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Entrancing Monochromatic Filmmaking

The motion picture era began in France in 1895 when the Lumiere brothers were the first to project moving, photographic images to a paying audience.

Their later Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), directed by Georges Méliès, was the world’s first ever science-fiction movie and was screened to international acclaim in 1902.

The innovative long running time, spectacular production values, special effects, and emphasis on storytelling were groundbreaking.

Le Voyage dans la Lune’s global influence on other filmmakers and on the development of narrative motion pictures was profound.

The Golden Age of The Silent Movie

This ‘Golden Age’ that followed was a period during which the rapid, construction of movie theatres around the world occurred to accommodate an increasing audience demand.

The ‘Talkies’

In 1919, American inventor Lee De Forest patented the first ‘optical sound-on-film’ technology that photographically recorded a sound track onto the side of a motion picture film strip to create a composite, or “married”, print and referred to by cinema audiences as the ‘Talkies”.

Enduring Legacy

In spite of Eastman Kodak’s introduction of colour film In 1935 called ‘Kodachrome’ that ushered in ‘Technicolor’ feature-length films to packed cinema audiences around the world, the entrancement of the silent movie era’s visual communication artistry endured.

The storytelling expertise achieved with black and white images remains to be an emulative inspiration for many modern-day commercial film directors.

I have selected some commercials that I find very rewarding and cannot for a minute imagine them in colour. The choice of black and white imagery is at the core of their conceptual storytelling inventiveness.

1. Le Voyage dans la Lune, 1902 Moon Landing

This short clip from the historic movie features the iconic images of a rocket ship landing in the right eye of the moon’s face

In 2002 Le Voyage dans la Lune became the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage designated film.

2. Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut, Nosferatu

Advertising Agency: Leo Burnett, London, UK

This a great spoof of director F.W. Murnau’s silent movie era classic ‘Nosferatu’ that was based on Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula novel.

Daniel Kleinman has faithfully recreated the look and feel and even some short scenes of the original classic horror film, and skillfully injected an element of humour that in my view is absolutely masterful.

3. Centraal Beheer Achmea, Box

Advertising Agency: DDB, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Centraal Beheer Achmea is an Insurance Company based in the Netherlands town of Apeldoorn. Their famous call to action, “Even Apeldoorn Bellen” (Just Call Apeldoorn), has become the company’s identifiable signature and part of the nation’s popular culture.

Directed by famed Dutch photographer and filmmaker Will van der Vlucht, the Cannes Gold Lion winning commercial is a joy to view.

The skillfull visual monochromatic recreation, feels and looks like an original production from from the silent movie era.

4. Levi’s 501, Drugstore

Advertising Agency: BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), London

A Levi’s classic of note, brilliantly directed by Michel Gondry with “Mule Skinner Blues” as the emotive soundtrack.

The multi-award winning commercial that includes a Cannes Gold Lion and a Grand Clio for TV advertising, was entered into the Guinness Book of Records for winning the most awards of all time.

5. Levi’s 501, Creek

Advertising Agency: BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), London

Directed by Vaughan & Anthea, the story about an Amish family on a picnic outing in the 1850’s is superbly crafted.

The award-winning commercial evokes the iconic black and white images of the great American photographer and conservationist, Ansel Adams.

The unexpected choice of the song ‘Inside’, by Scottish rock band Stiltskin for the soundtrack, was resoundingly effective.

6. Stella Artois, Ice Skating Priests

Advertising Agency: Lowe, London, UK

Directed by Jonathan Glazer and filmed in Poland with the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Listz as the soundtrack, I consider the commercial to be a filmic masterpiece of storytelling and directing.

The commercial very effectively evokes the look and feel of the silent movie era with its characteristic camera angle variations and flat, uniform lighting.

7. Carling Black Label, The Dam Busters

Advertising Agency: WCRS (Wight Collins Rutherford Scott), London

Directed by Rodger Woodburn, the commercial is a skillfully crafted parody of the RAF Second World War movie epic ‘The Dam Busters’ and their famous ‘bouncing ball bomb’ that destroyed dam walls.

The film was based on a true story about the legendary RAF 617 Squadron as told by Paul Brickhill in his book ‘The Dam Busters, and by writer Guy Gibson’s ‘Enemy Coast Ahead’.

This highly entertaining commercial has become a ‘Hall of Fame’ advertising classic of enduring viewer appeal.

8. Martini & Rossi, Mogul

Advertising Agency: McCann-Erickson, New York, USA

The rise to public recognition and prominence of many Hollywood stars started early in their acting careers by highly impressionable appearances in popular commercials.

Charlize Theron’s rather ‘cheeky’ 1996 appearance in a Martini & Rossi commercial was certainly attention grabbing.

Martini & Rossi Bianco’s ‘Mogul’ commercial, and Cannes Gold Lion winner, was directed by Moshe Brakha, and filmed on locations in Portofino and the port of Santa Margherita in Ligure, Italy.

Also starring Max Parish as the ‘Martini Man’, the commercial at that time resulted in an unprecedented global boost in sale, not surprisingly perhaps, to predominantly male drinkers.

9. Martini & Rossi, Eltoro Giorgio

Advertising Agency: Momentum Worldwide, New York, USA

Production Studio: RadicalMedia, New York, USA

Filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, this meticulously 50’s styled ‘La Dolce Vita’ inspired film was directed by Robert Rodriguez and stars George Clooney.

The use of a ‘spot-colour’ in this amusing commercial for Martini & Rossi’s logo is a stylishly effective art direction initiative.

10. Allan Gray Investment Management, Legend

Advertising Agency: King James, Cape Town, South Africa

Directed by Keith Rose, the commercial involved a cast of 300, a film crew of 150 members and took 14 months to produce.

The result was a Grand Prix Loerie Award and I think one of the best commercials ever to come out of South Africa.

11. Allan Grey Investment Management, Father’s Share

Advertising Agency: King James, Cape Town, South Africa

Directed by Peter Pohorsky, this sensitively observed, very South African story is a heart-warming commercial of a boy learning the value of long-term investing from his father.

12. Nike, Equality

Advertising Agency: Wieden+Kennedy, Portland USA.

This topical commercial directed by Melina Matsoukas, starring NBA champion LeBron James, and tennis champion Serena Williams, motivated 2 million views on YouTube in 48 hours.

The narrator is lauded American actor Michael B. Jordan, who makes a brief cameo appearance.

The soundtrack features a poignant rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” by Alicia Keys.