With The Lorax, the entertainment industry and the federal government have joined forces to produce a candy-colored dollop of castor-oil. This woeful would-be message movie is about as jaw-dropping as a notable previous Potomac/Pacific joint effort — the pro-Stalin film Mission to Moscow ordered up by Franklin Roosevelt in 1943.
Dr. Seuss’ Lorax is a furry orange forest gnome who carries an overt anti-industry, anti-capitalist, pro-environmentalism theme, and in an effort to look as though they practice what they preach the backers of the film have lined up deals with supposedly green and eco-friendly outfits such as the detergent maker Seventh Generation, which is hawking a Lorax-branded bottle made of recycled paper. (Question: did anyone bother to measure the relative carbon emissions of making a plastic bottle versus making one out of paper, or is the overall feeling of groovy virtue all that matters?)
Another notable Lorax partner is the Environmental Protection Agency, which you might think (or fear) would have bigger things on its mind than promoting a big-screen cartoon, but the combination of Hollywood glamour (Zac Efron and Taylor Swift are in the cast) and the opportunity to push early propaganda on little minds proved irresistible to the EPA, which is using the Lorax brand to hype those supposedly energy-efficient appliances that never quite seem to deliver on their promises. (Click image at left to read.)
Unsurprisingly, given the rigid earnestness behind it, The Lorax isn’t much fun to watch. Every time you think it’s starting to get a little heavy-handed, it gets heavier still. The Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito) features in both ascension and resurrection scenes, there is a hymn to greed called “How Bad Can I Be?” that would have embarrassed Bernie Madoff, and the bad guy, O’Hare (Rob Riggle), who wears a severely geometric ‘do suggesting the epic hairstyling errors of Moe Howard, Ringo Starr and Rooney Mara, is a loathsome little creep who has made a fortune selling bottled air.
The art department never got the memo from the Heavy Themes folks, though, and they created a delightfully Seussian candy-colored playland that hardly says “hellhole.” The skies are azure and the streets are clean, giving the lie to the opening song about how smoggy and rubbishy everything is.
More likely to repel little Jake and Emma is the forest critter and alleged hero the Lorax. Imagine the crankiness of your average Scotsman with the mustache of David Crosby.
The Lorax famously “speaks for the trees” but sounds much like a creepy Earth Science teacher who can’t stop talking about that time he met Joan Baez at a No Nukes rally. Briefly I considered reporting the little freak to the police, after he sneaks into bed with the adolescent Once-ler (Ed Helms), an initially well-meaning kid out to make a buck who falls prey to his worst instincts and cuts down all the trees to harvest a substance used in making a must-have clothing item called a “thneed.”
The Lorax (who is only the fourth most prominent character, not that I wanted more of him) fails to convince the Once-ler to be gentle on the land and the woodland creatures who live there. But he’s such a huffy little troll that it’s difficult to picture anyone taking advice from him, even before he slips himself between the sheets with a little boy. Nor is DeVito’s the voice of wisdom; the man sounds like a cabdriver in a 1940s movie, or maybe Ratso Rizzo’s less successful brother, not a sage.
If you’ve got a film buff or a friend with an interest in graphic design on your Christmas list, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, is a giant, heavily illustrated 428-page coffee table book with an enormous “wow” factor – and not coincidentally, a fair amount of heft at seven pounds, with dimensions of 11.7 x 10.6 x 1.7 inches. It was designed by Saul Bass’s daughter Jennifer, and written by design historian Pat Kirkham, who knew Bass personally, with an introduction from longtime Bass admirer Martin Scorsese. It’s published by Laurence King Publishers.
Saul Bass (1920 to 1996) began his career designing the film poster for 1954’s Carmen Jones, and the title sequence the following year for The Man with the Golden Arm, both produced by Otto Preminger. He would go on to design groundbreaking title sequences for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, John Frankheimer’s Seconds and Grand Prix. Along with all of his film work, Bass eventually became a respected corporate graphic designer for such businesses as AT&T, The Bell System, United Airlines, Dixie Cups, Minolta, Lawry’s Foods, Warner Brothers, and Quaker Oats. For many years, his film career and corporate design work overlapped, until his career as a title designer appeared to slow in pace in the 1980s, only to see it revive with such high profile Martin Scorsese films as Goodfellas (which marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Scorsese as well), Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and the last title sequence designed by Bass, Casino.
