Let me preface this with saying that I’m not a film studies student or professor. Also, this is going to be placed under a cut for length.
I read this FlowTV article by Kelli Marshall, a fellow Gene fanatic and a professor of film at the University of Toledo. It’s very interesting; please go read that before you read the rest of my thoughts. Also, go read the NPR piece about this very thing too.
Actually, I was uninformed/indifferent to the Gene Kelly Volkswagen commercials until I saw a flurry of tweets regarding them during/after the Superbowl this year. I don’t watch a lot of commercial television, nor do I watch the Superbowl, but this grabbed my attention because of my interest in Gene Kelly, his movies, singing, and dancing.
So, these commercials caused a viscerial reaction to them from many Gene fans. I watched the “Backseat Dancer” one, and if I hadn’t seen the “Sitting Dance” (which this is based on), I wouldn’t have known what the everloving heck they were doing.
Feel free to watch:
You can see that Gene and Donald have been cut out of the “Sitting Dance” (below) and placed in the Jetta:
You can tell that they’ve been cut-and-pasted into the car. Watch the whole clip of the “Sitting Dance”; you can see that Gene and Donald use various props, including a glass of water and the chairs themselves all throughout. Obviously, VW couldn’t incorporate these parts into the commercial, so they’ve been cut out with no context. You don’t know why the two are tapping in the back seat, other than to show rear-seat legroom.
This is the issue I have with the commercial; pulling the dancers out of context and placing them into an advertisement that doesn’t allow you to see the full extent of their art.
Now, the pop and lock commercial, on the other hand just cheeses me off.
There really is no reason for this. Taking his image and making him breakdance around in the rain really did not work for me. This is nothing like the original, and nothing like what Gene Kelly even performed. I can’t say he wouldn’t perform this style of dance, but I’m sure if he was alive and well enough, he’d rather have done it himself instead of have breakdancers in his image with his face plastered on them do it.
I don’t think I’d have an issue with this commercial if it’d shown the breakdancers and didn’t paste Gene’s face over their faces. Then I think it would have been taken as a “remix”. I think that’s what VW was going for; not to enrage all of Gene Kelly’s fans. I’m sure they were going for nostalgia, but using his face really ruins it.
Take a look at Usher’s tribute to Singin’ in the Rain (and watch the original and the tribute side by side here). If VW had done something like this, I think it would have gone over better. I actually like that tribute. I know he worked very hard on it, and though he doesn’t hit all of the steps, I know that Gene’s footwork was incredibly difficult. He did a most excellent job.
Also take a look at the Gene Kelly “Simply Irresistible” video from kyo175 on Youtube. This was a lot of work to cut and re-cut the different movies so they fit within the song chosen. This is a true remix; taking the original material and modifying it to make something new.
I can only speculate about what the VW marketing department was thinking when they came up with both the Jetta and Golf commericials, but I’m betting they were hoping to pull on people’s nostalgia about Gene Kelly (and Donald O’Connor) and create a “remix” of sorts from their original material. From the reaction that I’ve seen from the internet, I don’t think they achieved their goal. Then again, advertising is only about creating a need for your product whether the consumer needs it or not; not pleasing fans of a certian actor/movie/time period.
Are the VW commercials a success? I’d say no. These commercials have made some people vehemently anti-VW, and that surely is not the reaction the marketing team wanted. I have the same opinion of Toyota regarding their “cool parents” Highlander commericals, but that’s a different argumetnt for a different day. Any commerical that makes the viewer angry about the subject should be judged as “not a success”.