Spurlock film sells itself but not short

Greatest Movie Ever Sold funds itself solely through sponsorships

When Toronto alt-weekly Now published its so-called “sell out” issue on May 12 — the cover usually reserved strictly for editorial space came emblazoned with the logos of its advertisers — it was presumably meant to ask the same questions as The Greatest Movie Ever Sold : How ubiquitous is advertising in our daily lives? Does transparently confronting your funding (or point-blank calling yourself a sell out) nullify the end-result of placing advertising ahead of editorial? Does aggressively enforcing the advertising-editorial divide — as reputable magazines do — gloss over the operational realities of a publication a film a work of art? Is Now redeemed by donating all of its cover proceeds to charity?

Now likely wasn’t trying to prove a point and in a sense neither is The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Instead each positions itself to provoke dialogue perhaps to make an ill-sketched sense of consumer awareness. That’s why The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is procedural: It’s a documentary — ahem a “doc-buster” in its own verbiage — that follows director Morgan Spurlock’s quest to fund his entire film set at a $1.5-million budget strictly via advertising product placement and co-promotion. Just like say Iron Man.

For those who’ve caught Super Size Me a doc that had Spurlock liquefying his liver over a month-long diet of McDonald’s meals The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’s gonzo technique should be familiar. Spurlock yet again is the centre of the narrative. He meets with sponsors develops pithy product-integrated storylines and explores what his and by extension the film’s personal brand entails. As it progresses and Spurlock signs more contracts the film morphs before viewers’ eyes: Drink labels — other than his sponsor’s of course — are blurred out. He only stays at Hyatt hotels. He walks along a riverbank with his son wearing sponsor-approved footwear.

Indeed this is all terribly meta and audiences being in on the joke are made to feel smarter for having seen the film. Still it wouldn’t be Spurlock however without dissenting opinions and there are those aplenty with Noam Chomsky Ralph Nader and even OK Go chipping in with sound clips that predictably remind viewers of the film’s central question: How do art commerce and marketing intersect?

Spurlock then is the film’s Jesus Christ — he suffers through this journey so that we don’t have to. (Jimmy Kimmel for example point-blank calls him a “whore.” Spurlock agrees.) And thankfully he’s an engaging auteur. For all of the film’s hilarious moments — him extolling the virtues of his shoes to Nader is one of its legit LOL moments — the film is also rife with jarring scenes. He contrasts Sao Paolo Brazil which has banned all outdoor advertising with street-level interviews from Times Square. He buys ad space from a school in Broward County Fla. He engages in neuromarketing which according to branding stategist (and talking head) Martin Lindstrom is where “science and marketing meet.” Think about that for a second.

Still The Greatest Movie Ever Sold maintains a chipper attitude throughout — something that would’ve been considerably tainted had he succeeded in his pitch to Camel cigarettes or an advertiser of its ilk. Thankfully or easily perhaps he’s dealing with pomegranate juice and vegetarian food peddlers.

While this will inevitably come off as culture-jamming it isn’t. Spurlock is meticulously transparent; while he’s quick to mock his sponsors he’s aware that their inclusion in the film sends a message: That Hyatt Pom and other featured brands have nothing to hide in their advertising. But that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold goes behind the scenes in the marketing process — and in engaging pop culture-savvy fashion at that — should spark plenty of conversation. And that’s the point.