As we mentioned in our Ridley Scott Retrospective earlier this week, Scott started out as a designer and producer/director of commercials before entering the world of cinema with 1977′s The Duellists and cementing his place as a feature film director with 1979′s Alien. And he didn’t stop after he became a big-time film director, but continued making commercials sporadically throughout the 1980s, including one of the most iconic ad spots ever created. So we’ll look at a few of those commercials after the jump.
But before that, he also did one short film while studying at the Royal College of Art in the early 1960s, nearly fifteen years before he made his first feature.
Boy and Bicycle – 27 min. – 1965
Scott shot this film in the early 1960s, then completed it in 1965 thanks to a grant from BFI’s Experimental Film Fund. It follows a teenage boy (played by his younger brother Tony Scott, a very familiar name to film fans as well) as he wakes up, unwanting to face another same-old day of getting up, going to school and all the rest. So he decides to play truant instead and spends the day cycling around the industrial landscape of Northern England (this industrial feel would feature heavily in many of Scott’s later films), all the while narrating in a stream-of-consciousness style reminiscent of James Joyce. The jaunty music theme is by John Barry, already an established composer at the time – Barry liked Scott’s work on the film so much that he agreed to re-record the theme especially for his film. It’s an arty film, clearly made by someone familiar with the tropes and settings of both the French and British New Waves, which would both have been in full swing when he was filming this.
Check under the seats to see some of Scott’s commercial work, including the famous “1984″ Macintosh ad.
“Boy on Bike” – Hovis – 1973
In 1996, this commercial for Hovis Bread was named Britain’s Favorite Commercial following a poll pitting it against other popular British ads. Interestingly, it’s known as “Boy on Bike,” a very close name to Scott’s much earlier (and tonally much different) short, but this is likely mere coincidence. Here, Scott plays on sentiment and nostalgia, invoking the Hovis bread company’s long history (Hovis was formed in 1886) via a young delivery boy carefully bringing bread up a long hill, then joyfully riding down – with the promise that the extra wheat germ in Hovis bread makes the trip up the hill as easy as the trip down. It’s accompanied by an arrangement of Dvorak’s Symphony Number 9, which lends a sweetness and gravity to the very short, very simple spot.
“Share the Fantasy” – Chanel – 1979
The same year as Alien hit theatres and made Scott a household name, he did a campaign for Chanel No. 5. I found several ads on YouTube claiming to be “the Ridley Scott Chanel ad”, but based on style similarities, I’m guessing he either directed the whole campaign or oversaw it to a large degree. Things like the recurring plane flying overhead in every spot back that up, though I haven’t found any reliable sources suggesting that he for sure directed specific ones of these. In any case, they’re all evocative and highly sensual ads that play on arty images and voiceover to sell a lifestyle rather than a product.
“1984″ – Apple Computers – 1984
This groundbreaking ad for the first Apple Macintosh computers perhaps remains the most iconic and recognizable ad ever made. It’s nearly thirty years old now, and you can still ask most people (granted, especially geeky people) about “that Big Brother Apple ad” and they know what you’re talking about. In an Orwellian society, groups of rigidly mechanistic people march into an auditorium and sit in blank order as Big Brother speaks to them from a theatre screen about oneness and order with blatantly fascistic overtones. A young woman in shorts runs in, chased by a riot squad, and with an orgasmic scream, hurls a sledgehammer at the screen, shattering it. Apple’s message is clear: We are no faceless, mechanistic corporation – we are here to set the user free from the limitations of conformity. Let’s not get into a debate over whether Apple has kept that promise or not; taken on its own, this ad remains extremely powerful. It’s also no accident, I presume, that Scott’s vision of a fascistic future has a woman as the symbol of freedom and rebellion, five years after he unleashed Ripley on screens.
“The Choice of a New Generation” – Pepsi – 1985
Sadly, the later commercials I could find don’t come anywhere near matching the “1984″ one on any level. Bathed in the neon noir of the 1980s and evoking a sort of “Miami Vice” feel, this Pepsi advert is just kind of odd, mostly in terms of the script – I’ve watched it several times, and I still have no desire to drink Pepsi. But the visuals remain stylish, especially where the afore-mentioned neon is involved.
“Built for the Human Race” – Nissan – 1990
I’m pretty sure a car, even the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo isn’t going to outrun a plane, but this commercial almost makes you think they could, thanks to some pretty solid and very kinetic editing of the race footage. It’s still dated (apparently voiceovers in old commercials all suck), but this one has an energy to it that keeps it interesting to watch.