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Student Papers

Reflections (mostly unedited) by Columbia College students on aspects of AdCult at the movies.



Posted July 15, 2004
Bamboozled (2000): Short essays on the controversial film that deals with marketing manipulations of racial identity... Description from amazon.com: Director Spike Lee has never shied away from controversy, and with Bamboozled he tackles a thorny mix of racism and how images are bought and sold. A frustrated TV writer named Delacroix (Damon Wayans), unable to break his contract, tries to get fired by proposing a new minstrel show, complete with dancers in blackface. But the network loves the idea, and Delacroix hires two street performers (Savion Glover, who is truly the finest tap dancer since Fred Astaire, and Tommy Davidson) whose hunger for success and ignorance of history combine to make them accept the blackface. Despite protests, the show is a huge success--but gradually, the mental balance of everyone involved starts to crumble. As an argument, Bamboozled is incoherent--but how can racism be discussed rationally in the first place? Lee takes a much braver approach: Every time something seems to make sense or make a point, he complicates the situation. At one point, Delacroix goes to see his father, a standup comedian working at a small black club. Delacroix perceives his father as a broken failure. But his father's routine is full of articulate critiques of white hypocrisy, and the older man describes refusing to play the narrow movie roles that Hollywood had offered him, while Delacroix has convinced himself that his minstrel show is actually doing some social good. And what is the effect of the show itself? Lee obviously finds blackface abhorrent, but the minstrel routines are perversely fascinating and Glover's dancing, even when he mimics Amos and Andy-era routines, is outstanding. Most cuttingly, Lee points out parallels between minstrel and contemporary hip-hop personas. By the time it's over, Bamboozled won't have told you what to think, but you will have to think about these issues--and that alone is a remarkable accomplishment. --Bret Fetzer Go to Student essays:



Posted July 19, 2004
The Candidate (1972), a political fable: Short essays on the film, starring Robert Redford, about the influence of marketing communication on American politics...
Description from www.imdb.com: Californian lawyer Bill McKay fights for the little man. His charisma and integrity get him noticed by the Democratic Party machine and he is persuaded to run for the Senate against an apparently unassailable incumbent. It's agreed he can handle it his own way, on his own terms. But once he's in the race and his prospects begin to improve, the deal starts to change.... "Robert Redford first tried to establish himself as a serious actor with his role as a lawyer who pursues a run for a senate office in this 1972 Warner Brothers release. He succeeds yet again even when he goes almost completely out of character. There's some comedy here but it's mostly a dramatic show as Redford's character gradually learns how politics really work. A career highlight that would serve as a basis for Redford's later dramatic successes." Go to Student essays:



Posted July 21, 2004
The Hucksters (1947) Victor Norman (Clark Gable) is just out of the Service and is looking for a job in advertizing. By playing hard to get, he figures that he can get a good job and a large salary. The first thing he has to do is get a war widow to endorse Beautee Soap - a client of the Kimberly Agency. He meets with Kay Dorrance (Deborah Kerr) and gets the endorsement and Mr. Evans (Sydney Greenstreet), the head of Beautee Soap is temporarily happy. Victor's job is now to work with Mr. Evans, a man who is a strict and demanding client. Everything should be rosy, but Victor, a bachelor, finds himself more attracted to Kay, a widow, than young single Jean Ogilvie (Ava Gardner). Victor Norman (Clark Gable) is just out of the Service and is looking for a job in advertizing. By playing hard to get, he figures that he can get a good job and a large salary. The first thing he has to do is get a war widow to endorse Beautee Soap - a client of the Kimberly Agency. He meets with Kay Dorrance (Deborah Kerr) and gets the endorsement and Mr. Evans (Sydney Greenstreet), the head of Beautee Soap is temporarily happy. Victor's job is now to work with Mr. Evans, a man who is a strict and demanding client. Everything should be rosy, but Victor, a bachelor, finds himself more attracted to Kay, a widow, than young single Jean Ogilvie (Ava Gardner). Go to Student essays:



Posted July 25, 2004
The Traveling Saleslady (1935) : Short essays on the film, starring Joan Blondell, in which the daughter of a toothpaste owner sells cocktail toothpaste for his competitor while falling for her rival salesman. Rufus K. Twitchell is an old-school industrial magnate who doesn't believe he needs to advertise to sell his product, the market leader in toothpaste. He arrogantly refuses to meet with an inventor who wants to market "cocktail toothpaste" -- with flavors like scotch, or rum punch, or a martini. His plucky daughter (Blondell) sees an opportunity to show her father she has a business sense as good as any man's, and secretly partners with the inventor to set up a rival -- and ultimately more successful -- toothpaste business of her own. The plot includes the obligatory contest between two women -- one savvy, the other merely wealthy -- for the attentions of Twitchell's leading salesman, with whom the savvy one is engaged in a competition for sales. From www.san.beck.org: "This comedy about selling has a strong feminist theme as the father blindly discounts women and his daughter while she succeeds better than the best men." Go to Student essays:



