12 Years A Slave” is that Rare Thing, A Serious Film.

12 Years A Slave.

12 Years A Slave.

In 1967, the now leg­endary Stax Records sent its mod­est ros­tra of fledg­ling stars on a minor tour of Britain and France. It was a sensation.

Otis Red­ding, Sam and Dave, Book­er T and the MGs and co couldn’t believe it. Audi­ences in Britain were respond­ing to them as if they were the Rolling Stones. Actu­al­ly, most of the Stones were there in the audi­ence, and they were as blown away by what they were hear­ing as every­body else.

The legendary Stax Records Tour of 1967.

The leg­endary Stax Records Tour of 1967.

But what real­ly got them, was dri­ving around Eng­land on the mod­est Tour bus that Stax had orga­nized for them, they’d occa­sion­al­ly stop off at some sleepy town at the back end of beyond in rur­al Eng­land, get out the bus, and go into a shop! In the front door! And there, they’d be served their stale sand­wich­es and fizzy pop, as if this was the most nor­mal thing in the world.

It wasn’t. In those days, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, black peo­ple were expect­ed to refrain from con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing polite soci­ety by remov­ing them­selves from every cor­ner of it. Being treat­ed in Eng­land and France like nor­mal human beings, indeed, like stars, was a com­plete rev­e­la­tion for them all. (Actu­al­ly, it kind of ruined them. But that’s anoth­er story.)

That was 1967. Less the 50 years ago.

No won­der Oba­ma took that self­ie at Mandela’s funer­al. Even he must occa­sion­al have to pinch him­self. Imag­ine, bare­ly a gen­er­a­tion after that, there’s a black man in the White house.

The book that it was based on.

The book that it was based on.

Slav­ery is to race what Hiroshi­ma is to the atom­ic bomb. It’s its nec­es­sary con­se­quence. And togeth­er with Hiroshi­ma and the Holo­caust, slav­ery is one of the three colos­sal, unfath­omable ques­tions marks that punc­tu­ate mod­ern his­to­ry. Any film that tries to tack­le it has a hun­dred and one ways of get­ting it hor­ri­bly wrong.

Look at Schindler’s List. By focus­ing on the one good Nazi, Spiel­berg was able to cloak the holo­caust with a begin­ning, mid­dle and end, and there­by turn in into A N Oth­er Hol­ly­wood film. Which is unforgivable.

Remark­ably, 12 Years A Slave gets every­thing absolute­ly right. It’s helped by the nature of its sto­ry. Solomon is an edu­cat­ed, afflu­ent, artis­tic man liv­ing a priv­i­leged life. He is in oth­er words what we all aspire to be. So when he’s kid­napped and sold into slav­ery, our sym­pa­thy for him is immediate.

If on the oth­er hand you were to tell a sto­ry of some­one who was already a slave, there’s the dan­ger of see­ing them, how­ev­er unin­ten­tion­al­ly, as the Oth­er. As one of them. Can any­one imag­ine Spar­ta­cus play­ing the vio­lin in evening wear? By begin­ning in this way, you nec­es­sar­i­ly feel for him and his predica­ment in a way that you mightn’t have done had they approached the top­ic in a dif­fer­ent way.

The fact that he is a clas­si­cal­ly trained musi­cian could have encour­aged the film mak­ers to drape their film in reams of music. Their deci­sion to use music but sparse­ly through­out is again exact­ly the right one. As ever, less is more.

Fassbinder and Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave.

Fass­binder and Ejio­for in 12 Years A Slave.

But at the heart of the film are the cen­tral per­for­mances. Chi­we­tel Ejio­for has been hov­er­ing on the fringes of star­dom for some time now – he was par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­o­rable in  Joss Whedon’s crim­i­nal­ly over­looked Seren­i­ty, see here . That will obvi­ous­ly change now. And Michael Fass­binder con­firms, again, why he is one of the hottest prop­er­ties any­where in the world.

