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Director Jonathan Glazer: His 10 Best Commercials

Photo of Jessica Kiang By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist March 31, 2014 at 2:22PM

So it feels like a long time that we’ve been talking, (and sighing and gasping and puzzling) about “Under the Skin,” which finally arrives for your viewing (and sighing and gasping and puzzling) pleasure this weekend. Only the third feature from director Jonathan Glazer, after the feted “Sexy Beast” and the hugely underrated “Birth,” we first reviewed it (warmly) out of Telluride, and then our man in Venice was so taken with it that we listed a further 5 reasons to put it at the top of your to-see list.
5

5. WranglerRide
Showing a shocking lack of brand loyalty to Levi’s, Glazer jumped over to rival jeans brand Wrangler, and seemingly effortlessly delivered one of their all-time great commercials. A loose-limbed, Beats-inspired tale of freighthopping cross-country, it’s an inspired piece of Americana, in which surreal imagery, like the house on fire, the bouncing car and the half naked old guy in the train car (half naked old guys make frequent appearances in Glazer’s work, we’ve noticed) sit alongside beauty shots that are occasionally gently subversive in content--note that the motel hook-up that happens early on is a homosexual one. But it’s mainly mood that comes across: the combination of trippy music (“Follow the Yellow Brick Road”) and startling imagery, especially the stunning nighttime buffalo stampede, still makes this spot feel like a dark, dangerous, thrilling adventure in being young and broke and impossibly free.

4. Sony BraviaPaint
While this commercial came across at the time as a slightly lesser echo of the astounding “Balls” ad in which multicolored bouncing balls were sent cascading down a San Francisco street, in retrospect it stands on its own as a much more bombastic, self-consciously epic interation of the “colour like no other” line. Quite aside from the logistical difficulties involved in essentially wiring an entire Glasgow housing estate with explosive paint bombs and the necessity of getting everything on the first take, the scale of the undertaking is dizzying, and the effect oddly avant-garde, especially when you add in the (deliberately?) sinister clown. The exteriors are the money shots of course, but we’re fond of the interior explosions, especially the hallway in which we see another of Glazer’s nods to Kubrick’s “The Shining.”

3. Levi’sOdyssey
Again style winning out over storytelling here, but what style! Continuing a fine tradition of iconic advertising for Levi’s Glazer’s approach in this spot is simplicity itself, taking the high concept of running through walls and, well, running with it. The result is a triumph of CG that spawned a thousand parodies, but felt instantly iconic and captured the toughness, durability and yet the freedom that the brand has come to stand for. And the terrific soundtrack deserves a special mention: in using an un-manipulated (though newly arranged) version of Handel’s “Suite in D Minor,” it caused a mini-revolution in using classical music to market a lifestyle product to under-20s.

2. Stella Artois Last Orders
If Glazer has an ongoing relationship with any actor over the course of his commercials career, it’s with Denis Lavant and it’s not hard to see why--the “Holy Motors” star has so many qualities that Glazer is fascinated by: a rugged, ugly attractiveness, a dancer’s grace and a certain lugubrious set to his expressive, interesting features. In 2010 he teamed with Glazer to deliver a turn as the Devil in a rather overblown ad for Cadbury’s flake that was pulled for being too suggestive. But the collaboration of theirs we like the best is this one, again from the “Reassuringly Expensive” Stella Artois campaign, that hits so many notes about mortality, filial devotion, piety and temptation, all wrapped up in a gorgeously shot and cast ad for beer. Lavant’s beautifully deadpan underplaying at the end makes the joke (and jokes are pretty rare in Glazer’s output) all the funnier.

1.GuinnessSurfer
Kind of a no-brainer, this one. This famously iconic 1999 commercial has won just about every award going and was voted in 2002 the single greatest TV advertisement of all time in a Channel 4/Sunday Times poll. The stunning black-and-white photography, the mesmeric voiceover, the driving thrum of the Leftfield score all combine to deliver a perfect meditation on the benefits, and payoff, of patience--one of the cornerstones of the Guinness brand. The painterly CG of the mythological-sized “white horses,” the again off-kilter casting and some amazing shotmaking and sound design all combine to make this ad, which could so easily have been a pretentious mess in someone else’s hands, pretty much the apotheosis of the form.

Honorable mentions
Aside from the others we mentioned in passing above, Glazer also directed a series of ads for Nike of which the basketball cutFrozen Moment” and the football-based Parklife” are very strong (we’re not so keen on “Guerilla Tennis” but that’s maybe just us), while his recent Audi spot The Ring”also shows his skills in shooting sport, this time with boxing. And in 2006 Glazer was hired to make a commercial for Motorola’s “Red” phone which was part of the AIDS-benefitting Red campaign, and delivered this surreal but extraordinary-looking commercial, which never actually aired. 

Have we missed our your favorite? Bawl us out in the comments below, and prebook your ticket for “Under the Skin” this weekend while you’re at it.

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer, Denis Lavant, Samuel L. Jackson


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