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Monday, February 7, 2011

A thirty second ad that features the death of a man's soul

I know my moral revulsion at the incorrigible shilling of actors is becoming something of a hobby-horse.

Readers new to this blog may want to refer to the earlier posts ("Haggling over the price" and "What, and give up show biz", parts 1 and 2) for a better developed, considered, and slightly more articulate treatment of the issue.

The following spluttering, inchoate fury I'm about to unleash, was a result of this Groupon Superbowl ad, which, in case you missed it, is linked here. You really need to see it to believe it.

I worked with Tim Hutton on one of the last films I did. We each played the respective fathers of the two young Capulet/Montague lovers. Bizarrely, he, the American, played an Australian farmer, and I, the nominal Australian, played an American exec. But that's show biz.

This publicity shot may prove prophetic

I can't say I got to know him well. He kept himself aloof in a Hollywood-star-not-mixing-with-the-locals kind of way. But reflecting on it now, I think this actually was shame. Here he was, from a venerable Hollywood acting family, having done some great work (Taps, The Falcon and the Snowman) reduced to a supporting role in a low-budget, foreign location vehicle for Alexa Vega. His was meant to be a 'featured support'--you know, where one's name ends up at the end of the title credits after the gravitas-laden "and...".

There are all sorts of reasons established actors do gigs like this. Maybe he just liked the script (not likely). Maybe it was part of a multi-film deal his agent cut and pasted together (plausible). Maybe he knew the director's father (which was entirely possible, as the director was about 12). But thinking about the project now, and seeing this ad, I can only think he needed the work and wasn't in a position to be fussy.

Or thoughtful. Maybe he thought the ad was trying to be knowingly ironic about conflating the political plight of Tibet (one of the largest crimes against humanity in our lifetime) with crass yankee multiculturalism about interesting new cuisine. You know, the kind of dim-witted cozy liberal view that multiculturalism is cool because it means you can have a choice of dozens of international taste sensations at your local food court. Maybe they were trying to send that up.

But it just comes off crass and callous, and the Tim Hutton whose career was eclipsed by his 80's co-stars Tom Cruise and Sean Penn (each respectively in the aforementioned films), should have the ear to discern that. And if he does have the ear, why did he take a gig so obviously tasteless?

Superbowl ads are renowned as an art-form in themselves, and as hugely expensive in terms of air-time, and hugely profitable in terms of audience reach. So it's hard to escape the conclusion that Groupon simply found his price.

I started this rant promising moral outrage, but at this point of writing I just find it sad. He'd've been paid so handsomely that there'd be no need to do low-budget Australian flicks (at least for a few years) and slum with the local talent. A buck's a buck, and there is just no answer to that logic anymore.

But if you look at the ad again, and look at his eyes during the delivery of the crass segue line, you might see what I do, a fleeting sense of "Oh, well, what the hell..." and that right there is where you actually see the man's soul die. Now that's entertainment.

Director Adam Cook, as witty a fellow as ever you're likely to meet, used to joke about collective nouns for actors and directors. A "sneer" of directors,  a "whinge" of actors. And we laughed because these reflected part of the truth of our shared experience of both.

But I now propose a new collective noun for actors of Tim's ilk: a "shill" of actors. Whaddya think?

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