Monday, February 25, 2002

The Movie I Watched Last Night VIII

Friday: I Bury the Living
A disappointing horror thriller that doesn't live up to its promise. The new chairman of a board that oversees a cemetery starts to knock off fellow citizens as he switches pins on a map of the graveyard -- white pins for the living, black pins for the dead. When he begins to switch the pins back, what could have been an excellent supernatural flick involving the undead falls flat as a weak murder mystery hinging on a labor dispute. There's a drawn out "Night of the Living Dead"-like scene in which the lead sequesters himself in the burial ground's office -- without much suspense -- but the film might have been saved by the protagonist's wise-cracking, heavy-drinking journalist friend and his earnest fiancee who, when they embraced at one point, chirps out, "We might as well get married!"

Saturday: Something Weird Video's Cigarette Commercials from the Golden Age of Television Vol. 1
While cigarette ads are now relegated to billboards and print adverts, back in the day there were plenty of ads on TV -- cigarette makers even sponsored game shows and sitcoms. This 90 minute-long video cassette compiles some of those ads, representing the range of narrative styles, musical soundtracks, technological advances, and other aspects that tobacco companies used to distinguish their commodity products from those of their competitors.

Today most cigarette ads fall on two sides -- those highlighting leisure activities in the outdoors (usually young, beautiful people enjoying themselves on the water... while smoking) and those drawing on the romantic ideal of rugged, working-class Americana (construction workers and ranch hands taking a break from their labors... to light up) -- but the golden age of television offers a more complex view of tobacco companies' marketing strategies.

I've broken the advertising methods into six categories, all exemplified by spots on the video. What I don't address here is the use of slightly apolgetic humor that deprecates folks' smoking habits -- or the innovative use of music and animation. Here are some examples of the imagery, language, and practices employed by the advertisers.

Purity and Cleanliness: Kool's snow-fresh cigarettes are as "cool and as clean as a breath of fresh air; the ad incorporates imagery of ice-choked streams. Robert Burns tobacco is slow cured in clean air. Paxton's uniflex, moisture-proof, and vacuum-packed containers keep cigarettes fresh. Kool makes your throat feel clean. "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." L&M's filters are "pure white." Physicians used to endorse cigarettes, like those from Philip Morris.

Technology and Design: Marlboro highlights its flip-top box, which remains in wide production today. The Philip Morris multifilter uses rare coconut shell charcoal. Dutch Masters offered a push-up pack for its Cadet cigars. Tareyton produced a cigarette with a white outer tip and an inner charcoal section. Beechnut's foil pack locks in freshness and flavor. Old Gold's filter "steps up flavor." Spring cigarettes air condition smoke with an "amazing electronic process" and microscopic openings in the paper. Kent sports a "micronite" filter. Chesterfield is more perfectly packed, "thanks to Acu-Ray." Winston: "It's not how long you make it, it's how you make it long." Parliament's hi-fi recessed filter is continually tested for uniformity by the United States Testing Co. Chesterfield King's "top-porousity" paper makes the smoke travel farther, making the taste milder, cooler, and smoother.

Social Networks: A boy remembers an uncle who lived by the sea -- and introduced him to Robert Burns cigars. An airplane pilot is turned on to Newport by his co-pilot after saying that the air at 31,000 is like pure silk. A woman introduces her husband to Philip Morris charcoal-filtered cigarettes. Scripto lighters doesn't want you to offed your friends with a lame Christmas gift. A hunter switches to Newport on the advice of a pal. Dick Van Dyke compares Carol Burnett to a cigarette.

Celebrity Endorsements: Old Gold introduced its king-sized cigarettes on the game show "Chance of a Lifetime," starring Dennis James. Muriel cigars riffes on Mae West with a couple of ads using the phrase, "Why don't you pick me up and smoke me sometime?" A fey comedian named Ed creates a slapstick display of Camel cigarettes. Dick Van Dyke and Carol Burnett shill for Kent in some delightful sitcom spots. Who the hell was Edie Adams? She was huge in Memphis with her Muriel cigars. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz pitch for Philip Morris. The Flintstones flip out for Winston. Chesterfield sponsored "Warner Bros. Presents."

Lifestyle Choices: Most of the Newport ads -- while contending that they taste fresh -- are shot on the waterfront featuring people water skiing, boating, and otherwise enjoying themselves. One spot even features a soldier about to board a bus who's enraptured by the seaside scene on a billboard. If you want to appreciate your horse and its newborn, smoke Salem. Go on a cruise and smoke L&M. Chesterfield will help you relax, really enjoy life, and be completely satisfied. Racing sailors indulge in Parliaments.

Rugged Individualism: A Marlboro spot features a guy who likes to work on his car: "I always smoke when I work. They go together." A stunt man and a marksman like the "smooth, honest taste" of Lucky Strikes. Um, Marlboro Country. Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch. A docking pilot smokes Camels. Construction workers smoke Kents. Rebels complain about Benson & Hedges. Battlefield captains cough on Chesterfield Kings.

While some of the edits are sloppy, there are several repeated ads, and the Spanish Kent spots and the Muriel cigars/Edie Adams spot are given too much time, this cassette is a welcome introduction to old-school tobacco advertisements.

Sunday: Magnolia
A wonderful Robert Altman-like film in which several distinct plotlines weave around each other to create one meta-story. The movie's less about the conjunction and more about the merits of the individual stories, however. In one thread, an NLP-inspired motivational speaker reunites with his dying father. In another, a lonely police officer falls in love with a woman who needs to be saved from herself. A former quiz-show kid seeks love and finds himself committing a crime. And a contemporary quiz-show kid decides to assert himself as a person as the quiz show's host finds his life unraveling at the onset of illness. While the movie is long at three hours, it's interesting to watch how the storylines overlap -- and to keep an eye on tracking shots that indicate just how intertwined the characters' lives really are despite a lack of ongoing interaction.

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