FEATURING: Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson, Bruce Robinson (voice)
PLOT: Dennis Dimbleby Bagley is an unscrupulous advertising executive, but he finds himself blocked while trying to come up with a campaign to sell pimple cream. The stress leads him to combination epiphany and mental breakdown, and he decides to renounce hypocrisy and manipulation and retire from marketing. The internal strife, however, has caused a boil to form on his neck; and that pustule then forms a face, and a voice, and a personality that’s even nastier than the old Bagley…
Director Bruce Robinson began his career as a struggling actor, but found greater success when he turned to screenwriting and directing. His first script, The Killing Fields, was nominated for an Oscar in 1984. His first film as director, 1987’s Withnail & I, was a semi-autobiographical story of two poor, hard-drinking actors, also starring Richard E. Grant; it became a cult hit. How to Get Ahead in Advertising was his second feature film, but did not replicate the success of Withnail.
Robinson (uncredited) provides the voice of the boil.
Advertising was produced by George Harrison’s Handmade Films, who also produced Monty Python films and the Certified Weird Time Bandits.
The London Sunday-Times gave away free copies of the DVD as a promotion in 2006.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Obviously, the fetuslike boil-with-a-face peering out from Bagley’s executive neck.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Disney birds; chatty chancre; notice his cardboard box?
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: How to Get Ahead in Advertising grows organically from that greatest fertilizer of weird films: obsession. Writer/director Bruce Robinson has Something to Say, and he is not going to let taste, subtlety, or realism get in the way of him saying it. The movie is completely committed to its bizarre two-headed premise, and star Grant gladly goes over the top for his director, literally baring his buttocks while wearing an apron and stuffing frozen chickens in his toilet.
Original trailer for How to Get Ahead in Advertising
Due to the small controversy over the meaning of this short, I’ll refer to the director’s synopsis: “Some people tell me it’s about drugs, others tell me it’s about capitalism, but it’s mainly about piggies.”
PLOT: A young financial genius is intent on taking his limo across Manhattan to get a haircut from his father’s old barber, despite the fact that the streets are gridlocked due to a Presidential visit, “occupy Wall Street”-type protestors are rioting, and there is a credible threat against his life.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Robert Pattinson’s disintegrating ride across Manhattan in a mobile cocoon is certainly odd, but it’s a tame and talky adventure from the man who brought us Videodrome and Naked Lunch. Far from being one of the weirdest movies of all time, Cosmopolis isn’t even the weirdest limousine-themed feature of 2012.
COMMENTS: Cosmopolis can be as cold and clinical as the routine physical examination billionaire Eric Packer requires every day, and the results as odd as the importance the examining physician ascribes to his asymmetrical prostate. Absurdly wealthy, Packer isn’t in the 1% of net wealth, he’s in the 1% of the 1%, so rich he’s not interested in buying a Rothko painting; he wants to buy the Rothko Chapel and move it into his apartment. He’s so rich that guys in Robert Pattinson’s tax bracket can credibly protest that his wealth is obscene. Able to buy almost anything he wants, he’s become jaded and now craves novel and dangerous risks; when he discovers one of his many lovers owns a stun gun, he begs to be tazed (“show me something I don’t know”). This need for new sensations drives his character’s journey as he crawls through gridlocked Manhattan, from a civilized and abstract uptown to carnal and violent downtown. Packer may be searching for authenticity, casting aside the trappings of wealth and becoming more focused on the body, but he doesn’t become more sympathetic. He remains very much an alien specimen, with speech patterns that are bizarre to us. Cosmopolis‘ semi-absurdist dialogue is its distinctive strategy. Characters discuss ideas like the metaphorical use of rats as currency, the way “money has lost its narrative quality,” and the lack of originality of Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire. Packer holds that last discussion with an adviser with the title “Chief of Theory,” played by Samantha Morton, reading her lines like she’s delivering a lecture for a book-on-tape. It’s not just Morton who’s stilted; throughout the film the style of conversation is ridiculously unnatural, with participants incapable of following any philosophical avenues to the end before detouring onto a side street. And it is a very, very talky movie, with Packer essentially interviewing a series of lovers and employees one by one, mostly in the cool blue light of his limo’s electric interior. The exchanges are so clipped and mannered that when Paul Giamatti, a certifiable working-class madman, strides into the movie, his commonplace insanity is refreshing. Giamatti’s monologues are ever-so-slightly more deranged and rambling than the other players, but unlike Packer’s blasé platitudes, they are delivered from a place of passion and pain that the young billionaire envies. Cosmopolis is a talky, symbolic and obliquely philosophical movie, for sure, and it will turn most viewers off. But, in its confused way, it does reflect our current psychology of income-gap anger and financial-apocalypse anxiety.
