When Wes Anderson Visits Madison Avenue
Perhaps you’ve already seen Wes Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom. If so, consider yourself lucky– despite already having the hipster hoards salivating for its release, the film had a surprisingly limited opening last month, confined mostly to the coasts. So while we landlocked retronauts wait patiently, let’s take a moment to look at another aspect of Anderson’s career– his turn to directing television commercials.
Let’s start at the beginning. In 2006, Anderson directed a spot for American Express’ “My Life. My Card.” series, which launched two years earlier and had previously featured celebrities Tiger Woods, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, and one other director of note– M. Night Shymalan. But Wes’s spot bears much more of his distinct style, while also paying homage to François Truffaut’s classic film about filmmaking, Day for Night (even using the same music). We see the director in front of the camera amid the shooting of a fictional new film (starring his real-life regular player Jason Schwartzman). Anderson’s rapid dialogue even resembles the high-in-the-sky demands of his teenage playwright character Max Fisher from Rushmore (also played by Schwartzman). As the spot closes, some pigeons fly past, and Anderson wonders, “Are those my birds? I need those.”
The AmEx spot was a hit, and led to a repeat success the following year. In September 2007, Wes Anderson oversaw a series of six commercials for AT&T: “College Kid,” “Reporter,” “Mom,” “Architect,” “Actor” and “Businessman”, each focusing on their title-character subject while the environment around them changes to reflect the many different and far-reaching destinations where their lifestyle requires cell-phone service.
Next, Wes directed a 2010 for Belgian beer Stella Artois alongside his Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom cowriter Roman Coppola (brother of Sofia, son of Francis Ford). In a high-tech bachelor pad, a woman pushes switches and winds up getting swallowed by a couch as her date is preoccupied by his Stella. The vintage ’60s French vibe is unmistakeably Anderson’s touch.
And that about brings us up to the present, where earlier this year a new couple of spots directed by Anderson for Hyundai debuted (fittingly) during commercial breaks of the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Like his past ad-work, the “Talk to My Car” retained many of the elements of his unique style; only this time around, stirred up debate among the blogosphere (Slate, The New Yorker, The Guardian) about how famous directors should maintain their integrity while making commercials, and whether or not Anderson’s latest constituted “selling out.” Apparently not even the calming voice of Jeff Bridges narrator could please the critics.
But that all changed with Wes’ latest spot, created for Sony by McCann Worldgroup. Anderson asked more than 75 kids what they thought goes on inside Sony’s new Xperia phones and recorded their answers. The result: a whimsical mix of cgi and stop-motion animation, featuring tiny jet-pack-armed robots, Anderson’s famous dollhouse pans, and smoke made of cottonballs. By abandoning some of his retro-kitsch and retaining only the childlike wonderment that truly drives many of his films (especially Moonrise Kingdom), Anderson seems to have found the answer to his critics. Kill them with cuteness.