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IFFBoston 2009 – Day Six – Arts and Crafts

Tonight, fittingly, the screenings are at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art auditorium.  It is a great space with a striking view overlooking downtown Boston and the night-lit waterfront. It is a great space to see two films about two fields not always thought of as art, but that are certainly contemporary.

The first, For the Love of Movies, chronicles the craft of film critique.  Breaking that history out into distinct eras and styles and sometimes dominant personalities, director Gerald Peary - himself a local film critic, for the Boston Phoenix – follows the arc of a profession that in a mere hundred years has gone from nascence to cultural influence to, perhaps, its golden - or even twilight -years. 

If you question the cultural relevance of film critics, ask yourself why it has become commonplace for Americans to mistakenly, incongruously, give two thumbs up when expressing individual approval.  Before Siskel and Ebert At the Movies, a solitary “thumbs up” was (also mistakenly, because of the influence of film itself) a reference to the conclusion of gladiatorial combat in the Roman Coliseum, not two men in faux theater seats discussing film on a TV set.  Each independently evaluated a movie on a pass/fail scale using their thumb. If they both approved, that film’s rating would be a cumulative “two thumbs up”.  

So, if not for the love of movies, we’d all still be praising with just the one thumb.

The second, Art & Copy, explores the under-appreciated world of advertising.  In our hyper-marketed world, advertising is undoubtedly the most commonly-experienced art form on the planet today.  In fact, it is so ubiquitous, that it often appears inside other forms of art, from Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can, to a commercial break in a television show, to product placement in a feature film.

As a contemporary influence, iconic advertisements become cultural references (from the anti-litter “Crying Indian” to the single-booked long version of Apple’s “1984” Mac-launching commercial), spawn copycats (how many other ideas have co-opted the simple “got milk?” campaign?), and help elect world leaders (from LBJ’s “Daisy” to Reagan’s “Morning in America”). 

At its core, advertising needs to connect with people to draw them in and change their perspective and their behavior (buy this product, help this cause, vote for this candidate, …), otherwise it fails.  Beyond the color palettes and catchy phrasing, it is that requirement for connection - speaking to and touching some part of the perceiver in audience, if only on a sub-conscious, visceral level – that qualifies advertising as true art.