Go watch "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," by Morgan Spurlock, the man who brought you "Supersize Me"
and who has evidently figured out how to supersize himself. This smart, tongue-in-cheek, manipulative movie about manipulation via product placement and brand campaigning will send you out of the theater wondering. At least it did me.
Spurlock's is not the self-aggrandizing approach one gleans from fellow documentarian Michael Moore, whose movies seem really to be about Michael-the-Main-Character in the end.
True, Spurlock has built his own brand as a spoofer-satirist-commercial-social critic by leaps and bounds, but he has done it in a way that hearkens back to newspaper columnist James Kilpatrick, who said every piece of persuasion should follow the same form: "Let me take you by the hand and show you a place I know, which for seeing will change you forever." This will.
Spurlock sets out to reveal the world of product placement and brand-building that takes place as a subtext of movie-making, where things appear on the screen not for dramatic intention or even because they belong there, but because a sponsor bought the right to put them there - or even, perhaps, forced them onto a director. This applies to drinks, cereals, cars, clothes, shoes... Major movies, we are told, cannot be made without this revenue stream, about which you as a consumer are told next to nothing.
About the only product not mentioned or shown here were weapons, and I found myself wondering what Winchester and Glock et. al. have to do with shoot--em-up action or war movies where machine guns are required. Spurlock did not go there.
But if you ever wonder why you think about some of the things - I mean, things - that you think about, this movie will give you some new or reinforced ideas. It worked on me like a charm as Spurlock worked his way to a prime sponsor - POM (as in, pomegranate juice) - who ponied up a cool $1 million to be the banner sponsor - for which there is in exchange enough POM consumed onscreen in odd moments to cure your urinary tract of any weaknesses, as we learn it allegedly has the power to do.
If you listen carefully to Spurlock at a key pitch moment before the POM CEO and her underlings, you would believe that this miracle juice can heat up male ardor, if you know what I mean. In an hilarious boardroom scene, Spurlock shows his rendering of an ad for the juice that is too graphic for the company's female founder, but it does evince a knowing smile.
Spurlock ends up using text the company wants him to use, and wonders if he has sold out, or is doomed to be a sellout as he gathers commercial support with Sheetz and Austin Mini to name two. No, one ad executive assures him, he is not "selling out," he is "buying in."
Along the way you learn that Sao Paolo, Brazil has wiped out all outdoor advertising to great aesthetic effect. In the US, sponsors and advertisers now spend slightly north of $450 billion a year to shower and surround us with images of all kinds, of which 75 percent is controlled through four major agencies. If you ever wondered if there is really a "them" organizing our cultural perceptions, you will come away with a sense that yes, they are, and now you know mostly who they are.
The movie also brings along a few academic experts to assert the fallacy of persuading people that their lives can be made richer and better by products, and also by an advocate who wants all subliminal advertising of this kind made transparent via screen popups. You have to see this happening, which you will, to get a feeling for what it would mean and to decide if you think this would be a good thing. I think it might.
I came out of the theater and headed for the men's room, as people of my age tend to do after a couple of hours, and followed a tall, slow-moving gentleman accompanied by two body guards. Soon we were all four lined up at the men's urinals. I found myself wondering about the various potential effects of pomegranate juice, real and perceived, on four guys like us, and wondering if they were also wondering, since we were all clearly over 50 (and the tallest among us was considerably older.)
As we left and exited the building, the two bodyguards ushered the tall gentleman into a waiting black car. I recognized former New York Mayor Ed Koch. Did he feel as a matter of public policy that something needs to be done about this world of image-making and cultural influence Spurlock showed is being somewhat deviously thrust upon us, mostly without our knowing?
I did not get a chance to ask before the black car sped away. But because POM was so on my mind - I thought I might pick up a few bottles to see what I think and see what it does (31 grams of sugar per bottle, about 7-8 teaspoons worth!) - it occurred to me that Spurlock had made his point. For that $1 million, POM had been penetratingly insinuated into my thoughts - and I am sure the former Mayor of New York got it too.