VIDEO: How to Get Ahead in Advertising

How to Get Ahead in Advertising
Voyager Co./The Criterion Collection

T here's never been a bad time to satirically skewer the advertising world (see also Negativland's Pepsi-dissing album IPSDESIP, reviewed below). But this British cult-farce from 1989 might only recently have become a marketable commodity. Seen today, writer-director Bruce Robinson's blistering tale of an oily ad-exec (Richard E. Grant) who sprouts a talking pimple carries intimations of Multiplicity and Face/Off--not least in its subtext of the exec's sexual panic that a more studly doppelgänger is shtupping his wife (Rachel Ward). And, as in those Hollywood movies, one of Advertising's subtler suggestions is that the "bad" twin might in fact be the new and improved model.

Playing these two roles, Grant goes absolutely berserk, rivaling Nicolas Cage or Jim Carrey for the most shrill comic performance in memory. But it's hysteria of a carefully modulated sort, as he morphs very gradually from a creative misanthrope ("The product needs to be low in something or high in something else") into his own negative campaign: essentially, a life-size zit. (The makeup FX in this film are aptly revolting.) Meanwhile, Robinson continues to poke at the blackhead of ad-growth until it pops, oozing sarcasm. The running gag is that How to Get Ahead in Advertising takes its own high-concept formula of a yuppie's just desserts and whips it up with more tang than any consumer could want. So we giggle and feel sick at the same time--hardly the ingredients for a blockbuster, but not a bad recipe for satire, either.

It should go without saying that the Criterion Collection's letterboxed laserdisc is new and improved--more than 60 percent sharper than VHS!

 
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