Art & Copy
Since his 1996 grunge-rock documentary Hype!, Doug Pray has become an even more adept assembler of polished images. And where else would that tendency lead but the world of advertising? Most filmmakers moonlight in the field, but here, Pray trains his camera on the guys behind the ads — the ’60s boomer revolutionaries who advanced the field out of the Mad Men era. And so we learn how those famous VW ads came to be from Doyle Dane Bernbach; about George Lois’ groundbreaking art design for Esquire; and the use of pop songs (like the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun”) by Hal Riney, later the voice of Reagan’s “Morning in America” campaign. These guys, their work — genius, at least to anyone not offended by art (the image) and copy (the words) designed to sell. Yet however stirring these vintage campaigns and their graying creators may be for ad junkies and nostalgists, Pray fails at analysis: His film is simply a tribute. Random statistics — kids see 20,000 TV ads per year; 30 seconds on American Idol costs $750,000 — mean nothing without context. And linking the ad biz to cave art (?!?) — well, that’s just idiotic. Everyone quoted here, and perhaps Pray himself, wants to be seen as an artist. But in this economy, those of us who pay for ordinary stuff may not be so inclined to worship this particular art form.