There are two audiences for this book (with plenty of overlap of course). The first are film lovers and film historians who have thoroughly enjoyed Bass’s title sequences and his contributions to films such as Psycho, including storyboarding shot for shot its legendary shower sequence, which this new book discusses at length. The second are students of graphic design. Much of the work that Bass created would be rendered infinitely with today’s technology such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Adobe After Effects. And yet, Bass created his iconic still images and what we now refer to as “motion graphics” decades before such computer technology existed. As with the soundscapes that George Martin created for the Beatles 20 years before digital synthesizers and samplers, these pioneering analog efforts led the way and helped to shape the digital technology we enjoy today.
Bass is perhaps best remembered for elevating the movie title sequence into art, but fortunately, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design doesn’t overlook his work as a corporate designer. While Bass was an extremely talented and endlessly creative corporate designer, because of the simple modernist elements he typically worked with, what began as art with Bass was quickly boiled down into formula by other, lesser designers. The result was a corporate sameness by the early 1970s, which was brilliantly – if entirely unintentionally – summed up in the best-known moment of the design and typography-related documentary, Helvetica:
In that sense, as a corporate designer, Bass’s influence was similar to that of Mies van der Rohe. While Mies an extremely talented and inventive architect, too many lesser architects (cough — Philip Johnson — cough — Gordon Bunshaft) who following his lead saw only the plate glass and black I-beams and could never imitate Mies’ sense of proportion and willingness not to be bound to the rules of Miesianism.
Which is a useful lesson for anyone considering a similar career in corporate design work. But then, despite going off to the great artists’ garret in the sky 15 years ago, there are all sorts of lessons still to be learned from Saul Bass.
Webster’s New World dictionary defines Rube Goldberg as
A comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.
Dictionary.com has two definitions:
1. Having a fantastically complicated, improvised appearance: a Rube Goldberg arrangement of flasks and test tubes.
2. Deviously complex and impractical: a Rube Goldberg scheme for reducing taxes.
Rube Goldberg, though, is not just a term for a silly invention that performs the simplest task by the most complicated path, Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an actual person, one of the 20th century’s more popular cartoonists. It’s not well known but two great cartoonists, Goldberg and Betty Boop creator and animation pioneer Max Fleischer both spent part of their careers working in Detroit making films for the Jam Handy Organization. The Handy studios made instructional and promotional films, many of them for General Motors, primarily Chevrolet. The promotional films were distributed free of charge to theater operators, who were glad to get free content.
As Americans read daily about the stagnant U.S. economy, they not only have to worry about their family’s savings and retirement plans — which are vanishing right before their eyes — they have to worry about new types of con artists and scammers exploiting their worries.
Whether it’s scams that exploit seniors, identity theft schemes, phony IRS agents or other scams, the world-wide web has proven itself to be a perfect tool during the economic downturn for con artists looking to exploit a vulnerable mark.
News coverage of these frauds may cause a sense of hyper-vigilance and even a desire to limit online activity to familiar places and sites generally to minimize risk. However, that’s not necessarily the way to avoid exploitation in the digital world.
Unfortunately, one of the most insidious opportunities of all time to deceive individuals is one being put forward by digital heavyweight Google. In this case it appears to be part of the company’s business model, challenging the well-accepted notion that name brand products and services are likely to be more trustworthy and safe.
From tracking and collecting your favorite restaurants, movies, and even your dating status, Google’s business model appears to rely on collecting and collating personal information about online users in a way that even the best private investigators can’t. Their algorithms are so sophisticated that they can determine not only how many individuals access the internet in a given home, they even can capture their birthdates, gender etc., all so they can determine how to market products and services. They do this whether you knowingly give permission or not.
If this seems useful, just imagine that the info marketed to you by Google may not be the same as that which is seen by your son or daughter when they log on.
Officials as far afield as Texas and the European Commission have initiated investigations into Google’s actions that exploit online users. In Washington, both the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are reviewing Google’s practices. Nevertheless, the complaints don’t stop there. From alleged misuse and manipulation of search results to censorship of content and purported intellectual property rights abuses, Google’s practices are beginning to attract attention in the public arena.
Virgil Exner Sr has been treated somewhat unfairly by history. Yes, some of the designs that he rendered himself or that he oversaw as head of Chrysler styling make the nickname “Virgil Excess” seem appropriate. His best work, though, influenced other designers and had a purity of line and a design cohesion that his contemporary designers at GM and Ford rarely matched. Though Exner had been in charge of Chrysler styling for a while, it was the 1957 “Forward Look” Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth and DeSoto cars that were the first production cars to bear his full personal stamp. Based heavily on the Flite Sweep concepts of 1955, the ’57 Mopars created a firestorm within the auto industry, and put Chrysler at the head of the Detroit pack styling wise, briefly taking the lead from GM.
