The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Dir: Morgan Spurlock
Sony Pictures Classics
More than anything else, Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold will prompt a debate over “selling out” versus “buying in.” Do you remember when switching from an independent to a major label was akin to a stake through the heart for some music fans? Recently, indie darlings Surfer Blood and Iron & Wine signed contracts with Warner Brothers. Did a mass shout arise like it did in 1987 when R.E.M. jumped from IRS to that same label? Nope. Instead there was a sense of pride that these dudes could make some money on their music. Likewise, commercials are one of the only ways to get word out about your product to a mass market. Nowadays, bands such as Wilco can put a song in a Volkswagen commercial and no one bats an eye. Why? Radio play doesn’t exist anymore. MTV doesn’t show music videos. The times have changed, baby.
Spurlock takes a simple idea and spawns it into a feature length film: to make an entire movie about and funded by product placement. Ever notice on television shows like “24” how the camera zooms in on the car’s logo just as Jack Bauer takes off? Well, those car companies have paid to put their product into the show. Sometimes it’s innocuous, like a cereal box on a table. Other times, it’s more egregious. I remember an episode of “Rescue Me” where the gang suddenly starts talking about Vitamin Water. Did it turn me off? Hell yes. Did it put Vitamin Water in my consciousness? Yes. Did it make me stop watching the show? No sir.
Despite many humorous moments, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold gets stale fast. Spurlock, entirely self-possessed and cocksure that his idea is the greatest idea ever sold, often gets in the way of the point he is trying to make. Rather than give more screen time to directors such as Peter Berg, Brett Ratner and Quentin Tarantino, as well as a host of people who make their living pairing products and entertainment, the clownish Spurlock gives himself the spotlight, front and center. What is fascinating is to learn about how some companies turn to brain scans to see how advertising affects viewers. What is not fascinating is watching Spurlock have his brain scanned.
For a film that is 85 minutes long, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold feels like an interminable slog at some points. Sure, some of the commercials Spurlock envisions are funny, but the film could have used more moments of social commentary such as his discussion of the Florida school district that is selling ad space inside its school buses and along its stadium or a law passed in São Paulo that removes all billboards (though Spurlock could have just gone to Vermont for the same effect instead of jetting to Brazil).
As a movie, Spurlock’s latest is mediocre. However, it will spur conversation and new awareness about how much of a grip marketers have over us. Last week, I reviewed a documentary about the late comic Bill Hicks who told the marketers in his audience, “You are fucked and fucking us. Kill yourself.” Spurlock may not like how prevalent product placement has become, but he deals with it by giving a guilty shrug. We could use more people like Hicks in the world.
by David Harris