Sydney Film Festival 2011: 'POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'

While Spurlock promises real insight into the corporate world, and the audience keeps looking for it, it turns out there is none.

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Director: Morgan Spurlock
Cast: Morgan Spurlock, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Peter Berg, Brett Ratner
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-04-22 (Limited release)

Somewhere between Michael Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen, with a little Daffy Duck thrown in, Morgan Spurlock is an obnoxious and attention-grabbing but undeniably funny and at times likable documentary maker. With The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, he’s come some way to getting his groove back, after his disappointing travelogue Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?

The key to Spurlock’s filmmaking is that it feels hyper-contemporary and of-the-moment, from stuffing himself with McDonald’s to prove it was bad for you to going out on a hunt for possibly the most demonised man in America’s history. He may be the ideal filmmaker for the Facebook/Twitter era: he comes up with gimmicky concepts to lure you in, grabs soundbites from what people say and displays it in huge text at the bottom of the screen, and conducts voxpops with people on the street. Take this premise: Spurlock wants to explore advertisements and product placement in film and television. So he creates this documentary, which he hopes will be entirely funded by advertisers, to be a kind of consumer culture will eat itself analogy. This is an undeniably pointless and unnecessary endeavour, but just wacky enough to be somewhat clever. As in Super Size Me, everyone knows that McDonald’s is bad, or that blockbusters are financed by big corporations, but Spurlock wants to find out to what extent.

So The Greatest Movie Ever Soldgets underway, and we see Spurlock calling up all the big companies and getting rejected, as well as finally securing some, including the little-known Ban deodorant, a fast-food restaurant unfortunately called Sheetz and POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, the main sponsor of the film and the reason for its title. He points out to us the more unusual content of his contracts, and conducts a number of illuminating and hilarious interviews with intellectuals and filmmakers – the best is probably with Quentin Tarantino, which includes a gag that had the cinema in pangs of laughter. Spurlock has a sly sense of humour; in his meetings with high-level execs, we learn that he is required to have a TV spot for certain companies in his film – we know these are coming, so when they suddenly jump out at us, it’s very funny.

What Spurlock is doing is riffing on the absurdity of the well-oiled machine that is product placement in the movies. But he’s not content with that, and the filmmaker in him wants to fit it into a story arc. This is ill-advised; after the rollicking first-half of the movie, which is so much fun, Spurlock turns to us with a heavy soul and confesses he feels like he’s sold out and is losing his identity, as if that wasn’t the idea in the first place. With faux-anxiety, he asks a couple of celebrities what it means to sell out; he manages to get a laugh from Big Boi of OutKast, who claims the duo never did a ‘Got Milk?’ commercial because André didn’t drink milk, thus remaining true to their identity, but this segment is pretty thin. He also takes a pointless trip to São Paulo,Brazil, a city that recently passed a law taking down all its street advertising. But he has nothing meaningful to say about this, so he just walks around a little and comes home. Not to be cynical, but you’d think with the crime problems in Brazil, advertising would be the least of their worries.

And this is indicative of the problems of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold on the whole. There are no smoking guns here. Spurlock promises real insight into the corporate world, and we keep looking for it, but there is none. As in his previous film, the conclusions feel pre-scripted, the dilemmas phony. It’s better when he just sits back and allows himself to excel at being naturally funny. All of which makes this a watchable and highly reflexive pop-culture documentary, though no more than the sum of its memorable laughs and snippets of highlights.

Left to Right: Morgan Spurlock (Director) and Antonio \"L.A.\" Reid (Chairman & CEO, Island Def Jam Music Group)

Left to Right: Morgan Spurlock (Director) and Ralph Nader (Politician, author, consumer advocate and four-time candidate for the U.S. presidency). Photos by Daniel Marracino


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.