Damn Fine Advertising: David Lynch’s TV Commercials

A smattering of the great director’s impressively stylish and uncompromised advertising work.

For film directors – especially those working in the less mainstream side of cinema – shooting commercials has often been a surprisingly attractive side gig. It makes a certain sense – while we might have an immediate reaction of ‘sell out’, advertising probably offers a lot of attractions for the more esoteric filmmaker. Not only is it a handy payday – and these are often filmmakers who are not relentlessly grinding out big-budget movies and might often need these side-gigs to help support more personal projects – but the sort of businesses that hire them are doing so because they want the associated cool than comes from a cult name, and will not be breathing down their necks demanding audience-pleasing compromises – what they want is cool cred that comes from association with an artist; interfering with their vision would spoil the whole thing. Commercials like this – all ‘event’ ads rather than the more basic hard sell – often allow directors more creative freedom than actual movies do. And for people who like to work and don’t fit into the Hollywood mainstream of vacuous spectacle and directorial anonymity, these projects are probably a lot of fun – a chance to explore new ideas and experiment with form.

It perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that David Lynch has had a long association with advertising – particularly perfume advertising, where the product itself is impossible to convey visually other than in moments of arty pretension, lifestyle aspirations and the desire for sophistication. He’s obviously a man who would be attracted to the visual possibilities and – as his work with Louboutin shows – is not exactly uninterested in the sensual possibilities of scent, sex and style that he can explore in these event ads. None is more of a statement than his film for Dior’s Lady Blue Shanghai, which is fifteen minutes long – clearly not made for sticking in the middle of TV show episodes.

Lynch’s series of ads for Calvin Klein’s Obsession focuses on legendary, notorious novelists, using their texts to play on the very theme of ‘obsession’ and sensuality.

 

In a similar style, this 1992 ad for Georgio Armani piles on luxury, melodrama and visual extravagance.

This Opium commercial has a more immediately recognisable Lynch style – you can see this as a microscopic version of his features or Twin Peaks, in atmosphere if nothing else.

Similarly, this ad for Karl Lagerfeld’s Sun Moon Stars feels very much like Lynch’s dreamy fantasy worlds…

And obviously, there’s a Louboutin ad:

It’s not all perfume, cosmetics and fashion though. Here are a series of quirky Japanese coffee ads featuring the characters of Twin Peaks. Oddly, this is from 1993, when the series was long defunct. There are also commercials for Lynch’s own coffee brand, but they are a whole article in themselves, and we’ll stick to his outside work here.

And perhaps the most Lynchian – at least in terms of what people like to think of as Lynchian – of them all is this Playstation 2 commercial.

This is not the whole collection of Lynch’s advertising work, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a fascinating selection that generally fits nicely into his filmography – nothing here seems like a compromise or something just tossed off.

We’ll take a look at the TV commercials of other notable directors soon.

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2 comments

  1. There was an interview with Lynch in Empire about 20 years ago and they talked about the Playstation ad. When he was told it was in black and white he wasn’t pleased because he shot it and intended it to be seen in colour.

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