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Filmic Artistry in Black and White

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 visual communication artistry, and storytelling expertise achieved with early black and white moving images, remained to be an emulative inspiration for many latter-day advertising scenarios, and commercial film directors.

1. Guinness, Surfer

Advertising Agency: AMV BBDO, London, UK

Referring to the slow-pouring necessary for a perfect pint of Guinness with a creamy white top, the “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait” brand signature, is a cleverly penned consumer promise with a broad smile, that became a memorable advertising theme.   

Filmmaker and director Jonathan Glazer’s famous ‘Guinness Surfer’ commercial, about a Polynesian surfer waiting for that perfect wave, was voted the best of all time, in a public poll, conducted by Britain’s Channel 4, and The Sunday Times in In 2002.

Filmed on location in Hawaii over nine days, the monochromatic, multi award-winning, commercial, features spectacular images of white horses with their flowing manes, cresting rolling waves.

The music soundtrack, was specially composed for the commercial by ‘Leftfield’, an electronic-music duo from Bath in England, who later included the track as “Phat Planet” on their ‘Rhythm and Stealth’ album.

2. Nike, Equality 

Advertising Agency: Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Oregon, USA

The laudable initiative by Nike and Wieden+Kennedy, leveraged the powerful influence of sport and Nike athletes, to motivate a principled societal stand against prejudice and inequality, with the rallying message; “The ball should bounce the same for everyone”.

Directed by filmmaker Melina Matsoukas, and filmed in Los Angeles, the featured athletes include LeBron James, Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, Megan Rapinoe, Dalilah Muhammad, Gabby Douglas, and Victor Cruz. 

The film is narrated by film producer and actor Michael B. Jordan, and the soundtrack is by Alicia Keys, who recorded an original version of Sam Cooke’s famed civil rights song, “A Change Is Gonna Come”.

3. Jim Beam, Parallels

Advertising Agency: StrawberryFrog, New York, USA

Produced in Clermont, Kentucky, USA, since 1795, Jim Beam is one of the best-selling brands of bourbon whiskey in the world.

Superbly directed by Dante Ariola, Jim Beam’s ‘Parallels’ commercial stars Oscar winning American actor, Willem Dafoe.

The ‘voice-over’ narration is also by Dafoe, and he reminds one that in life there is really only one choice; “All choices lead you somewhere. Only a bold choice takes you where you’re supposed to be”.

‘Parallels’ won a Cinematography Yellow Pencil at the D&AD Awards, a Cinematography Gold at the International ANDY Awards, and was honoured by The American Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) with awards for Direction, Visual Style, and Cinematography.

4. Stella Artois, The Pilot

Advertising Agency: Lowe, London, UK

Directed by Czech filmmaker Ivan Zachariáš, the ‘Pilot’ commercial involves a cinematic scenario about a downed, First World War English pilot, seeking refuge in a nearby Belgium public house from a pursuing German officer and his troopers.

The dark humour of the multi award-winning commercial, which is brilliantly portrayed by a talented cast, and superbly amplified by the evocative use of ‘retro’ black-and- white imagery, makes for impactful and memorable viewing.

5. Allan Gray Investment Management, The Letter

Advertising Agency: Ogilvy, Cape Town, South Africa

‘The Letter’ commercial has a personal poignancy for me with its insightful message analogy. 

Shortly after the wall came down I was privileged to be participant at a Leo Burnett Worldwide Conference in East Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie was still standing, but with the notorious East German Border Guards hiding in their checkpoint cubicle, probably fearful of their future, there were no passport checks or stop barriers. 

Sections of the graffiti-covered border wall as far as the eye could see, were also still standing. 

The soulless austerity and drab façades of East Berlin buildings, still pockmarked with bullet holes from World War II, it’s sad, paltry shop offerings and minimal street lighting at night, were a revelation for me.

The city was literally and figuratively without colour, and the contrast with the pulsating vibrancy of West Berlin could not be greater.

The many media stories about the successful efforts of family and friends to rapidly reconnect with loved ones, the minute the wall came down, were however, heart-warming. 

Filmmaker Kim Geldenhuys in 90 seconds has captured the mood and tone of the time with remarkable monochromatic visual accuracy.

6. Levi’s 501, Drugstore 1993

Advertising Agency: BBH (Bartle Bogle Hegarty), London, UK

The classic Levi’s, black and white ‘Drugstore’ commercial, set in the 1950’s, and filmed in Richmond, Texas, I and many others, regard as a masterpiece of filmic storytelling art.

Copywriter Nick Worthington, and Art Director John Gorse’s inspired scenario, was directed by the inimitably talented filmmaker Michel Gondry, and featured a haunting soundtrack, by Norwegian electronic musician, composer, and recording artist, Geir Jenssen, popularly known as ‘Biosphere’, titled “Novelty Waves”.

The accrual of many advertising awards and accolades followed, including a Cannes Gold Lion, a Grand Clio for TV advertising, and ‘Levi’s 501 Drugstore’s’ entry into the Guinness Book of Records, as 1994’s most awarded commercial of all time.

7. Martini & Rossi, El Toro 

Advertising Agency: Momentum Worldwide, New York, USA

Production Company: RadicalMedia, New York, USA

Meticulously styled after Federico Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ movie of the 60’s, Martini & Rossi’s, black-and-white El Toro commercial, directed by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and features an entertainingly suave performance from star George Clooney. 

The use of ‘spot-colour’ for the Martini & Rossi logo, is an inspired art direction initiative, that adds a stylish touch, to a superbly produced comme