Advertising people rank just behind baby-seal clubbers and serial killers in the respect they inspire in the general public. So it’s borderline surreal to see a profession widely demonized as a hellscape of soulless corporate mercenaries treated in a fawningly reverential manner in Art & Copy, a perversely uncritical love letter to legendary commercials and the ad wizards who dream them up. Scratch and Hype director Doug Pray comes not to bury advertising but to praise it, quixotically taking it upon himself to redeem the tattered reputation of an entire industry.
Pray’s film offers a nostalgic, rose-colored glance back at the glamorous ad world of yesteryear, where dynamic young geniuses fought conventional wisdom to create campaigns that quickly transcended mere commerce and became pop-culture sensations. Pray presents a bold revisionist take where ad agencies are busy little hives of creativity and free expression, dedicated to making the world a better, more vibrant place one iconic campaign at a time, whether the game-changer in question is Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” campaign ad or those infernal Budweiser frogs.
In Art & Copy, the medium is the message. The film is essentially a skillful advertising-industry infomercial that speaks its subject’s slick aesthetic language. Like a good commercial, it’s propulsive, filled with eye-grabbing visuals, naked emotional appeals, nostalgia, and instantly recognizable imagery. Art & Copy becomes a greatest-hits survey of commercials that conquered the world, augmented with behind-the-scenes sycophantic fluff, self-serving philosophizing, and ad-world mythmaking. Pray gives a radically different, shockingly sympathetic slant on an industry in desperate need of an image upgrade, but there’s a big difference between inviting a little sympathy for the devil and nominating Satan for sainthood. Art & Copy is mightily diverting, for those who don’t mind being sold a slick bill of goods.