The Art of the Sell — Dark Tower commercial

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

The U.S. movie industry has a long history of cruelly casting off figures who were once titans, but there is likely no more cruelly humiliating outcome than that delivered to Orson Welles. By the early nineteen-eighties, Welles’s debut feature, Citizen Kane, was already cemented in conventional wisdom as the greatest movie ever made. Even dissenters had to concede it was one of the most important and influential, creating a pliability and dynamism in narrative that sent shimmers across everything that followed. And despite impediments thrown up by skeptical entertainment executives, Welles signed his name to at least another dozen boldly impressive stage, film, and broadcast projects.

Although Welles clearly still wanted to work, he wasn’t able to complete a feature-length project in his lifetime after 1973’s tricky documentary F is for Fake. Instead, he was relegated to odd cameos, voiceovers, and other mildly demeaning cash grabs. One of his last credits on the big screen entailed voicing Unicron in the 1986 Transformers movie. And Welles did a lot of commercials. It was one thing when he shilled for wine, which at least had an air of sophistication about it. (And it seems the sponsor let him sample the wares during shoots.) It was quite another when he had to feign enthusiasm for a board game that tried to combine the bare trappings of Dungeons and Dragons with rudimentary electronic technology.

Dark Tower was simultaneously a state of the art product and a blatant stab at the nascent market of eager geeks with disposable income (or parents willing to make relatively significant investments in the name of placation). Despite his commercial closing declaration, delivered with pleasant surprise, of “I was victorious,” it’s inconceivable that the master filmmaker ever engaged in the game’s desperate quest for keys or virtual battles with brigands. But pretending he did helped keep his humidor stocked, no doubt.

And, I must admit, his endorsement worked on me. I didn’t know anything about Welles’s storied cinematic legacy at the time. My frame of reference for the man was almost entirely limited to other commercials and his forays to various daytime talk shows, kibbitzing with Merv Griffin and his ilk about Hollywood in the old days. But Welles carried gravitas on him, even in the waning, aching era of his career. I may have found my way to the game through other means, but the commercial provided assurance that this contraption of sword and sorcery was worthy of my time and, more importantly, the familial capital I would expend agitating for it over other potential playthings. In a time when there was a new fleet of Star Wars figures angling for attention every Christmas, this was no small feat.

 

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