THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (PG): On General Release Friday 14th October George Orwell said that advertising was “the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket”. There’s virtually nothing which will take you out of movie like overt product placement, nothing which shatters the illusion of fantasy faster than having some marketing pie shoved in your face. But like it or not, it’s part of the Holylwood landscape – there’s virtually no mainstream production that doesn’t have placement of some kind.
Morgan Spurlock explores this through this one gimmick. Can he make a movie about product placement funded solely by product placement? Is this the most meta film ever made? So off Morgan goes to marketing executives, offering to trade advertising space in his movie in order to make up the $1.5 million he needs to get the film off the ground.
In doing so he meets with not only the big boys of advertising but also interviews directors (including Quentin Tarantino, Brett Ratner and JJ Abrams), politicians (Ralph Nader) and intellectuals (Noam Chomsky) to find out how exactly you get money for selling out and the effects it has on the industry.
Throughout, Spurlock’s disarmingly irreverent demeanour makes the film engaging and frequently very funny. In fact the best thing about the film is the gags, such as Spurlock’s hilarious attempts to work a shot of Pom Wonderful juice into every scene as per his contractual agreements and his dealings with Mane and Tail – a shampoo that can be used for both horses and humans.
There’s also a fantastic sequence where he travels to Sao Paulo where all outdoor advertising has been banned. This seems to have had a fantastic effect on not only businesses that are now forced to offer better services to generate word-of-mouth recommendations but also on the crime rate which has dropped and the general aesthetic of the city.
He also raises the important question whether product placement compromises artistic integrity and if so, how much is too much? Here’s where the film is at its weakest. It’s a subject which could have benefitted from more in-depth and probing analysis with more focus on how the amount of control advertisers have over the content of films we see.
So, is it a necessary evil or blight on good film making? Spurlock poses the question but never really answers it satisfactorily. On one hand, Spurlock should be commended for his neutrality (although necessarily he has to be or the companies he’s approaching wouldn’t be interested) but it would be nice to have some comment on the effects that it has on narrative cinema.
Spurlock instead spends the vast majority of the film trying to get sponsorship for his own movie which is entertaining but not particularly informative. This makes for a light-hearted but ultimately rather shallow documentary with none of the satire that could have been applied by someone like Chris Morris. In fact, the much underrated Josie And The Pussycats touched upon similar subjects in 2001 and was more fun and more scathing than Spurlock’s documentary ever attempts to be.