Photo: Ed Morales
The promotional tie-up between the Fiat brand in America and entertainer Jennifer Lopez was supposed to be the foundation for the launch of the Fiat 500 on this side of the Atlantic. Instead its become a gaffe filled comedy of errors. The first step in the automaker’s use of the singer/dancer as a celebrity endorser, said to be the brainchild of Chrysler head Olivier François, was to star the 500 in the music video for Lopez’ recent release Papi. That might not have been a bad idea had François not also decided on using a 30 second trailer from the video as the first national US commercial for the car. The result made no sense and was panned by Pete DeLorenzo as the worst car commercial of the past decade, forcing François to insist that it really wasn’t a commercial, just a music video trailer. This was followed up by an actual commercial featuring J-Lo, known for her self-professed “Jenny on the block” persona, apparently driving in her old NYC neighborhood. I say apparently because first it was revealed that much of the principal photography with Ms. Lopez was not shot on location in New York. Then it came to light that those scenes that were actually shot in New York used a body double for Lopez. It turns out that really wasn’t Jenny driving a Fiat 500 on the block. Now it turns out that the Fiat 500 used in shooting the New York scenes broke down in the middle of the scene, needing repairs to complete the shoot.
Dr. Tedd Roberts generally approves of commerce and enterprise. He is however disturbed by the ever-earlier opening trend on Black Friday:
The frank truth is that lack of sleep produces many of the same mental effects as being drunk or high, and Black Friday will be staffed by employees operating on too little sleep. The busiest retail day of the year is also the day when clerks and shoppers both are at the greatest risk of making serious judgmental errors at potentially high costs.
The factors that could lead to serious lapses in judgment include:
- Sudden shift from working during the day to working during normal sleep hours.
- Long work hours
- Difficulty in sleeping during the day
Many stores are opening at very early hours on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Shops which normally open at 8, 9 or 10 AM will open at Midnight, 3 or 4 AM. The employees will have to report to work 5-8 hrs early than normal, in fact, they will start work during the times of the day when they are usually asleep and all bodily functions are at a minimum. It is as if they had suddenly traveled from the U.S. to Europe, with all of the symptoms of jet lag, without the elapsed time.
After quoting some studies, he asserts that:
When sleep deprived, it is difficult to form and use short term memory – such as ringing sales and making change. It is also difficult to make critical decisions, such as identifying shoplifters or when to allow exceptions to sale terms.
Essentially, people who are sleep deprived show many of the same impairments of a person with a legally impaired blood alcohol level even though they do not show the same physical effects [Citek at al., Journal of Forensic Science, September 2011, volume 56, number 5, pages 1170-1179]. While factories, shops and offices that normally operate evening and night shifts have employees who are accustomed to working in the dark hours of the morning, most retail employees (and shoppers) are not. Thus, not only are your employees working impaired, your customers are shopping and driving while impaired. The increase in traffic incidents and police responses on Black Friday is commonly attributed to the size of the crowds, however, the increasing trend of early opening and sleep-deprived public has to be be compounding the problem.
While I don’t think he has any chance at all of being heard, not in a year when retailers are being simultaneously squeezed between the recession and competition from online stores, perhaps I should note that having retailers stumbling around and not quite able to engage the customer as they should, besides having sleep-deprived customers finding themselves back home with two hideous sweaters and a pint of Castor oil and wondering how this happened, will only push people to shopping on line more. Sometimes, perhaps the response to unfavorable results shouldn’t be to do more of what brought those results about.
Since the early days of the industry, car companies have used a variety of animals as mascots and hood ornaments as well as in their logos and promotional materials. Long before Ford called a sporty car “Mustang”, Sir Lyons renamed his company Jaguar. Lyons used a cat, perhaps an idea taken from Edsel Ford, who put a dog, a leaping greyhound, on his Lincolns. Delage used greyhounds as well, but some of their hood ornaments were elephants. More famously, Ettore Bugatti fitted each of his Royales with an elephant hood ornament sculpted by his brother Rembrandt. I recently saw these and many other animal ornaments and mascots at the Classic Car Club of America’s museum on the grounds of the Gilmore Car Museum. Animals don’t just show up in the car world as classy hood ornaments, though. Auto dealers, part stores and car washes are known for renting giant inflatable gorillas, lizards, and even fish, to attract attention to their businesses. So it shouldn’t be that surprising to find an American flag painted life size elephant in front of a Honda dealer in suburban Detroit. Still one wonders just what an elephant has to do with selling Hondas.
Local car dealers have the best commercials. Rhett & Link, a couple of comedians, musicians and filmmakers, agree. They currently produce a reality tv show with them traveling around the country, visiting small towns and then developing and producing funny commercials for local businesses using local talent.
