One doesn’t need to be especially cynical to see the annual December screening of the British Television Advertising Award winners at the Walker Art Center as the Twin Cities’ most honest holiday tradition. Instead of paying to be preached to about peace and love and selflessness, museumgoers pay to be preached to about the power of material goods to solve all ills. Given that most mainstream movies are essentially advertisements for associated merchandise, it’s refreshingly candid of the Walker to tell it like it is: we’re going to charge you to watch a lot of ads.
British Television Advertising Award winners, a film program screening from December 5-30 at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets ($10) and information, see walkerart.org.
Holiday-spirit purists, on the other hand, may choose to take solace in the fact that, given that these are winners of the British Television Advertising Awards, Minnesotans would have a difficult time buying most of the advertised products anyway. Chairman Bob may keep a few boxes of PG Tips tucked away behind the Lipton, but if you’re planning to rely on Boots for your beauty needs, you’d best have naturally rosy lips and slow-acting sweat glands.
Anyway, about the ads. This year’s crop is not quite as funny as previous years’, reports my friend Nalini—a veteran of several Decembers in attendance at the Walker—but still every bit as charming and inventive as you’d expect from those droll Brits. The common theme is a magical whimsy, conjured with a combination of special effects, sparkling music, and razor-sharp editing. Time stands still while a little boy struggles to find the right words to have written on a cake (the ad is for the cake shop). Colorful rabbits hop around a city, growing and multiplying (the ad is for television monitors). A boy charms a girl with a dance routine set to a tune he downloads on his mobile phone (the ad is for the phone company). Villagers watch a Rube Goldberg domino chain of cars, furniture, and hay bales cascade down a hill, the result being that dozens of closed books covering a tower in the shape of a Guinness glass flap open, causing the tower to resemble a glass of Guinness (the ad is for…you guessed it).
The ads collectively, taken as short films, paint a rosy picture of the free market’s power to spur creativity. Here is a medium where the hands of the creators—even, presumably, those of Martin Scorsese, who directed one of the featured ads—have virtually no autonomy from the hands holding the purse strings, and yet the ads on display demonstrate far more genuine imagination than most “independent” films. Maybe we’d have more stimulating theatrical fare if we just turned, say, 20th Century Fox over to Verizon and told them to go ahead and make two-hour commercials for family calling plans.
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.