't get any classier than this.


The premise behind "The Key To Reserva," as the film is oh-so-cleverly titled, is preserving a film that hasn't been made--supposedly three and a half unfilmed pages of a Hitchcock script that Marty (wearing protective gloves) carefully digs out of a dusty archive. He's chattering away to an on camera interviewer like he's found a treasure map, and in its loopy, half-improvised documentary way, it looks like we're in real time and this is the real deal. Scorsese and Freixenet are reeling us in.

And so what he films--in dazzling, big-budget, full-production mode-- is the classiest tribute to Hitchcock's greatest films and film moments that a marketer's ever known. After the "Vertigo" title treatment that of course inspired AMC-TV's "Mad Men's" opening credits, we're into the concert hall setting of "The Man Who Knew Too Much." A woman resembling Eva Marie Saint from "North By Northwest" is in the audience, and there's a Leo G. Carroll type from that movie conniving with other shadowy types in a private viewing box.


The Hitchcockian "McGuffin" driving this film is a key, hidden in a ceiling light fixture above the plush velvet seats that will open a wooden box holding the bottle of Reserva. You would remember that in "North by Northwest" Cary Grant plays an adman named Roger O. Thornhill, and that his matchbooks are initialed ROT. As the guy is pulling at the hot light fixture to get to the key that's waiting inside it, those ROT initials turn up again. But wait, now someone is starting to strangle this chap, recalling the scene in Hitchcock's 3-D "Dial M For Murder" when Grace Kelly is being strangled and grabs onto a pair of scissors. All this is happening very fast.


During the ensuing struggle high above the orchestra and terrified audience, one figure slips from the balcony rail and plunges to the seats far below--echoing James Stewart's fall into the 11th street Village courtyard in "Rear Window." (We even see the flashbulbs flashing into faces and turning the screen blood-red.) With the bad guy disposed of, the wooden box is opened, the Reserva is poured, the Eva lookalike and her companion toast each other and start to embrace----And we're back with Marty, discussing all this in a midtown skyscraper conference room. He's actually moving on to his next project, which seems to be restoring the 1924 film, "Greed." Marty's yakking on a-mile-a-minute as the camera starts a slow pullback from the office window, where crows are beginning to gather. Not just a few crows. "The Birds" is back. If memory serves, "'The Birds' Is Back!" was the advertising theme of the film's reissue, and every office building in midtown Manhattan is festooned with crows poised to watch Marty plan his next project. Blackout. Credits. You've just watched a 10-minute commercial you're immediately dying to see again.


"The Key To Reserva" actually marks what we might call the beginning of the second generation of branded entertainment. It's the most elaborated form of the high-end television commercial, and it requires an enormous amount of faith (and production monies) on the part of any marketer. But done right, it's product-as-hero advertising that can break through the clutter like gangbusters. Long-term, It can also pay for itself through complementary tv airing as a legitimate movie short, through holding theater audiences who've paid $10 and up to see a first-run picture, and through eternal online appearances on everything from YouTube to the advertiser's website.


If you grew up in the dark at the movies a long, long time ago, you remember a series of specialty shorts on benign pastimes like croquet and ping pong, narrated by an engaging guy named Pete Smith.

Ah, those Pete Smith Specials. Today we go to the movies or watch our cable channel serve up Ang Lee specials for BMW and Marty Scorsese specials for Freixenet. The difference is that branded entertainment adds unlimited value to the advertising message. More than anything else on the pre-movie roll, Marty's Freixenet is a One-Reel Wonder.


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