" It’s nice to talk to the world "
— Michelle Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies

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Almost Famous

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“Where’s the beef?” “Just do it.” “Got milk?” These shared iconic phrases were introduced into our culture by creative people hired to sell a product.

Hard-working documentarian Doug Pray thought to ask these people what it was like to change the world on behalf of someone else’s product.

Hal Riney influenced an election
Hal Riney influenced an election

The fun of this movie lies in the anecdotes from the industry powerhouses. You realize you’ve seen their work dozens of times, work that has permeated the very culture in which we live, and yet you’ve never seen their faces nor heard their names. Yet here is the person who thought of the idea, telling us what led to the idea, and the fearful and timid reaction of the client before the idea took on a life of its own.

Who’s Who in Advertising

Some of the giants interviewed are:

Hal Riney, who created Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” ad, which looks a lot like his work for Perrier and Gallo.

Dan Wieden and David Kennedy, who lucked out with “Just do it” for Nike after reading about a prisoner on death row who expressed his impatience with “Let’s do it.”

Jeff Goodby, who thought that the recent milk campaign “it does a body good” was dishonest — athletes sprint a hundred yards and then gulp milk. The truth, they thought, was that you buy milk because you wanted to make sure make sure you didn’t run out, and thus “got milk?” was born.

Mary Wells, who thought that early TV ads looked boring, like print ads but with a little motion thrown in. She added theatricality to TV ads, and expanded the reach of “advertising” to include, for Braniff, painting the airplanes, designing the outfits for the stewardesses (all women — part of the campaign), and changing the attitude toward flying.

And George Lois, who delivered on his promise to make Tommy Hilfiger as big a name as Calvin Klein and to get millions of young people to call their cable operators and say “I want my MTV.”

How to Get A (Talking) Head in Advertising

In between segments, Pray retuns to the blue-collar workers who install billboards and to the rockets that will launch satellites to convey commercials around the world, while splashing factoids about advertising on the screen.

The photography is gorgeous, even for talking-heads interviews. Pray has a great eye for color, lighting, and detail. The billboard cutaways are shot from an occasionally swooping crane, and the on-screen factoids look like they were elegantly designed by a powerhouse firm. The whole film is polished and pretty.

The film’s biggest mistake is to acknowledge that there is a lot of bad advertising in the world. I happen to agree that most advertising is obnoxious, even some of the “good” ads. But this film could have just been about the good ones and not suffered. Bad advertising is a big enough subject to deserve more than just a few minutes at the end of this documentary, and it would have been better to leave it out entirely.

If you follow the career of director Doug Pray like I do, you might rightly ask whether Art & Copy is as good as, say, Scratch or Surfwise. I would say Art & Copy doesn’t have the satisfying story arc that Pray’s best films have. But there is rhythm and texture to the film, and it won’t leave you bored.