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My Favourite Jonathan Glazer Commercials

This is another addition to the globally popular ACES series of featuring commercial film directors that I admire for bringing creative concepts and storylines to filmic life that enthrall viewers.

Acknowledgements by the Advertising Communication industry, with accolades and international awards for their exemplary filmmaking craftsmanship, are hard-won and well deserved.

Jonathan Glazer

Londoner Jonathan Glazer studied theatre design at Nottingham Trent University and after graduating directed theatre productions and crafted film and television trailers.

In 1993 he wrote and directed three noteworthy short films and subsequently joined the London based production company, Academy Commercials.

Besides directing highly lauded commercials for brands such as Guinness and Stella Artois, Jonathan also directed music videos and in 1997 was named MTV Director of The Year.

In 2000 he directed his first feature length film, a British Gangster story titled “Sexy Beast” starring Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone.

His second feature film “Birth” starring Nicole Coleman followed in 2004, and in 2013 he directed “Under the Skin” starring Scarlett Johansson that was launched at the Venice Film Festival to critical acclaim.

1. Guinness, Surfer

Advertising Agency: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, London, UK

Filmmaker and Director Jonathan Glazer’s most famous filmic enterprise is his legendary 1999 ‘Guinness Surfer’ that in 2002, was voted the best commercial of all time in a public poll conducted by Britain’s Channel 4, and The Sunday Times.

Filmed in Hawaii, the multi award-winning epic focuses on a Polynesian surfer waiting for that perfect wave in a powerful metaphorical analogy of waiting for a perfectly slow-poured pint of Guinness Stout.

The music track was specially composed for the commercial by British band Leftfield. They later included the track in their ‘Rhythm and Stealth’ album as ‘Phat Planet”

2. Apple Watch Series 4, Flight

The ‘Flight’ commercial is an expressive metaphoric analogy of the the emotive freedom the built-in cellular capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 4 offers,

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the commercial features 29-year-old Finnish-American athlete, air dancer and skydiver, Inka Tiitto, renowned for her spectacular flying choreographies in a wind tunnel.

Jonathan and Tito worked closely together to plan the intricate camera tracking shots required of the skydiving display for the successful editing of a final result that would be rewarding to view.

The music soundtrack is by American experimental band Son Lux. The featured song ‘Breathe’ is from their album ‘Stranger Forms’.

3. Levi’s Engineered Jeans, Odyssey

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

This classic Levi’s ‘Freedom to Move’ commercial directed by Jonathan Glazer stars French actor Nicolas Duvauchelle as a young runner on a quest to break down barriers.

He begins his dramatically visualized metaphorical odyssey by running through doors, and breaking through wall after wall. Another young runner, played by French actress Antoinette Sugier, joins him and together they proceed to their goal of unfettered freedom.

The soundtrack of Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ from the Suite in D minor for solo harpsichord, was produced by Jeff Wayne and arranged by John Altman employing a late-classical chamber orchestra of 22 strings, flute, clarinet, bassoon, kettledrum and three French horns.

The Levi’s Odyssey commercial was lauded internationally and the numerous accolades received included a One Club for Creativity Gold Award, a Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity Gold Lion, and a Gremi de Publicidad (Asociación Empresarial Catalana de Publicidad) Platinum Award.

4. Android, Monotune

Advertising Agency: Droga5, New York, USA

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, this Grammy award-winning commercial features the remarkably talented pianist Ji-Yong Kim, playing a high-speed redition of the third movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

He alternates his performance between two different grand pianos; the first one has the usual 88 pitches you find on a keyboard, but the second one has been tuned so that every key plays a middle C.

Tuned for conformity, the second piano delivers a dull, inexpressive, ‘monotune’ performance compared to the artistic vibrancy and interpretational, tonal richness of the first.

The commercial is a compelling demonstration of how the talent and dexterity of the same performer on two different instruments can deliver such contrasting results.

5. VW Polo, Last Tango in Compton

Advertising Agency: DDB, London, UK

Part of the themed ‘Tough. Beautiful. Polo” advertising campain, the commercial stars Argentinean Tango world champions Gasper Godoy and Manuella Rossi.

Filmed in North London, Director Jonathan Glazer set up 20 cameras to follow their specially choreographed routine in expressive rhythmic detail.

The hip hop soundtrack they dance to is “Don’t Stop” by Roc C, featuring Oh No and Pok Dogg.

6. Stella Artois, Ice Skating Priests

Advertising Agency: Lowe, London, UK

Directed by Jonathan Glazer and filmed in Poland, with Music Producer Peter Raeburn’s rendition of the Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 by Franz Liszt 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. In 2005 it was named the Best Crafted Commercial of the Year at the British Television Advertising Awards (BTAA).

7. Canon EOS Cameras, Gladiator Football

Advertising Agency: JWT, London, UK

The commercial is part of JWT and Cannon’s European ‘Come and See’ advertising campaign that focuses on photography’s role in capturing images of events one wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer and using Canon EOS C500, and EOS C300 cameras, the commercial features a traditional Italian ball game in Florence, in which players, in medieval clothes, compete to win the ultimate sporting trophy of a cow.

The ‘Calcio Storico’ players do not abide by FIFA rules. To the delight of spectators, they, jostle, wrestle, and punch their way forward like gladiators.

The glorious and entertaining spectacle in the scenic surrounds of Florence’s famous art-filled galleries and tourist attractions is a delight to view.

8. Audi RS 6 Avant, The Ring

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

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the commercial stars champion cruiserweight boxing protagonists Steve Cunningham and B.J. Flores being watched by a Romanian audience of avid fight fans.

The actual focus of the commercial however, is not on boxers, it’s on one of the world’s leading international referees, Tony Weeks.

As the commercial illustrates, it is the referee that has the power to boss fighters around, to jump in to break them up, to enforce adherence to the rules, and even stop the match if deemed necessary.

Tony Weeks exemplifies the insightful premise of the commercial that real power often comes from a ‘less obvious place’ as he unobtrusively, away from the public eye, exits to an Audi RS 6 Avant.

9. Levi’s 501, Kung Fu

Advertising Agency: BBH (Bartle Bogle Gegarty), London

Time Magazine rates Bruce Lee as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century and the greatest martial arts icon of modern, popular culture.

His most famous starring role was in ‘Enter The Dragon’. It is considered to be one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time.

Skillfully directed by Jonathan Glazer, the excellently choreographed Levi’s classic entertainingly references scenes from the iconic ‘Enter The Dragon’ movie, and stars Kung Fu master Dusting Nguyen.

The soundtrack music features a remix of ‘Stepping Stones’ by Johnny Harris.

10. Stella Artois, Devil’s Island

Advertising Agency: Lowe Lintas & Partners, London, UK

In 2003 the crafting talents of Copywriter Vince Squibb were employed again   for another Stella Artois commercial film scenario.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, Vince’s dramatic story centers on a prisoner named Didier, who has an amazing stroke of luck during a voyage to the infamous penal colony on Devil’s Island.

However, there is a price to pay for his good fortune that paradoxically involves a stint in the ships solitary confinement lock-up.