Review: Art & Copy

To hear the advertising executives and creative directors in Art & Copy tell it, the ad game is a thing of wonder.

Art & Copy

To hear the advertising executives and creative directors in Art & Copy tell it, the ad game is a thing of wonder, an outlet for a genuine creativity that produces lasting works of popular art that are of great benefit to society and only incidentally serve the corporate interest. While none of the subjects in Doug Pray’s fawning, uncritical documentary exactly deny the problematic conjunction of art and commerce, they seem so deluded by a sense of self-importance—a sentiment the film does nothing to undercut—that they put forth any number of outrageous claims about the significance of their art in order to justify a life spent serving a potentially dubious interest. While there’s no doubt that popular advertisements have a way of becoming part of the culture (among the film’s archival clips are such enduring classics as the Apple Super Bowl ad and the original “Where’s the Beef?” spot), claims as to their positive benefits seem greatly exaggerated, especially when the film holds up Hal Riney’s would-be-hilarious-if-they-hadn’t-been-so-harmful “morning in America” Reagan reelection ads as a pinnacle of the advertiser’s art. As long as the film concentrates on the history of the business (tracing the shift from the old boy’s network of the ’40s to the more “creative,” story-based approach of firms like Doyle, Dane and Bernbach) or on the inner workings of a single campaign (George Lois’s blustery promotion of Tommy Hilfiger turned the designer into a star overnight), there’s nothing wrong with Pray’s approach. Only the director seems more interested in turning the mic over to a bunch of longhaired ad men who seem to think their unconventional appearances and methods qualify them as great artists instead of, y’know, corporate executives. And while Pray may make a few very limited efforts to question the long-term effects of the advertising revolution (as in a series of popup factoids about Americans’ massive levels of information consumption), far more typical of his directorial touch is the film’s final image: a little girl in front of a glowing television box, set to receive the wisdom of the airwaves.

 Cast: David Kennedy, Chad Tiedeman, George Lois, Phyllis K. Robinson, Jim Durfee, Mary Wells, Charlie Moss, Hal Riney, Jean-Yves le Gall, Lee Clow, Cliff Freeman, Tommy Hilfiger, Rich Silverstein, Jeff Goodby, Jeff Manning, Dan Wieden, Ed Rollins, Liz Dolan  Director: Doug Pray  Distributor: 7th Art Releasing  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2009  Buy: Video

Andrew Schenker

Andrew Schenker is an essayist and critic living in upstate New York. His writing has appeared in The Baffler, The Village Voice, Artforum, Bookforum, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and others.

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