Yesterday, between a bunch of dudes giving each other concussions, was the biggest television event of the year: the Super Bowl commercials, where all the major brands assembled to dazzle consumers with million-dollar, market-tested ad-blockbusters. You could even say it's the Avengers of commercial blocks, which is why it's such a shock by the appearance of noted Marvel hater and enemy #1 of people who've already pre-ordered their $350 Baby Yoda toy, Martin Scorsese in the commercial for Coca-Cola Energy, the energy drink for people nostalgic for when Coca-Cola still contained cocaine.
The ad, which involves a fish-out-of-water Scorsese attending a Halloween party only to realize he's been ditched by his date Jonah Hill, is a fun romp. But the bigger question is: Is it cinema? At least, cinema according to Scorsese's anti-blockbuster definition? Surprisingly, it gets closer than most superhero movies. The commercial shows us something unexpected (Martin Scorsese partying with a Roman centurion and Raggedy Annie Oakley), has a real sense of emotional danger (as anyone who's ever been ditched at a party where they didn't know anyone can attest to) and was shown on more big screens than The Irishman will ever be. But it still falls short of Marty's bar as there's no kind of "aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation" that occurs by convincing Jonah Hill to pound an energy drink.
Just because Scorsese has proven his works aren't cinema, that doesn't mean none of the other Super Bowl commercials don't qualify. To find out if any do, first, we scratch off all the commercials that take no risks, like the movie homages and the Cheetos origin story, because we already know what's going to happen. (Cheetos become delicious, end of story). Then we eliminate all the glorified music videos, the bad SNL skits, and those weirdly hopeful commercials that make it look like Walmart is running for district comptroller, leaving us with a handful of nominees for Best Cinematic Commercial.
Like Heinz's "Find The Goodness", which definitely offers aesthetic revelations by combining several genre tropes presented with a delightful Wes Anderson symmetry. However, since there's nothing spiritually enlightening about accepting your doomed fate because it comes with a complementary squirt of ketchup, Heinz cannot now or ever be deemed cinema.
Much more spiritual is password management platform Dashlane "Password Paradise," whose cinematic Charon posits an existential query: "Do you know how to unlock the gates of heaven?" Heavy stuff, but as we all know there's nothing emotionally revelatory about not being able to remember your password -- just seething but familiar fury.
But the same cannot be said for the death of Mr. Peanut, commercials, which do deal with some tricky emotions around coping with survivor's guilt, sacrifice and death of a beloved legume. Neither does the commercial suffer from what Scorsese calls the taint of being "market researched" -- nothing that tries to get the phrase "Baby Nut" trending can ever be accused of that. But what it also lacks, sadly, are any stakes, as the cowardly Planters undid the death of the main character and even if they hadn't -- nobody has ever cared about the wellbeing of Mr. Peanut in the slightest.
That leaves just one commercial: Google's "Loretta," a touching tale of a widower turning to technology to remember his love as his light too dwindles and the embers of his mind obscure the details of their past. Not only is Loretta beautiful, emotional and spiritually charged, it also takes risks as the stakes of holding on to the past are terrifying in their stark display. So is Google's audiovisual memento mori actually art? Is it cinema? Of course not. It's sixty seconds of a company trying to emotionally trick people into giving up their personal data so they can make money off targeted ads for cheap Target coffins and singles cruises. Huh, maybe Scorsese was right after all that rampant capitalism is "inhospitable to art." Of course, who cares about the opinion of a guy who shills for Coca-Cola, right?
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