Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spurlock's back -- POM WONDERFUL PRE-SENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD Roundtable Q&A with the filmmaker

First question: How will theaters fit that entire title onto a movie marquee? Second: Will Pom Wonderful sue Morgan Spurlock each time its name is left off? You'll have your own questions before, during and after viewing Mr. Spurlock's new "documentary" POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, for this prankster/documen-tarian (Super Size Me, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? one episode of Freakonomics) is at it again: creating some of the most ephemeral documentaries ever seen, films whose scenes seem to disappear even as you are watching them -- though, in the moment, you're feeling vastly amused and royally entertained.

That's the filmmaker himself -- unclothed on the poster, top, and dressed in his sell-out suit, above, for PR appearances (that's how he looked when we met him for the roundtable discussion, below). Mr. Spurlock is one hell of an entrepreneur, which makes him great entertainment on the one hand and bit suspect on the other. Can we trust anyone this clever and facile?  The nice thing is, we don't really have to. The filmmaker himself is such a large part of each of his "entertainments" that he obliterates the line between subject and object, making a joke of both himself and his movies.

And yet each one is a serious entertainment, with a subject that demands attention and respect. How can we let McDonalds' and other fast food chains fill our populace up with unhealthy crap? Why has the U.S. government let Mr. Bin Laden slip through its fingers time and again? And now: Are you aware, America and the world, of the devious selling methods of "product placement" in movies and what this does to your feeble little brains and ever-lessening pocketbooks?  You will be, once you've sat through Spurlock's latest endeavor, in which he goes out to companies large and not-so in an effort to fund his movie -- which is nothing more than one big, fat, full-length product placement.

That's Lynda Resnick, two photos above, the owner/CEO of POM Wonderful, the company that -- as you can tell from the film's title -- became the biggest of Spurlock's bankrollers. The fellow immediately above is Stan Sheetz, President/CEO of Sheetz, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based food-and-gas chain that also forked over some moolah for the cause.  Both CEOs prove smart and witty folk with a sense of irony that seems a good match for the moviemaker's own. They know and appreciate what each other are doing.

Spurlock also talks to movie-makers such as J.J.Abrams (above) and Peter Berg (below) who offer some sensible, telling thoughts on the subject.

Also interesting are the views of people like social critic Noam Chomsky (below)

and Ralph Nader (below). This consumer advocate and scourge, we learn, has a particular interest in footwear....

What keep the movie grounded, however, are Spurlock's discussion of advertising in schools (using the case of Broward County, Florida, as his example) and his trip to the city of São Paulo, Brazil, where he speaks with Regina Monteiro (below), Director of Urban Planning. São Paulo allows no pulbic advertising whatsoever, nor has it for some years -- a move that was said to be the destruction of the city but has instead led to a great deal of satisfaction all around. This is the single most interesting part of the film -- and should start, one hopes, tongues wagging and brain whirring around the world.  Could that happen here?  If only...

I doubt I've ever seen a better example of a filmmaker having his cake and eating it, too, than this very singular, very weird movie. Further, we critics and viewers are doing the same thing, as we revel in the awfulness of product placement and then join in its celebration via the film.  In fact, I had my first taste of Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, at the press screening, and then again at the press conference with Spurlock.  And, man, that's some good stuff! (There: I've done my bit to help market Pom, though my downstairs neighbor warns me that it gives her the runs.)

Over the next few weeks and into the summer, Greatest Movie Ever Sold is getting a major roll-out from its distributor, Sony Pictures Classics.  Click here to see the film's release schedule -- dates, cities and theaters -- and to find a location, we hope, near you.


What a guy is this Morgan Spurlock: glad-hander supreme, exceptional entrepreneur, and a moviemaker who can seemingly get away with just about anything. I wouldn't trust him as far as I can throw him, but I also wouldn't miss seeing any of his movies. Spurlock was in fine form at the roundtable discussion with bloggers and on-line critics a couple of weeks ago, answering all of our questions with flair and dispatch.

I don't know that any of us present learned much more from the "interview" that we already knew going in, but the movie-maker was extremely funny and smart, chatting about everything from the music for his film ("the greatest music ever written") to his time in Brazil, his chatting with big-time movie-makers and other entrepreneurs (like Outkast's Big Boi, above) about the "art" of product placement, and all the rest.

I am deliberately not giving you the transcript of the Q&A because (1) I am pressed for time and (2) it's pretty standard stuff -- kind of pre-processed and digested. Really, you need to see this movie to fully appreciate it. Everything else is just frou-frou.

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