Chevrolet has been criticized for repeatedly resorting to nostalgia and patriotism to sell its cars to Americans. Even its current “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline carries with it an implicit reference to the company’s long history and role in American culture. It’s not a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, as the domestic auto industry tried to compete with the first wave of Japanese cars sold in America, jingle composer Ed Labunski and Campbell-Ewald ad writer Jim Hartzell wrote “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”, which provided the soundtrack to what Car and Driver called one of the two best car commercials of all time. It was a landmark advertisement that is considered to have changed not just advertising but also branding in general. Chevy even reprised the concept this past summer with a spot called “Love Affair”, that reflected changes in baseball, America and the Chevy lineup.
It seems to me that while a lot of the criticism of Chevrolet and GM advertising is valid, when you’re a company that’s 100 years old you can’t run away from your history. After all, in the minds of consumers that history, good or bad, is a part of Chevy’s brand. So Chevy can’t exactly avoid its history as America’s car brand, a position it held for much of the 20th century. As the Chevrolet centennial approaches even critics of Chevy’s nostalgically themed advertising have to allow the company a little space to celebrate its anniversary.
William C. “Billy” Durant and Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Co. on November 3, 1911. With Chevy’s actual centennial only two weeks away, the other night Chevrolet introduced the commercial that will be the company’s public face running through it’s 100th birthday celebration. In the spirit of Labunski and Hartzell, Chevy launched the ad during the first night of the 2011 World Series.
The commercial is called “Then and Now” and the ad, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, part of the Omnicom Group, is very clever film making. It’s one of those cases of synergy, where the visual concept of the ad meshes beautifully with the messages.
In an age that gives new meaning to conspicuous consumption it should come as no surprise that someone is selling (and others apparently buying) car wax that costs over $200 a ounce. Swissvax, a company that got its start in the 1930s making waxes for antique furniture, and still run by the Anwander family, sells a complete line of car care products that complement their main line of Brazilian Carnauba based car waxes. It must be good stuff since many of the makers of very pricey motor cars use Swissvax products to give their products a nice shine before they leave the factory. The Swissvax Car Care Kit has a Rolls-Royce OEM part number. At the pinnacle of their product line is a product they (appropriately for these prices) call Crystal Rock.
Here’s a simple truth. Virtually everything that I write online about cars gets ripped off. Whether I publish it here, at Cars In Depth, over at The Truth About Cars, or Left Lane News, I can go to sleep at night safe in the knowledge that I’m getting ripped off by other websites, usually single topic content aggregators. When the site operators are nice, they just excerpt the first paragraph and link back to the originating site. While that’s still a copyright violation (it’s not “fair use” because the excerpt isn’t used for the purpose of commentary or criticism), at least the original publisher gets some traffic out of the situation. Other site operators just go ahead and steal the entire post.
Take just about any post on TTAC, select and copy a complete sentence, drop that phrase in Google and you’ll probably find a plethora of purloining publishers. This site copied Steve Lang’s post about repossessing cars verbatim. Another site, Edwards420.com, does nothing but publish content from TTAC, probably from their RSS feed.
It’s so commonplace that my fellow writers, editors and I have a ho hum attitude about it because there really isn’t much that we can do. In a recursive irony, even this very post will get copied. The bots that the content thieves use don’t quite understand irony.
Unfortunately, the only reason this can go on is because of Google and their AdSense and AdChoice programs. Were it not for Google paying those sites for the ads that Google AdSense runs on those sites, they wouldn’t have a reason to exist and rip us off. AdSense specifically is based on site content, and those sites’ content is stolen. Google doesn’t care.
Over at Autoextremist, Pete DeLorenzo thinks that this new Fiat 500C commercial, which had it broadcast premier during football games this past weekend, is “quite possibly the worst automotive spot of the last decade, hands down.” He calls the ad, which features Jennifer Lopez driving, driving and singing, singing and dancing, “absolutely disastrous”. I’ll go DeLorenzo one step beyond and say that the video is quite possibly the worst automotive spot of all times. I dare you to watch it and not cringe as it makes everyone involved with the ad, Fiat, Chrysler, Lopez, and the people who actually made the commercial, look like idiots.
This trainwreck of an ad and the tie-up with JLo was apparently the brainchild of Chrysler chief Olivier Francois and the first step at rejiggering the 500′s launch. Marketing shop Impatto had been in charge of returning Fiat to American consumers’ consciousness but the agency was fired by Fiat USA in the wake of rumors about a personal relationship between Fiat brand manager Laura Soave and Impatto head Michael D’Antonio.
Note: This post has been corrected to reflected the fact that Impatto was not responsible for the commercial.