mid-century maunderings for men who know better
Grey Goose vodka is French Vodka. Don’t forget it. This ad starts with a spasm of fake symphonic jazz and a black-bobbed dominatrix in leather pants cracking a whip at the French countryside. There follows an urgent chase through the French Countryside in a Citroen DS series 1 and a Peugeot 504. The cars are filled with a confusing aesthetic mix of creepy kidnapper stereotypes . There is a bogus sense of danger as the blond guy runs a nasty finger down the ingenue’s cheek. Is the ingenue afraid or is she winsome? Perhaps both. Despite their haste, everyone has time to gaze at a grey goose gliding past the speeding French cars. They screech to a halt and everyone starts pelting toward a departing Zeppelin (yes Zeppelin). Or should I say, dirigeable? It has tricolour decals on its fuselage. That’s French for you. They are laughing so maybe the danger we sensed at the beginning has passed, or maybe it was more of an existential French kind of danger. A danger of the heart or perhaps L’Etranger Danger. The deco/steampunk/hipster/ bondage aesthetic continues on board with an irrascible old captain at the helm and a rumpled duo playing the fake symphonic jazz soundtrack on a drum set and Theremin. We get glimpses of grey geese in the clouds as the dead-eyed guests pout and point while the airship makes a series of improbable stops. First, it hovers over a quaint French cinema to hoist a small projector into the cabin; then a French lighthouse to get a big light bulb; then a French mountain to take on a huge chunk of ice for everyone to enjoy a vodka and a film. There is no meaningful interaction between the cast. It hardly seems like a party in the sky, more an excuse to pretend to show a movie on some clouds from a pivoting airship. Nobody speaks, so this ad can play in all countries where French vodka is available and fake symphonic jazz is enjoyed. At no point does smoothmodernist think: “Hmm I’d like a glass of Grey Goose vodka.” What he does think is this:
Alcohol advertising is interesting. Some of the best selling brands don’t seem to even advertise. A company may sponsor some high-class orgy that gets photographed for Vanity Fair or Harper’s. It may just have representatives loitering about the polo fields offering nubile girls with shots lined up on trays. Some do like a tv or cinema campaign. Some are happy to do magazines and billboards. Some like to commission ads that draw attention to their product in a way that makes you want to drink it. Grey Goose Vodka has decided to spend a fortune on what may be a real airship and some models. A digital airship might be cheaper, the old cars and theremin might cost a bit though. Those big lamps are pricey too. I could be overthinking this and missing the point. Expensive ad = expensive drink. Expensive drink = A-list VIP.
To make up for it, here is one of my favourite ads. I think it was shown at the 1999 or maybe 2000 MIFF. I never tired of it then and love it still. Nothing fancy. Just a great idea.
This film is in the mould of Standing in the Shadows of Motown, The wrecking Crew , and 20 feet from stardom. It is a series of profiles of (mostly) unknown session men (and one or two women) who played on American Pop Chart hits in the seventies and eighties. It is straightforward and candid. It focuses mostly on white heavy rock guitarists. While this is my least favourite form of music, there are illuminating insights into a secret world. It is at times funny and poignant .
Two friends, Prakash and Kiran, try to retrieve a hen that Prakash’s sister gave him before she ran away to join Maoist insurgents. Their friendship is strained by their families’ caste differences. It is also a historical look at a time when thousands of Nepalese civilians were killed in the fighting between government and insurgent forces. The ways they attempt to recover the hen are ingenious and intrepid. Part caper and part documentary, The Black Hen is a heartwarming film.
I have an excellent radar when it comes to films. I know within seconds of a preview if a film is for me. I did not preview this film. Within minutes I knew it was not for me. Funny walks, silly voices, pratfalls — all of these can work, but not this time and not for me. I walked out.
The late Frank Zappa was a charismatic musician who, in later life, became as well known for his political oratory as his music. Speaking out against the PMRC, he offered elegant arguments against censorship and conservative theocracy. A conservative himself, he objected to corruption and influence peddling, while rebutting specious rhetoric designed to ‘protect our children from evil music’. We also get to see some great concert footage. In the absence of a trailer I offer this: Australian cultural icon, Norman Gunston, who was invited by Zappa to play with him at his Sydney concert, interviewing the man himself. Zappa’s band was notoriously hard to get into and many fell by the wayside due to the high degree of musicianship required and the sheer difficulty of the parts. You can hear him on the live album, FZ:OZ.
The American Epic Sessions
Twenty songs. That’s it more or less. Twenty songs played live all the way through. Sound good? Using a reconstructed piece of W. Heath Robinson-like equipment, an engineer and a pair of producers set out to recreate the seminal history of American music by recording contemporary artists playing songs and styles that were recorded in the twenties and thirties using this one microphone direct to disc system. The performances are uniformly excellent. Yes! Every single one. Even…well I’m not going to say who it is, but you’ll be surprised. Smooth modernist had to sit on his hands to stop from jumping up and cheering after each song.
Zach Doomadgee appears onscreen at the start as a very young boy. He is articulate and confident. Exactly the kind of son anyone would be proud to have. Zach lives with his Dad and is looking forward to his ritual initiation into manhood. His dad has a strong connection to his aboriginal heritage and Zach is keen to learn. This is a powerful film that offers a positive viewpoint on Aboriginal culture, ritual, responsibilities and manhood.