The commercial break kicks off with another airing of the “Big Bang ’89” promo, hyping the big show live later on MTV that night. Sandra Bernhard looks skinny and sexy and mean (in marked contrast to her subdued, puffy appearance on Project Runway recently–is she on some variety of steroid medications, or was it a facelift that hadn’t settled in?)
Another ad for The Conductor batteries. A black guy in a tuxedo gets into a Checker cab, hoisting a case that holds either a cello or a standup bass. It’s raining. “Broadway. And 107th,” he tells the cabbie. “Hey, you ever just get dizzy?” the cabbie asks him, which is an odd conversation-starter, whether you’re in a cab or a commercial. (Sign of the times: the cab includes a sign reading “Driver not required to change bills over $10.”) Then there’s a sonic assault: the cabbie’s chatter, a static-heavy radio, squeaky windshield wipers, the cabbie singing opera badly, honking horns. “If you have an ear for sound, then you have the ears for The Conductor,” says the voiceover. The musician puts on his Walkman and grooves out to some bad light jazz.
Once again, we get the magnificently weird Coca-Cola commercial featuring Earth Wind and Fire and a bunch of silver-garbed robot aliens. I saw a bit of EWF live footage last week–they had this great stage gimmick where a member was suspended perpendicular to the mike stand. Why hasn’t anybody ripped that off in the decades since? In this ad, by the way, they don’t set up a kit for the drummer, so he’s consigned to doing some high kicks while holding his drumsticks.
And then, once more, the minute-long spot for The January Man. That’s the fourth airing so far. This time, I tried to get through it just by grooving on the Marvin Hamlisch score: it’s a propulsive horn-driven groove, suggesting that this is actually an exciting piece of cinema. So Hamlisch is lying to us, but who can blame him?
Budweiser brings us the story of a road manager for an R&B arena act. He shakes hands with a teamster, saying “What’s up, Big John?” He’s got a clipboard but still looks groovy with a leather jacket and an aqua shirt. We see drums and a synth being unpacked. All the flight cases, usually seen in basic black, are the exact shade of the red Budweiser logo. The road manager irons out some important details on the phone–on a pay phone, that is. That alone seriously dates this commercial. An attractive woman is working behind the mixing board as we see quick cuts of a piano and a spotlight. “Showtime, Dave,” says the road manager, knocking on a door in the bowels of the arena. A bearded guy in a pink tuxedo hits the stage as the voiceover says, “For the hustle.” Then after the product shot, we see the star, the road manager, and the soundboard woman toasting each other over cans of Bud. (I don’t think “Dave” is an actual singer, although he has a vaguely familiar look to him. Please share any theories as to his identity in the commments.)
Another MTV promo, from a series called “Animals” that I really liked back then. It had cutting-edge computer animation (not as good as Pixar, which came out with “Tin Toy” in 1988, but not too far behind). The camera pans up a large staircase with a blue silo on top. Inside the silo, the camera moves around at the level of a tabletop, looking up at a coffee cup (and way up at a high ladder with a circus platform on top). We climb up a spoon and into the coffee cup, and jump into the cup to a watery, overcaffeinated death. There’s laughter on the soundtrack and a graphic reading “THAT WAS AN ANT’S LIFE.” (There were about half-a-dozen spots or so in the series, I believe, all about the demise of various animals in that silo.) For once, there are creator credits at the end. This was the work of three companies: Program 33, Mac Guff Ligne, and Canal Plus. They’re all French, sneaking their nihilistic little European cartoons into the minds of American youth. Encore!