All posts by MrMoth

Christmas Adverts 2019

Ahh, the season of goodwill is upon us again, and that very specifically means CHRISTMAS ADVERTS are back. I used to enjoy writing about them over on MostlyFilm (god rest it) and, well. I guess I missed the gig.

Me, rolling into town

John Lewis

The big boys of the Christmas Ad game are back, every year trying to outdo themselves while keeping the basic formula present and correct (elaborately high production values, heartwarming twist involving the giving of a gift available at John Lewis, old song covered in a drippy way by contemporary artist). You already know that this year it’s about a dragon so let’s examine those elements.

Clearly it looks a treat. Like Game of Thrones rebooted by the production team behind Wooly and Tig rather than those two goofuses who did the actual show. It’s beautifully filmed, the performances are good-for-an-advert, the production design is top-notch (special mention to costumes, which I assume are only partially available in-store). Great, well played. But that’s everyone now. This looks as good as the Sainsbury’s advert, or the ASDA or the M&S one, you know? They’re all expensive looking now because Christmas adverts are a fucking huge deal.

Is there a heartwarming twist? YOU KNOW THERE IS, BABEY, though this would involve explaining the full plot of the advert which is basically – dragon just keeps burning shit cause it loves Christmas so much. Small child who is the dragon’s friend tries to help. Eventually, heartwarmingly, the dragon learns control and burns only… the brandy-soaked Christmas pudding he has brought for the feast! It’s like the Grinch carving the Roast Beast, if the Grinch had actually loved Christmas all along. It’s so prosaic it almost dares you to try doing A Bit about it. Lol, imagine if the dragon burned the city down. Yeah, I mean, that was built in. That’s literally the joke. Lol, the dragon has been created to sell toys. Yes. Again. It’s an advert.

I don’t know. It’s just not got the batshit energy of Sainsbury’s. It’s not even fun to poke holes in. The song is Bastille covering REO Speedwagon. Sorry, I’m out.

Aldi

I juuuuust still don’t give a fuck about Colin the Carrot or whatever. I double don’t care about whatever Peaky Blinders rubbish you’re trying with the concept this year. It was mildly amusing the first year, when it was a parody of John Lewis. Now you’re taking it seriously it’s just sad. I don’t tune in every year for the continuing adventures of your moderately well-animated root vegetable

Lidl

This is much more like it. I have to say, I’m somewhat of a sucker for Christmas adverts that look like Christmas really does. OK, this is even pointing that out “A Christmas you can believe in”, indeed, but that doesn’t matter. Much. It’s a little cynical I suppose. I just dig grey skies, and patches of slush. Cheap looking wrapping paper and tired decorations. It’s a sweet spot.

The “Real British Christmas” bit was, ehhh, off the mark. Maybe they put it together in anticipation of Brexit happening in October so we all might have needed a bit of solidarity in the cold and dark winter months. Or maybe they’re just emphasising that actually, despite being very clearly European they are part of the fabric of the nation now. Which, I guess, yeah?

Sainsbury’s

This is, oh boy, this is a lot. First of all, it answers the eternal question – how come Santa has such affinity with chimneys? Turns out he was a child labourer in… somewhere? This is a whole big question the advert doesn’t give a satisfactory answer to. In fact, it raises more questions during its running time.

So. It begins with a caption saying the year is 1869. And there’s Sainsbury’s, so you might reasonably think “Ah, I see, this is about the very first Sainsbury’s store, which opened in 1869 in Holborn. That, there, must be that exact shop.” Reasonable. Why give so specific a date if you don’t want to make that association? Along, then, comes a gang of child chimney sweeps, bustled along by a Fagin character who is most definitely not actually, you know, Jewish.

