Art & Copy is a lovely, pleasant film about, well, advertising. Director Doug Pray does something interesting and subtle with what’s a temptingly fat target for derision—he teases out the artistic, inventive, and influential aspects of an industry steeped in mediocrity at best and toxicity at worst.
Pray interviewed 11 people who worked on some of the most iconic and effective print and television advertising between the mid-60s and fairly recently and allows them, without ironic overlay or judgment, to talk about what drives what they’ve done.
Though no one goes so far as to say that advertising as a whole is somehow a noble enterprise, together they make a compelling case for equating some advertising as truly artistic. Each of them talks us through how they envisioned and executed some of the most iconic advertising of the last 50 years, from the original Volkswagen Beetle ads through Braniff’s Pucci uniforms, Lyndon Johnson’s daisy ad, The Carpenters song for Crocker Bank, Reagan’s Morning in America ad, Where’s the Beef, I Want My MTV, Apple’s 1984 ad, Just Do It, and Got Milk, to name a few.
The advertisers themselves are, without exception, fascinating to listen to, and all the more so because though they’re all roughly of the same couple of generations (and white), and though they share a common passion for the power of advertising, each has a different approach to reaching people with their ideas, and the breadth of their insight is educational without being preachy. Pray is no apologist for the industry—nor, really, are his interview subjects, who without exception agree that the vast majority of advertising is utter crap—but he finds a lot of beauty in the work of these driven and passionate folks that’s delightful to witness. He has a knack (which he demonstrated powerfully in his last film Surfwise, which dogged my consciousness for weeks after I saw it) for illuminating the positive without subjugating the negative.