Commentary

The Movie That Dares To Speak Thy Name (For A Price)

Phew. The big day has finally arrived. After an advance campaign reminiscent of Ringling Brother's Elephant Parade in the Big Apple, Morgan Spurlock's latest light-touch expose of the merry world of marketing, "Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold," is officially opening in selected theaters nationwide. It made its debut at the Sundance Festival in January.

The trailer provides a good sense of where Spurlock is coming from and where we're all going: a hellish hand basket of surreptitious pitches and blatant come-ons.

"So what I want to do is make a film all about product placement, marketing and advertising where the entire film is funded by product placement, marketing and advertising," he tells a bemused group of marketing types assembled in a presentation room. "The goal of this whole film is transparency. You're going to see the whole thing take place from beginning to end."

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Cut to a slightly older chap with a jabbing forefinger:

"Morgan is an idiot, he thinks all Americans are idiots and that all of the people who sponsored this film are idiots," he proclaims.

Indeed, why would a brand such as Ban shell out 50G to participate in a movie produced by a guy who eviscerated the fast-food industry in "Super Size Me"?

"We decided to participate not only because we admire Morgan's work as a filmmaker but also as a way to show that we don't take ourselves or the industry so seriously that we can't have fun," Karen Frank, VP for U.S. skin care marketing at Kao Brands, which makes Ban, tellsNew York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott in an e-mail. "We hope people enjoy the movie as much as we did."

Among Ban's appearances in the film are a scene where one of its deodorant sticks "ostentatiously appears" during an interview between Spurlock and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, and another where Spurlock nerdishly wears a suit jacket bearing the brand logo.

The bottom line on the film, The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt wrote following its world premiere at Sundance, is that it's "one of the funniest documentaries you'll ever see." It was at that time that Spurlock announced that Pom would be in the title, deviously gaining a little extra exposure.

"Don't tell Spurlock he can't have his cake and eat it too," Honeycutt wrote. "In 'Greatest Movie,' he gleefully accepts his sponsorships on camera just to show you how wrong this all is. And the sponsors dig it too: They're getting exactly what they want."

In another gimmick announced last week, Spurlock finalized a deal to purchase the naming rights for the city of Altoona, Penn.,  MovieWeb's B. Alan Orange revealed. "After an exhaustive search, the city of Altoona was selected by Morgan Spurlock because it is 'a shining example of struggling cities all across America,'" he wrote. The deal lasts for 60 days starting April 27. In a reverse, the Altoona police will receive funds from Spurlock for the exposure.

Other brands participating in the doc besides Ban and the title sponsor, which shelled out a million bucks to Spurlock but -- full disclosure -- paid nada to "Top of the News," are Carmex lip balm, GetItForFreeOnline.com, Hyatt, JetBlue, Mane 'n Tail shampoo, Merrell, MovieTickets.com, Old Navy, Petland, Sheetz and Trident gum. Ad Age's Andrew Hampp has the lowdown on sponsors who agreed to participate after the positive vibes at Sundance.

Industry insiders and pundits who appear include Ben Silverman, Richard Kirshenbaum, Jonathan Bond, Tony Seiniger, Norm Marshall, Michael Levine; Bob Garfield and Rick Kurnit. Other commentators include familiar critics such as Ralph Nader, Mark Crispin Miller and Noam Chomsky, as well as producer Brett Ratner, record executive Antonio Reid and directors Peter Berg and John Wells.

Spurlock's next project is a film about male grooming that's underwritten by a single sponsor, he tells Forbes' Jeff Bercovici. In a separate Q&A, Spurlock says Kirshenbaum & Bond was the only ad agency or product placement firm willing to play along with him. He also reveals his own susceptibility to a well-placed pitch, albeit from a time before the Great Inundation.

"Then you have something like E.T.," he tellsBercovici"M&M's said no, Reese's Pieces came in. I'm a 12-year-old kid, I go to see E.T. I love it. I'm also a kid who loves M&M's and I love Reese's cups, and here's this new candy that's the best of both worlds. Literally, I walked out of that movie with my mom and said, "We have to get some of those right now."

So what does the Times' Elliott think about the movie? "The box office will begin to make its determination this weekend," he concludes. I don't know about you, but I expect to among the box offices passing judgment.

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