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Festival, Theatrical Reviews

DocFest 2011: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Morgan Spurlock, the pop-culture literate director of multiplex crossover doc success stories Super Size Me and Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden? found inspiration in the most unlikely of places for his latest work. In order to realise his self-professed “DocBuster”, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Spurlock looked to Iron Man, the $100 million-plus blockbuster from Marvel Studios. In The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, or to give it its full title, POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock set to combine the funding politics of mainstream Hollywood with the production of his latest documentary, in turn creating an entertaining and informative movie along the way.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold attempts to place in to context just how powerful the marketing industry is within the film industry. It’s basically an exploration of the world of product placement, with Spurlock attempting to raise the entire $1.5 million dollar budget of his film through product placement alone. Initially playing up to the ridiculous nature of the whole situation, a number of things become clear once funding is in place, namely that of creative control.

A number of inadvertent rules come with each product Spurlock signs on to the films, so, for example, he can only drink certain liquids, thanks to his deal with a pomegranete juice company, he must use certain gas stations thanks to his agreement with a gas company, and he can only drive Mini Coopers, thanks to his deal with the car company. It makes for an interesting commentary on creative freedom, and eventual becomes, in the words of one commentator, “evidence of how fucked up marketing is”. In a similar way to how Super Size Me begat, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold starts out as a joke, but turns serious once an axis point is reached.

As Spurlock is keen to point out at several occasions within the film, there is no predetermined plot as such. The movie is built largely out of his interactions throughout the journey he makes, and from the resulting stipulations of said meetings. Along the way we learn about things like “Faction”, a wonderfully jingoistic marketing term/legal loophole that somehow manages to define the area where “Fact” and “Fiction” cross paths, and come across items as bizarre and brilliant as Mane & Tail, a brand of shampoo aimed at the no doubt booming market of the hair product that can be used by both human and equine.

A couple of canny company executives buy into Spurlock’s concept of ensuring that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is the first documentary with tie-in reusable gas station cups, in turn becoming wonderful characters, as is one particular lawyer, whose Spurlock’s encounter with results in further sponsorship  for the film. The slow reveal of this particular scene makes for genuinely great cinema.

Also along the way we are met with sights as alien as the city of Sao Paulo, which has quite literally banned outside advertisements. Classing adverts as “visual pollution”, the local council saw fit to remove any trace of their presence, resulting in a world barely recognisable from the streets that fill the rest of the film.Filmmakers such as J.J Abrams, Peter Berg, Brett Ratner and Quentin Tarantino pop up too, discussing the lengths to which advertising and product placement effects their working practices. It’s an interesting insight, with a subject which might be written off as dull by some brought to life by Spurlock’s 100 mile-a-minute enthusiasm.

The terrifying notion that one day (soon) marketers may be more powerful than the creative forces behind a film is raised, with the power of product placement made all the more apparent as the film comes to a close. Worryingly, the sight of Spurlock getting into a Mini soon becomes the norm, and we, the viewer, no longer question it, we just accept it, or don’t even notice it. Perhaps even more worrying is just how exciting it is to see everything come together at the end. We, just like every audience to any advert, are being manipulated. Hell, even this review plays in to the grand plan, with the relatively meagre amount of impressions garnered by the exposure me writing about the film fitting in to the overall marketing arc in one way or another. As he before showed us with fast-food and American foreign policy, Spurlock once again exposes an area of seemingly normal society that is indeed a terrifying place.

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3 thoughts on “DocFest 2011: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

  1. Good quick turnaround on the DocFest coverage, nice one.
    I was already looking forward to seeing this, but reading your review makes me more keen. Especially because of what you say about it opening on Iron Man. I’ll have told you before that I have a massive interest in myth in popular culture and that I’ll be working on this in my MA with specific reference to the Superhero myth. Well one thing that I will have to tackle here is the nature in which meaning is created in these hugely influential mass-appeal blockbusters. It seems that this film and the Hollywood marketing behemoth in general is a pivotal place to investigate this matter.

    • Yeah, sounds like this is essential viewing for you! The use of Iron Man is not ground in any kind of reasoning with towards it being a superhero flick, its just the generic blockbuster that Spurlock picks up as the basis more than anything.

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