It's not often that we think of commercials as they pertain to authorship. Certainly, the basic function of a commercial is to sell something, so the prospect of aesthetic intent resides outside of our general perception. (Of course, one could easily make the argument that the majority of movies are also out to "sell" something, but that's a topic for another time.) But commercials and cinema, as moving images, are realized via the exact same mechanisms of narrative, visual design, editing, and sound, so it's no surprise that some of the world's best filmmakers have directed commercials—and done so without sacrificing their personal style. Take, for instance, Gus Van Sant's spot for Miller Genuine Draft, which puts a homoerotic spin on a masculine ritual, or the clip Edgar Wright made for Pizza Hut in 2000, which displays his penchant for zippy sound design and zoom shots and also features a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo from Nick Frost.
Often companies or institutions in search of a unique style will commission a project with a filmmaker, as Prada did with Anderson or as Victoria's Secret did with Michael Bay, who delivered an unmistakably Baysian spot filled with hyperkinetic montage, canted angles, saturated lighting, and copious shots of breasts. In the early 90s, Swiss company Parisienne tasked prestigious filmmakers—including the Coen brothers, Emir Kusturica, and Roman Polanski—with creating ads for its cigarettes, the best of the bunch being Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville's typically cryptic contribution, which quotes Racine and alludes to Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451. You can catch my five favorite auteur-headed commercials after the jump.
5. David Lynch's "Rabbits" David Lynch has directed a number of commercials throughout his career, many of them famous for seemingly having nothing to do with the product at all. (This one for a home pregnancy test is essentially a twisted joke.) "Rabbits," a 30-second spot made for the Sony PlayStation 2 video game console, is a playful subversion of his usual nightmare aesthetic—the other one he made is much more indicative of his style—that nevertheless illustrates the fantastical properties of video games and, to a degree, cinema. It's one of the rare Lynch works that's more suggestive than explicit.
4. Dario Argento's "Fiat Croma" (1987) This quick spot is immediately recognizable as a work by Argento. The gliding camera passing through a plane of glass, the experimentation with metric montage, the fixed-perspective and point-of-view shots, the keyboard-laden, Goblin-esque soundtrack, and the curious diversions (e.g., the random shot of a roadside cricket) are stylistic trademarks found throughout his oeuvre. Interestingly enough, the various locations depicted in the clip have a certain prominence; it's the closest Argento ever got to surveying landscape.
3. Spike Jonze's "Pardon Our Dust" Jonze unleashes his penchant for comic melee in this Gap ad, a sort of Keatonesque exercise in anarchic mirth that carries with it a subtle anticapitalist message. (Perhaps that's why Gap let it air only a few times.) Set to Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," the clip is a manic survey of bodies in space aided by a gradual undoing of physical and temporal logic. It's a live-action cartoon reminiscent of a like-minded scene in his Where the Wild Things Are. How he managed to time that zoom shot with the snapping of that hanger, I'll never know.
2. David Fincher's "Fate" Fincher's films are known for their inconclusive narratives—Zodiac, Fight Club, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are particularly equivocal—so the fact that he directed something titled "Fate" strikes me as curious. The clip indeed orchestrates a predetermined collision, but Fincher, ever the meticulous aesthete, suggests that it isn't "fate" that brings it to fruition but formal design. Using symmetric mise-en-scene and precise, aggressive associational montage, Fincher lets his images tell the story, providing a visual road map for a "fateful" meeting.
1. Wes Anderson's "My Life. My Card." Wes Anderson's style and process blend together remarkably in this affectionate ode to Day for Night. It has a facetious, self-deprecating tone, but Anderson, playing a sort embellished version of himself, appears genuinely joyous while dealing with the various obstacles of making films. Simultaneously hurriedly and fastidiously, he makes decisions on the likes of prop design, dialogue, and production costs—the closest this thing ever gets to actually advertising American Express is when Anderson offers to pay for a $15,000 helicopter shot out of his own pocket, presumably with his credit card, although it's never made clear—while traipsing through a comically hectic film set. The various visual gags concurrently taking place in the fore-, middle-, and background all but require multiple viewings.