Many high-profile feature filmmakers occasionally direct commercials (find spots by Fellini, Bergman, and David Lynch below), but few put their own stamp on them quite so boldly as Wes Anderson does. Each of his forays into advertisement, marketing, shilling, propagandizing, cinema by other means — call it whatever you like — bears the mark of a man who sees reality in his own way, regardless of context. Hence his fans’ tendency to receive and pass around his latest television spots with almost the same urgency they would a trailer for one of his “real movies.” Whether taking on as his subject Belgian beer or wide-range calling plans or Japanese cellphones or self-satire by way of American Express, Wes Anderson remains Wes Anderson down to the last detail. The word “integrity,” I realize, tends to be reserved specifically for artists who don’t do commercials. But if Anderson’s unwavering respect for his own fascinations and aesthetic impulses in every project he works on doesn’t count as integrity, what does?
Now that the Hyundai Motor Company has designed a fifth generation of its Azera model, they’ve engaged Anderson to help get the word out. I can’t pretend to know what specific requests the corporation made of the filmmaker, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they issued only two imperatives: “Tell people the car’s quiet, and tell people they can talk to it.” In “Modern Life” (the first video above), a crumpling, emasculatingly aproned husband tries desperately to prepare dinner while keeping his anachronistically large brood under control. As the wife gives him cooking instructions and a description of the traffic jam all around her, we follow a stray kid out to the driveway where — what have we here! — the lady of the house reclines in the beige leather of her Azera, parked not amidst freeway gridlock but less than a dozen feet from the door. “Talk to My Car” presents a series of increasingly less fantastical scenarios of family automobile voice-control, the first in a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-style crop-dusting convertible; the second in an amphibious yellow sedan, complete with periscope; the third in a cross between the Batmobile and Knight Rider’s K.I.T.T., which Dad commands to “activate rear incendiary devices”; the fourth in a present-day Azera on its way to a Costa Mesa Italian joint.
These spots, especially the first, showcase a number of classically Andersonian qualities. Enthusiasts of his pictures’ meticulous production design — as nearly every enthusiast of his pictures must be — will find plenty of opportunities to pause the video and marvel at the elements of the beleaguered father’s house: the deep red oven knobs; the corner drum set; the vintage toy robots tucked here and there; the miniature helicopter; each kid’s elaborate, inexplicable costume; the camera movement straight through the front wall, revealing the house’s theatrical “cutaway” construction. The strangest element proves, ironically, to be the car itself. In Rushmore, Bill Murray drives a Bentley; in The Royal Tenenbaums, Owen Wilson drives an Austin-Healey. What self-respecting Wes Anderson character would be caught dead in this year’s sensible, gray, Bluetooth-enabled four-door, no matter how many luxury-car features it brings into its affordable class? So many of us long to live in Wes Anderson’s world, but the Hyundai Azera seems a highly unsuitable vehicle to take us there. You could probably drive it to a showing of Moonrise Kingdom, though. H/T Kottke