Posted July 28, 2004
Putney Swope (1969) Dark satire in which the token black man on the executive board of an advertising firm is accidentally put in charge. Renaming the business "Truth and Soul, Inc.", he replaces the tight regime of monied white ad men with his militant brothers. Soon afterwards, however, the power that comes with its position takes its toll on Putney... Dark satire in which the token black man on the executive board of an advertising firm is accidentally put in charge. Renaming the business "Truth and Soul, Inc.", he replaces the tight regime of monied white ad men with his militant brothers. Soon afterwards, however, the power that comes with its position takes its toll on Putney... Dark satire in which the token black man on the executive board of an advertising firm is accidentally put in charge. Renaming the business "Truth and Soul, Inc.", he replaces the tight regime of monied white ad men with his militant brothers. Soon afterwards, however, the power that comes with its position takes its toll on Putney... Go to Student essays...:



Posted August 3, 2004
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) In this spoof of the TV advertising industry, Rockwell Hunter (Tony Randall) is the low man on the totem pole at the advertising company where he works. That is, until he finds the perfect spokesmodel for Stay-Put lipstick, the famous actress with the oh-so-kissable lips, Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield). Unfortunately, in exchange, Rock has to act publicly as Rita's "Loverboy", and Rock's fianc‚e Jenny isn't too happy about it either. In this spoof of the TV advertising industry, Rockwell Hunter (Tony Randall) is the low man on the totem pole at the advertising company where he works. That is, until he finds the perfect spokesmodel for Stay-Put lipstick, the famous actress with the oh-so-kissable lips, Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield). Unfortunately, in exchange, Rock has to act publicly as Rita's "Loverboy", and Rock's fianc‚e Jenny isn't too happy about it either. In this spoof of the TV advertising industry, Rockwell Hunter (Tony Randall) is the low man on the totem pole at the advertising company where he works. That is, until he finds the perfect spokesmodel for Stay-Put lipstick, the famous actress with the oh-so-kissable lips, Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield). Unfortunately, in exchange, Rock has to act publicly as Rita's "Loverboy", and Rock's fianc‚e Jenny isn't too happy about it either. Go to Student essays...:



To be posted August 4, 2004
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
Description from amazon.com: A classic of the late 1950s, this film looks at the string-pulling behind-the-scenes action between desperate press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) and the ultimate power broker in that long-ago show-biz Manhattan: gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). Written by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets (who based the Hunsecker character on the similarly brutal and power-mad Walter Winchell), the film follows Falco's attempts to promote a client through Hunsecker's column--until he is forced to make a deal with the devil and help Hunsecker ruin a jazz musician who has the nerve to date Hunsecker's sister. Director Alexander MacKendrick and cinematographer James Wong Howe, shooting on location mostly at night, capture this New York demimonde in silky black and white, in which neon and shadows share a scarily symbiotic relationship--a near-match for the poisonous give-and-take between the edgy Curtis and the dismissive Lancaster. --Marshall Fine, Amazon.com Go to Student essays...:



To be posted August 11, 2004
The War Room (1994) Documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker ("Don't Look Back") and Chris Hegedus shot behind-the-scenes at command central for Bill Clinton's 1992 election campaign and came up with this film. You won't find the kind of daily damage-control and skirt-chasing indirectly alleged in "Primary Colors," but the filmmakers do give us a strong sense of the uphill battle of a presidential campaign. The center of the film is really James Carville, who steered the machine for Clinton's '92 run and who comes across in this film as a deeply passionate, complex, and somehow timeless man who could have fit into any chapter of American history. --Tom Keogh, Amazon.com This is a great documentary, and a must for students of political and election strategy. It shows how talented pros deal with polls, the press, schedules, scandals, and downtime. And it contains some golden moments, including a hilarious argument about posters at the convention, a tongue-in-cheek concession speech, and a speech by Carville to volunteers once the election was won. All told, The War Room is a pleasure to watch, and will serve as an important snapshot of political electioneering at the end of the 20th century.Joseph J. Benik, Amazon.com
Go to Student essays ...:



