Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Film Review - 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'

One thing I should probably admit before I even start is that I'm not very familiar with the work of Morgan Spurlock. I've heard of Super Size Me, of course. That film is probably what he is best known for, after all - and, it seemed to cause a bit of a stir, at the time. But, despite that, I was never actually willing to take the time to watch it, for myself. To me, it was just the film where some where some aspiring 'celebrity documentarian' took it upon himself to 'prove' that a diet consisting of nothing other than fast-food would be unhealthy.

As profound insights go, this struck me as existing on the same basic level as 'if you forget your umbrella on a rainy day, you might get wet'. It just seemed like a pointless film - and, I didn't really have time for it. So, considering my complete lack of interest in his most famous piece of work, I suppose it is fair to say that I'm not really a fan.

But, maybe I'm not giving him enough credit? As I said, I've never actually seen his most famous film - so, maybe there is more to it than I think there is. It was, after all, a film which earned him enough recognition to allow him to move on to other projects. Projects such as, for example, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - a documentary film which, unlike its predecessor, is devoted to exploring a topic that I actually am interested in.

The set up for the film is surprisingly simple. On the surface, it is a documentary film focused on exploring issues of corporate sponsorship in the film industry - and, the product placement that so often results. It is a film that is intended to 'draw pack the curtain' on this particular subject - showing us how and why these deals are made, and exploring the various ways that they can help, or hinder, the production of a film.

It is, also, a film which manages to come at this central issue from just about every angel imaginable - featuring a variety of interviews with prominent lawyers, corporate representatives, advertising and marketing professionals, and even some of the most well-know directors currently working in the film industry.

But, of course, that clearly isn't enough for a man willing to put his own health at risk in order to make a (admittedly fairly obvious) point. No, along with exploring the issue of corporate sponsorship and product placement on the film industry, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is also a film entirely funded by corporate sponsorship and product placement.

It is this gimmick which, quite literally, drives the entire film. From the film's opening moments, where Morgan Spurlock is recording himself while still in the process of trying to find sponsors, through to his meetings with various corporations who might actually be willing to give him some money, the film does an impressive job of giving the audience a genuinely unbiased look at how these deals come about. Then, throughout the rest of the film, we are treated to some hilariously blatant product placement, as Morgan Spurlock tries to fulfill to contractual obligations he has made. And, it all adds up to something very strange, and genuinely fascinating.

Watching Morgan Spurlock progress from a mix of nervous excitement and self-deprecating humour, as he outlines the basic premise in the film's opening moments, and to a very genuine sense of weary frustration as he begins to realise just how much power he may have given away in the making of his own film is very interesting. It has the odd feeling of self-fulfilling prophecy, really - since, after all, the film began with the intent of exploring the extent to which this level of corporate involvement could be detrimental to the making of a film. It seems only fair that Morgan Spurlock would experience it himself, first-hand.

At the same time, though, the film also manages to be entirely free of any overt bias. By the end, I was left with the sense that, when he claimed early on that he doesn't have any particular angle to play and that he isn't actively trying to make anyone look bad, he was being entirely honest. There are, of course, occasions when he seems to genuinely resent the level of influence that he has allowed his sponsors to have over his film (and, the idea that he may have inadvertently given them final say over whether the film would ever be released seems to make him genuinely uncomfortable). But, the film also provides fairly clear evidence, in itself, that he was also willing and able to fulfill the requirements of every contract place in front of him.

Throughout the course of the film, you wont be able to help but notice the incredibly blatant product-placement - which includes everything from Morgan being required to drink a particular brand of juice on camera, or conducting interviews at specific locations. It's so shamelessly obvious, in fact, that it ends up becoming something of a running gag throughout the film (and, you really do have to wonder at the thought process of those corporate representatives who were willing to take part in this odd little project). But, at the same time, no one really comes out of this film looking bad - so, presumably, everyone involved was happy with the result.

The end result of all of this is a film that is, quite often, genuinely entertaining. At the same time, though, it is also a film which doesn't seem to have any particular message that it wants to convey to the audience. The film begins with Morgan's own admission that he doesn't have any particularly strong opinions, one way or the other, with regard to product placement in film - and, things seem to end in much the same way.

Oddly enough, though, that somewhat unfocused lack of purpose isn't quite the detriment that it might have been. If there is any real point to this odd little film, than it seems to be simply to remind us that these sorts of deals are a constant part of the process in the film-industry, and to invite us to make up our own minds on how we feel about this. Honestly, that still feels like more than enough to make The Greatest Movie Ever Sold worthwhile.

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