Cronenberg adapted the script from Don Delillo’s 2003 novel of the same name, which is not generally considered to be one of the author’s better works. You can’t fault Robert Pattinson for trying to break away from his Edward Cullen persona. Accepting a role in a David Cronenberg art film seems a good start at distancing himself from his image as a sparkly pretty boy. Although Pattinson isn’t bad as Packer—his drained and anemic pallor physically fits the billionaire’s character—unfortunately for him, Cosmopolis did not turn out to be the prestige movie the actor had hoped for.
(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who advised “There is definitely some weirdness going on in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Mostly a dialogue-driven weirdness for sure, but still…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
PLOT: A young hotshot ad exec begins to crack from stress when he has difficulty coming up with a campaign for pimple cream; compounding his problems, he grows a boil on his neck that gradually develops a face, and a nasty personality.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The talking boil, the cracked Bagley tossing thawed chickens into the toilet wearing only an apron, and a few other weird surprises. What works against Advertising‘s weirdness is that the film’s bizarro bits are all part of a perfectly clear and rational satirical plan.
COMMENTS: Ad exec Dennis Bagley develops the mother of all zits in this blackheaded black comedy: does he need a dermatologist, or a psychologist? He’s up against a deadline to design an ad campaign for a pimple cream account, and he’s obstructed. “I can’t get a handle on boils,” he explains. “Compared to this, piles were a birthday present… so was dandruff!” Brilliantly portrayed by an acerbic and unhinged Richard E. Grant, Bagley is a man on the edge from the moment we meet him. He delivers an authoritative, amoral address to junior execs delighting in the dieting-reward-guilt dynamic that keeps women buying unwholesome food and stressing the importance of marketing to “she who fills her basket;” but in private, his advertiser’s block is driving him to knock back highballs in his office and nearly break down into quivering mass at lunch with his beautiful wife Julia (Ward). On a fateful train ride home for a weekend of fretting over the acne campaign, frazzled Bagley has an epiphany about the pervasiveness of the advertising/propaganda mentality while listening to strangers discuss a sensational newspaper account of a drug orgy, and launches into the first of many entertainingly deranged rants. By the next morning Bagley has gone completely off his rocker: he’s running around the house nude except for an apron, thawing frozen chickens in the bathtub and trying to rid the homestead of everything connected to advertising. But, to his distress, he’s also developed a rather nasty and surprisingly painful pimple on his neck, one Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989)→
“Lindsay… was never into realism. He wanted it real, but not realistic.”–Malcolm McDowell
“O Lucky Man! is a film about the real world. I think that everything in it is recognizable to people who look around with open eyes and can see the kind of world we’re living in. But of course it makes it’s comment through comedy and through satire, because I think the world today is too complex and too mad and too bad for one to be able to make a straight, serious comment.”–Lindsay Anderson
PLOT: Mick Travis is an eager, ambitious trainee at a coffee company who gets a big break when the firm’s top salesman in the Northeast territory goes missing under mysterious circumstances and he’s picked to replace him. With his engaging smile and can-do attitude, his career begins promisingly, but soon a sting of unfortunate coincidences befall him. A plague of strange events drive him across the 1970s English landscape, as he is mistaken for a spy, volunteers for medical experiments, falls in with a touring rock band, becomes the personal assistant of a ruthless capitalist, goes to prison, and works at a soup kitchen.
McDowell is Mick Travis in this film. He played a character of the same name in three of director Lindsay Anderson’s films, each completed in a different decade: If… (1968), O Lucky Man! (1973), and Britannia Hospital (1982). Other than sharing the same name, there is no evidence that Mick Travis is intended to be the same character at different stages of life.
McDowell came up with the core idea for the script, drawing on his own pre-fame experiences as a coffee salesman. McDowell worked on the script with screenwriter David Sherwin (If…). In an interview, McDowell recalls that he was having trouble thinking of an ending and Anderson asked him how his real life adventures as a coffee salesman ended. “That’s your ending,” Anderson told him.
This was McDowell’s next project after completing A Clockwork Orange in 1971, cementing his position as the most important weird actor of the early 1970s.
Director Anderson had tried to make documentary about singer-songwriter Alan Price before he began O Lucky Man!, but could not obtain funding to license the songs. Anderson instead invited Price to write the songs for this movie and to appear as the leader of the touring band in the film.
Almost all of the actors in the film play multiple parts. Arthur Lowe won a BAFTA Best Supporting Actor Award for his triple-role as Mr. Duff, Charlie Johnson and Dr. Munda (in blackface).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The final party scene, with the entire cast dancing to the theme song while balloons drop from the ceiling, although the shot of Dr. Millar’s medical experiments is unforgettable as well.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As if Mick Travis’ improbable class-trotting adventures across 1970s Britain weren’t strange enough, Lindsay Anderson sprinkles weirdness and non sequiturs throughout, including Kafkaesque interrogations, a half-man half-hog, and an unexpected breastfeeding scene. Any film in which a boarding-room neighbor inexplicably gives a young man a “golden” suit and sends him out into the world with the sage advice “try not to die like a dog,” is tipping to the weird end of the scale.