On Commercial Art: Godard Meets Prada

The legacy of the French New Wave is vast, yet certainly Godard et al. can be credited with the creation of a brand new aesthetic. Recently (and probably not for the first time), this aesthetic literally became a “brand” when Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola created this video for a Prada fragrance.

While Candy, the star, does bring back visions of Anna Karina, I suspect Godard would not be pleased. Indeed, after 1967 he hardly seemed pleased with his own films, creating the apocalyptic Weekend and then channeling the Russian “documentarist” Dziga Vertov through the 80s. In retrospect, it isn’t hard to envision Godard Marxist-Maoist turn against the New Wave as a rejection of exactly this possibility: commercial viability. And while Godard has developed a serious cult following by this point (Goodbye to Language 3D: get excited), he does seem to have resigned from the commercial sector.

Is Godard just an extremist? I think yes, although certainly a brilliant one. Still, the division of art and commercial strikes me as empty, particularly in a medium such as film where the average budget of a feature may tip a million dollars. Films have to make money, particularly for filmmakers working on an independent basis. Last week I wrote about City of God from an ethical perspective, but one could easily write about the film following David Bordwell’s idea of “intensified continuity” and a new, commercially-viable aesthetic which can be seen all of the world today. I don’t think there is anything wrong here, any film that isn’t attentive to its audience better have a small budget and lots of relatives (or a porn studio supporting it, i.e. Antichrist).

But isn’t there tension between commercial and aesthetic concerns? Often yes, and I don’t mean to belittle that in any way. One of the biggest tensions can be creative freedom. This is where I find the Prada commercial so fascinating, for the series feels more like a series of short, short films than commercials. Watching the first episode, I was jarred when the fragrance appeared at the end and I realized I was watching a commercial after all. Partly, the freedom Anderson and Coppola seemed to have enjoyed speaks to Prada’s decision to make stylistic continuity between their brand and the New Wave, rather than looking for some kind of direct product placement or content continuity. This seems to be a trend in advertising these days (just like the trend of luxury items having gorgeous commercials). While I don’t know what it was like on set for this piece, I would imagine that there was as much creative freedom as can be allowed by the short-form and genre guidelines. Indeed, I see these commercials more as genre films than anything else. And, from that angle, I don’t see anything particularly worrisome.

The only critique that remains to be written is the feminist critique.

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