Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

And now for a word…

There used to be a guy in Seattle who waged a one-man campaign to stop the showing of commercial messages before the main feature in cinemas. He may well still be around continuing the fight, but I haven’t heard anything about him for a while. But there was a period when his struggle was mentioned regularly in the Seattle press.

I actually encountered him one day while I was standing in a queue for a movie at the Seattle film festival. He was asking people to sign some sort of petition, and he probably figured that he would find a lot of soul mates among the film fest crowd. Indeed, he probably did. But, when he got to me, I politely declined to sign, muttering something like, “The ads don’t bother me if they help to keep the ticket prices down.” He immediately shot back, “Do you have any evidence that that’s the case?” Well, no, I had neglected to check with the local cinemas and ask if they would have raised ticket prices if they couldn’t show those Coca-Cola ads before the movie.

I said the ads still didn’t bother me, and he went on to the next person in total disgust.

If I had been a quicker thinker, I would have told him something like, “Well, if they start interrupting the movie to show ads in the middle, well, then I’ll sign your paper, no problem.” Now, that would be truly annoying. But my dirty little secret is that I actually enjoy the ads. Okay, I’m getting tired of the list of the “rules of the house” cum Pepsi commercial that one chain has been showing, featuring that creepy little girl. But otherwise, it is a somewhat entertaining parody of the Wild West genre.

I guess a lot of my tolerance for hucksterism comes from the time I have spent in Europe. There, you can spend a good half-hour watching advertisements before the feature. That makes the one or two you are liable to see in the U.S. seem like a quick blip by comparison. (I am not including trailers for current or upcoming movies in my definition of “advertisement.” For my thoughts on those, see my previous musings.) Also, space fillers before the movie may seem natural to me because I am old enough to remember when it was standard practice to show one or more cartoons before the movie. In fact, when I lived in Chile, they not only showed a cartoon and advertisements before the main feature but also a newsreel! Talk about flashing back to another generation. The weird thing was that the newsreel mainly talked about what was going on in Germany, since it was produced in Germany and dubbed into Spanish by someone with a very distinct Castillian accent.

As entertaining as American adverts sometimes manage to be, they pale next to European commercials. The latter tend to be very visual because, well, many use very few if any words. This is because, to save money, advertisers create the commercials so that it doesn’t matter what language you speak and the same advert can be shown all over Europe or even all over the world. What’s really strange is how esoteric and over-produced the European commercials have gotten. The images and the music are mesmerizing, but after it is over, I often have no idea what the ad was for. For example, one that I saw on my last sojourn in Ireland involved a long-haired, shirtless adolescent boy wandering though a strange Road Warrior-like futuristic landscape. Beyond that, I am at a complete loss to describe the “plot” or content. After seeing it a few times, I had to make a note to myself that it was for some sort of wireless Internet thing. I still can’t remember the name of the company. But that may be the idea. The ads may be designed for repeated viewing so that the full message isn’t absorbed until you’ve seen it, say, nine times.

Another one of my favorite advertisers is Bulmer’s, which makes hard cider. Working from some sort of bizarre logic, their ads are always a tribute to someone you have never heard of but who invented the trapeze or skiing or something like that. Their latest one is a real doozy. It features several people, who may be actual persons or may just be actors (I still haven’t decided), talking about lots of high-minded aspects of human endeavor, involving mountain climbing, sharks and tornadoes. Like all of their ads, it has absolutely nothing to do with hard cider. But, unlike their earlier ads, it actually has nothing to do with anything at all.

Ads before movies are such an institution in Europe that they actually list in the schedule when the ads start and when the movie starts. This amazes me because, armed with this information, why would most normal people not wait until the movie was scheduled to start before going into the cinema? The strange truth is that lots of people show up in time to see all the ads. I know because I am usually one of them.

-S.L., 30 November 2000

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