To be posted August 11, 2004
Bob Roberts (1992) Written and directed by actor Tim Robbins (who also plays the title role), this 1992 mock documentary about an upstart candidate for the U.S. Senate is smart, funny, and scarily prescient in its foreshadowing of the Republican revolution of 1994. Bob Roberts is a folksinger with a difference: He offers tunes that protest welfare chiselers, liberal whining, and the like. As the filmmakers follow his campaign, Robbins gives needle-sharp insight into the way candidates manipulate the media. While the film follows Roberts's campaign, it also covers a fringe journalist (Giancarlo Esposito), who may have dug up the kind of dirt to push Roberts's campaign off the rails. Robbins captures the chilly insincerity of this right-wing populist and fills his cast with terrific supporting players, including Alan Rickman as the campaign's shadowy financier and Susan Sarandon and Peter Gallagher as a pair of airhead TV news anchors. --Marshall Fine, Amazon.com Go to Student essays ...:



(Not posted - "Network" presented instead)
What Women Want (2000) Mel Gibson plays Nick, who lives each day to his Frank Sinatra records. He's crude and brash, but those baby blues are hard to resist. When he thinks he's about to be promoted, he learns that his boss hired a woman named Darcy (Helen Hunt) for the job he desperately wanted. The first thing she does is assign a fun project for all her fellow advertisers -- try out several women's products (mascara, lipstick) and come up with a tag line for them. Nick is, of course, totally annoyed, but he does it anyway, falling in the bathtub after slipping on little bath pearls and electrocuting himself with a hair dryer. And BAM! He can suddenly hear what women think. What he at first sees as a curse, a therapist (played by a funny Bette Midler) tells him he's got a power most men dream of -- he knows what women want! So the story unfolds with Nick learning about the women in his life and even having an actual relationship with Darcy. -- Ashley Quinn, Amazon.com




Extra credit
Network (1976) Media madness reigns supreme in screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky's scathing satire about the uses and abuses of network television. Peter Finch plays a veteran network anchorman who's been fired because of low ratings. His response is to announce he'll kill himself on live television two weeks hence. What follows, along with skyrocketing ratings, is the anchorman's descent into insanity, during which he fervently rages against the medium that made him a celebrity. Faye Dunaway plays the frigid, ratings-obsessed producer who pursues success with cold-blooded zeal. Through it all, Chayefsky (via Finch) urges the viewer to repeat the now-famous mantra "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" to reclaim our humanity from the medium that threatens to steal it away. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com



(Not Posted - "The War Room" presented instead)
Crazy People (1990)
Description from amazon.com: Emory (Dudley Moore) works in advertising, and is beginning to crack up. His latest idea is honesty, e.g. "Volvos, Yes they are boxy, but they're safe". This doesn't go down too well with the boss, so Emory is sent to a psychiatric hospital to 'recover'. Meanwhile, back at the office, Emory's work is accidentally sent to the printers. His ads are a huge success. But now Emory has fallen for Kathy (another patient) and so doesn't want to leave. Emory (Dudley Moore) works in advertising, and is beginning to crack up. His latest idea is honesty, e.g. "Volvos, Yes they are boxy, but they're safe". This doesn't go down too well with the boss, so Emory is sent to a psychiatric hospital to 'recover'. Meanwhile, back at the office, Emory's work is accidentally sent to the printers. His ads are a huge success. But now Emory has fallen for Kathy (another patient) and so doesn't want to leave. Emory (Dudley Moore) works in advertising, and is beginning to crack up. His latest idea is honesty, e.g. "Volvos, Yes they are boxy, but they're safe". This doesn't go down too well with the boss, so Emory is sent to a psychiatric hospital to 'recover'. Meanwhile, back at the office, Emory's work is accidentally sent to the printers. His ads are a huge success. But now Emory has fallen for Kathy (another patient) and so doesn't want to leave.


(Extra Credit)
Bombshell (1933)
Description from imdb.com: Lola Burns (Jean Harlow) is at the top of the pile in Hollywood. But life ain't easy, what with her father and brother always hanging around for handouts, and devious studio publicity honcho Space Hanlon cooking up endless lurid newspaper stories. Makes a girl want to give up pictures. From a user comment on imdb.com: "Hilarious! This is one of those quick-witted pre-code comedies with juicy dialogue that hold up to this day. The depression era was, well, depressing enough. Why did censorship have to rob the audience of one of their few joys? Jean Harlow's performance is a pure delight. This may even be her best performance."



More extra credit opportunities:
You may also view and write an annotation on any other film in my list of AdCult films.