And as for direc­tor Steve McQueen. As intrigu­ing as his first cou­ple of film, Hunger (’08)  and Shame (’11) were, this is a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent cal­i­bre of film.

12 Years A Slave is that rare thing; mov­ing, pro­found and seri­ous. You can see they trail­er here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, tele­vi­sion and Music!

How Fantastic are the New Carlsberg Ads?!

horse-manure-002Most ads are mes­mer­i­cal­ly dull, jaw-drop­ping­ly tedious and unsul­lied by any­thing that could be mis­tak­en, how­ev­er remote­ly, for an idea. So how refresh­ing (pun intend­ed!) are the new Carls­berg ads?!

If ever there were a beer in need of being rebrand­ed, it was sure­ly Carls­berg! Some of you will prob­a­bly remem­ber that bizarre ad of theirs from back in the day.

A man walks down a cor­ri­dor, but stops to answer the phone he hears ring­ing in a room. Turns out it’s the Carls­berg Cus­tomer Com­plaints Depart­ment — you can see it here.

That’s hard­ly the sort of thing you want peo­ple to see in your ad! If any­thing, you should be telling them that when they drink Carls­berg, they won’t have any­thing to com­plain about at all!

But worse is to come. The ad con­cludes with an end­line that says, “Carls­berg; prob­a­bly the best larg­er in the world.”

Prob­a­bly! Any of the more expe­ri­enced ad men will tell you that you should real­ly steer away from words like “prob­a­bly”. “Def­i­nite­ly” would have been much stronger.

That same ambi­gu­i­ty was all over one of their more recent cam­paigns. “Carls­berg don’t do…” it went, and then they showed you all sorts of things that Carls­berg didn’t do. Like hol­i­days, apart­ments, the list was end­less. How neg­a­tive is that?! Don’t tell us what Carls­berg does­n’t do! Tell us some of the things that it does, like refresh­ing the parts that oth­er beers can­not reach!

And they fin­ished with that hope­less­ly defen­sive end­line, again! Prob­a­bly the best larg­er in the world!

Calls-for-a-CarlsbergWell as the fel­la said, if it’s broke, fix it. So it’s won­der­ful­ly refresh­ing (there it is again!) to see the much more pos­i­tive ads that they’ve now come out with. 

The first one appeared on our screens last sum­mer. It gen­tly ref­er­ences an obscure indie film from the 60s star­ring Steve McQueen. A man is sen­tenced to life in a health spa, but he fash­ions an escape, a great one if you will, and is reward­ed with a crate (ged­it!!) of Carlsberg. 

And the new end­line that it now fin­ish­es with? “That calls for a Carls­berg!”.

Thank God! That dread­ful dif­fi­dence has been replaced with firm, man­ly assertive­ness. Would it be hyper­bole to sug­gest that it is to ads what Steve McQueen was to method acting?

spartacus-movie-image-1The sec­ond, in what I hope will be a long run­ning cam­paign, is out at the moment. Once again, an obscure indie film from the 60s is ref­er­enced, this one by Stan­ley Kubrick. “I am Spar­ti­cus” they all shout. And they end up drink­ing over-lit pints of Carls­berg in an ane­mic Euro bar float­ing above a teenage graph­ic artist’s much, much younger broth­er’s vision of the future.

It’s hip, urban, and edgie. More to the point, it’s absolute­ly hilar­i­ous! And it ends on that glo­ri­ous endline. 

As much as I’d love to be able to claim that they’d devised the cam­paign here in Dublin, it is alas the work of Fold7 in Lon­don. Hats off to you, peo­ple. What can I say; that calls for a Carlsberg!

If there are any ads that you’ve seen, that you think are as incred­i­ble as those traf­fic-stop­ping pair of Carls­berg ads, drop me a line in the com­ment box below. 

I don’t of course believe you. But I would be curi­ous to see them.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week on All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!