Tag Archives: Spring Breakers

S**t happens: the coincidence of the new Audi ad and the remarkably similar short

15 May

I’d like to show you an amazing coincidence. A coincidence so astounding that you could stick a beard on it and tour it round the country in a freak show. In fact, forget the beard; it’s freaky enough on its own.

Take a look at the new TV ad for the Audi SQ5, above. Then take a look at the minute-long 2011 art short No 26 To Hackney, by fashion photographer turned film-maker Ben Charles Edwards (below).


See what I mean? Freaky! To the untrained eye, it gives kind of a déjà vu.

A glamorous woman walks down a dimly lit street: in slow motion, to nonchalant music at odds with the drama about to unfold, her heel breaks; her handbag falls; she falls with it; there’s a close-up on her handbag as its contents spill to the unforgiving pavement; the woman is left sprawled on the cold hard ground.

There is a key difference between the two: the ending. At the close of the ad, a gleaming Audi drives off leaving the hapless pedestrian stranded, whereas at the end of the short film it’s the more prosaic No 26 bus to Hackney.

Oh, and in the short, the woman’s face ends up pressed into a pile of dog shit. That’s not in the TV ad.

I know that film-making coincidences happen. My own premise for a sci-fi movie turned up years later as Looper (see here). Animal Charm, which I co-wrote with Ben, featured terrorist babes in balaclavas, just like Spring Breakers (see here). But this seems a bigger one. The first Ben heard of it was when his mother texted him to say “Congrats on the Audi ad!” Knowing his short film, she had assumed the ad she’d just watched on television was his doing.

So I wondered if there might be some connection between the two, if Ben’s film inspired the ad in some way. I phoned the ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who told me to phone Audi’s PR agency, who told me they would look into it and have an answer later that day. By evening they still couldn’t quite give me a definite answer: “So sorry I haven’t got back to you today. Just checking out the story but at this stage I think it is just a coincidence but I am just waiting confirmation.”

The next day, ie yesterday, I got my response, from Richard Stainer, Client Services Director of BBH. And it is categorical: “BBH was not aware of the short film of Ben Charles Edwards. While there are points of comparison in content (like the broken heel and the dropped bag), the Audi SQ5 story is original material. As an agency, we pride ourselves on creative originality and we take any claims suggesting otherwise very seriously.”

So there it is. An amazing coincidence.

I’m glad it turns out to be a coincidence, though. Not just because amazing coincidences are fun to gawp at, like a wedding ring lost at sea that shows up years later on someone’s dinner plate, inside a fish. But because it would be rather embarrassing all round if it weren’t. No top British ad agency would want to use emerging film-makers as a cheap source of inspiration. And no manufacturer of superlative cars would want customers to be viewing their ad, while all the while thinking of dogshit.

Come back for my daily reports from the Cannes Film festival, starting tomorrow!

Spring Breakers and how I offended Harmony Korine

6 Apr

The mental image that inspired Harmony Korine to make Spring Breakers


A key image from Animal Charm, the featurette I co-wrote with Ben Charles Edwards

It’s weird seeing the posters for Spring Breakers: they are so much like the key image from the short film that I co-wrote with director Ben Charles Edwards, Animal Charm. Spring Breakers’ writer/director Harmony Korine has said that a single image was the seed for the whole feature: he saw girls in bikinis with guns and balaclavas over their faces, and wondered how they would get there.

I haven’t yet seen the film, in which formerly squeaky-clean teen idols Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson (plus Korine’s young wife) fall under the spell of James Franco’s grill-toothed, arms-and-drugs-dealing rapper. But I did meet Harmony Korine once. I mortally offended him.

I’d put Kids on the cover of Time Out. This was a fictionalised exposé of underage drugs and sex, written by Korine while he was a teenager, which launched the careers of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson and introduced the term “virgin-surgeon”. We got a bunch of British schoolkids to watch it and comment on how true it was to their own lives. Which was tricky to arrange, as the film was an 18 cert. Great feature though.

In 1997 Korine directed his first movie, Gummo, a disconnected series of stories of alienated youth in smalltown 1970s America. I was invited to the launch party on a boat on the Thames. The producer introduced me to the young auteur, and I told him that I loved the film, and that it would make a great TV series. He looked as though I’d sprinkled salt on his cornflakes pretending it was sugar, turned on his heel, and walked off. I was thinking Twin Peaks, myself, and that I wanted to see much more of the characters in Gummo. And now that the best US TV is so much more interesting than film, he should be so lucky.

If you don’t know Korine’s films, check them out. Cookie-cutter eye-candy they are not. The one after, Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) is about a schizophrenic, made under the strict filming rules of Dogme 95. The next, Fight Harm, involved Korine provoking tough-looking strangers into fighting him, and filming the result with hidden cameras. His only rules were that they had to be bigger than him, and they had to throw the first punch. Sadly the project had to be abandoned when he was hospitalised after six fights.

Mister Lonely (2007) is about a Michael Jackson impersonator in Paris who falls in with a commune of other celebrity impersonators. It is without doubt the only film to star Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, the Pope, James Dean and the Queen. Trash Humpers (2009), described by a Guardian critic as ‘a home movie from hell’ (and that was a positive review), is an experimental, largely improvised, lo-fi movie shot and edited on VHS. The title, as Korine warned at the first screening, is meant literally.

More than any other film-maker save perhaps David Lynch, Korine is interested in the dark side of the American Dream, how with a slightly different perspective it can so easily seem a nightmare. I’m looking forward to Spring Breakers, which came out on Friday. The trailers make it look like an MTV wet dream, but you can be sure it’s a deal more subversive than that.