The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Credits: Directed by Morgan Spurlock
Details: (M), 90 mins, United States, English
Synopsis: Morgan Spurlock explores the world of product placement, marketing and advertising in POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a film that was fully financed through product placement from various brands, all of which are integrated transparently into the film. While using brands in film promotion is not new for Hollywood, it certainly is new territory for the documentary format. Spurlock exploits the phenomenon to new heights, with everything from branded pizza boxes and in-flight film promotions to branded-everything in-film. POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold unmasks the marketing process to bring audiences behind closed doors directly into the pitch meetings and marketing presentations which ultimately inform our everyday entertainment decisions.
Spurlock the salesman sells out to the highest bidder.
SXSW: Bought by Sony even before it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold would hardly expect less of itself. Thus it was easy for Morgan Spurlock, the documentary’s director and ringleader, to say that he loves SXSW for not being about “distributors and buyers” during his introduction at the Paramount Theatre. Yes, selling movies when you could settle for loving them purely — how tacky!
Comfortably post-sale, Spurlock appeared in casual gear, not the logo-infested suit he wore in Park City, a contractual obligation he agreed to in order to secure funding from the twelve corporations who underwrote his film. That The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is about corporate product placement in films is an example of what might be recognised as a classic Spurlock twist. Spurlock set out, as we are reminded during the numerous pitch meetings that make up much of the film, to expose the extent to which the $412 billion marketing industry has penetrated the film and television industries (and every other part of our lives). He wanted to make the Iron Man of documentaries, he says, referring to the superhero film so filled with cross- and co-promotion that for the month of its release you’d have to move to Afghanistan to avoid its reach, from coffee cups to car commercials.
How insidious is this practice? How much control do corporations have over ostensibly creative content? What is a personal brand and where can I go get one? Spurlock sets out on one of his quixotic journeys, playing the knowing naïf as he tries to get everyone from Nike to Sheetz — a small, American fast food chain—to give him money in exchange for promotion in the film. Interspersed with these adventures—and it is fascinating to watch Spurlock pandering to a gallery of skeptical muckety-mucks in various boardrooms—is commentary from intellectuals and consumer advocates like Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader (pictured) and Spurlock’s investigations of neuro-marketing (terrifying) and Sao Paolo’s decision to remove all advertising from public spaces.
Through-the-looking-glass moments abound: Executives being filmed for the movie don’t seem to grasp that they are the movie; Spurlock makes a promotional appearance on a talk show (in his logo suit) before the film is even finished. “This is like the Inception of documentaries,” the host says. And on bounds Spurlock, sardonic but genial, always pulling up short for a punchline when he’s in danger of making an actual point. That’s being a little tough on the director, but only a little: Spurlock reverts to the same, showboating gag over and over (pitching execs with absurd photos of him using their product), and the audience I saw the film with lost their minds every time. It’s a relief to see anyone going near this topic with imagination and élan, and Spurlock gets the credit he deserves and then some. David Foster Wallace forecasted a world where the name of the year itself was auctioned off to the highest bidder in 1996; instead of 2011, we would live in, say, “The Year of the Whopper.” In Spurlock’s film a student exposed to marketing during an in-school broadcast wonders about the prospect of attending “Red Bull High.”
Spurlock’s goal is to sell an above-the-title nameplate to the highest biggest, as in “Brand X” Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, an explicit statement of ownership. Nader warns him early on to be careful with his tap-dancing approach: “You can satirise yourself out of your objective,” Nader says. As he deals with the company that winds up ponying up serious, above-the-title money, Spurlock grapples briefly with what it might mean to give a corporation final cut of his film, and how he will be able to resist the opportunities that pop up once he is established as a “brand-friendly” personality. By “briefly” I mean for about the length of time it takes for him to log one of his to-camera ruminations; then its back to joke-slinging and clever send-ups. You gotta keep the customer happy, after all.
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