The Mad Men of the 70s: Doug Pray’s Art & Copy


The Seattle Times and NY Times were certainly on the same wavelength when they reviewed Art & Copy, which opens today at Northwest Film Forum:

‘Art & Copy’: documentary on advertising as part of our culture

By Moira Macdonald

Seattle Times movie critic

“Great advertising makes food taste better,” says one of many experts in Doug Pray’s snappy documentary “Art & Copy,” a film about advertising, creativity and the way a catchphrase becomes part of our culture.

Starting right around the “Mad Men” era of the early ’60s, Pray (“Surfwise,” “Hype!”) takes us on an addictive tour of 50 years of adspeak, with some crackerjack stories along the way.

Nike’s “Just do it,” we learn, came from convicted murderer Gary Gilmore’s words to the executioner. The song “We’ve Only Just Begun” was commissioned for an ad for a bank that wanted to attract young customers — but the ad was dropped when those young customers just wanted to borrow money without collateral. “Got milk?” was originally rejected for being too simple.

Along the way, a few giants from the advertising world reveal some truths about themselves and their creative processes. (Hal Riney, for example, muses on how, in the famous “Morning in America” ads for Ronald Reagan, he was channeling his own wishes for a happier childhood.)

Occasionally “Art & Copy” becomes an advertisement for advertising — some of the talking heads are a little self-congratulatory — but it offers plenty of food for thought. And makes it taste good, too.

The Admen of the ’70s: Bohemians Who Surf

Published: August 21, 2009

The world may be going “Mad Men,” but Doug Pray’s documentary “Art & Copy,” which is being released just five days after the season premiere of that acclaimed television series, presents a very different picture of the advertising industry.

Rather than the cigarette-smoking, tie-wearing swells of the early 1960s, Mr. Pray celebrates a later generation of mavericks who changed the business in the ’70s. His heroes are titans like Lee Clow, Dan Wieden, Hal Riney and George Lois, highly successful businessmen who affect a well-heeled bohemianism — their style would eventually be watered down into casual Fridays — and who don’t always work in New York. Surfing is a recurring theme.

The film consists mostly of these men (and a few women, including the formidable Mary Wells) talking about how they work, which is nearly always interesting, albeit in a minor way that might not justify the price of a theater ticket if you don’t already have an interest in the topic. Mr. Pray, whose previous documentaries include “Scratch,” about hip-hop D.J.’s, and “Surfwise,” tries to whip up some intellectual meringue with an extended metaphor involving ancient stone carvings and communications satellites that’s best ignored. We don’t need him to prove that advertising matters and that its best examples can be taken seriously as art.

It would be nice, though, if he pushed his subjects a little harder when they say — as several do — that they had to fight to convince their clients and peers that the best advertising is based on big, simple ideas and powerful emotions. Are they alarmed that their approach has permeated the culture, from art to journalism to politics? No one seems to be. In their hands, after all, those techniques were stunningly successful, from Mr. Clow’s “1984” Super Bowl spot for Apple to Mr. Riney’s “morning in America” re-election ads for Ronald Reagan.

The foulmouthed Mr. Lois (Tommy Hilfiger, “I Want My MTV”) is the film’s funniest and most endearing character. But the single biggest surprise, for those of us who haven’t heard the story before, is Mr. Wieden’s acknowledgment of the inspiration for his “Just Do It” Nike slogan: “Let’s do it,” Gary Gilmore’s last words before he was executed by a firing squad. Think about that the next time you drop $100 on a pair of retro Air Jordans.


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