I had a quick look, did you know the use of children as chimney sweeps was actually outlawed as long ago as the late 1700s, and the Factory Act of 1833 prohibited the employment of children under nine, and limited the extent to which children under 13 could be put to work. So this fella is dodgy, never mind that he’s not running a gang of pickpockets like what you might have expected. And he steals… I can’t tell. They look like big tomatoes, but everyone’s munching them like apples. Persimmon, maybe? But oh no, our young protagonist is caught trying to put back one that fell! The kindly shopkeeper (not clear if she is owner or employee) is about to tell him it’s fine but oh no! Some weird steampunk cop then drags him through the street while comedy bystanders boo and yell. And then they banish him! Into the snowy mountains with him!

Now I know London now and London 1869 are very different places, but they share a few common factors. For a start, lack of mountains. Banishment a rarity. Both quite large places, lacking a door to the wilderness within dragging distance of Holborn. I mean, I’m starting to think this is NOT set in Victorian London, in which case why the 1869 caption? Just so we can say “Heh. Nice”?

Anyway. The kindly shopkeeper turns up with a persimmon for him to munch. Then he goes and gives his sweep pals ALL the persimmon, and the ABSOLUTELY 100% GENTILE gangleader gets a lump of coal and general public humiliation – it’s not clear how this ends his reign of terror, but it’s implied that it does – and there’s festive cheer all round. Then it gets super weird, because the kindly shopkeeper stands outside the town walls and… looks at contemporary London in the distance? How long did this advert take? 150 years?? WHY DID YOU PUT THAT CAPTION UP??? And then the small boy puts on a Santa hat and walks off to his reindeer. So… was he Father Christmas all along? Is this his origin story? If it is, where did the reindeer come from? If it isn’t, why did he have to go through all the business with being a sweep and then getting banished?

Honestly, what the fuck, Sainsbury’s?

Amazon

First time I ever wrote about Christmas adverts I started with an elegy to the Mars Celebrations advert. Maybe you know the one, it ran for about 60 years and was a bunch of people dancing about in an indefinably odd, definitely not British, city centre. People at the hairdressers, people mopping the floor, all very blue collar. The song they were dancing to was Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, you know, off of Blues Brothers. And look! Look what’s the soundtrack to this advert with everyone singing along, in an indefinably odd, definitely not British city. Following a blue collar worker. Ahhhh, some traditions never go away.

Find this quite unrelatable, mainly because Amazon delivery workers just turn up at your door dressed normally. They have a uniform in the States? Ok, well, that’s probably coming soon here. Can’t… quite shake the feeling that this delivery driver is working a hugely long day for below minimum wage, but hey that’s capitalism, folks! The very meaning of Christmas, indeed. But come on, Jeff. Let her get home to see her kid with the tiny Charlie Brown piano (I forget the name of the little boy who played the piano in Peanuts but you know what I mean). That’s a very American thing, too, isn’t it? We don’t have those tiny grand pianos for children. They get a shit Casio keyboard that plays public domain tunes that the child pretends to play along with. Forgotten by new year. Sad.

ASDA

Speaking of capitalism, it’s current hate-figures ASDA. Why do we hate ASDA right now? Because they forced their workers, on threat of losing their jobs, to sign new, shittier contracts. Just before Christmas!

So how dare they come out with an oddly moving advert that I still hate? Because wow, this is HORRIFYING. That magic aurora borealis jizz is power beyond imagining and it’s fucking evil. It turns humans into snowman-headed chimeras, or living gingerbread. What happens to those people? Do they live like that forever, or what? What if someone BITES A LEG OFF? When the magic wears off do they just have to live with the ragged stump?

And then at the end it turns on a sixpence and, for reasons I can’t understand, brings tears to my eyes. A moment of genuine sweetness right at the finish. Damn.

Argos

Oh no I like this one a lot. I don’t know about you, but I’ve only seen the very short version on telly so please take a couple of minutes to watch the whole thing.

Simple, focused, bursting with heart. The father and daughter chemistry is adorable, the use of a generational anthem is a smart move, the build is nicely sustained, it just makes me happy. It doesn’t have to construct an elaborate narrative, it doesn’t transport you to a fantasy world, it just leans heavily on joy, on loving relationships, on banging drum fills. I’ll regret writing this in a year’s time. I don’t right now.

Marks & Spencer

Two distinct campaigns here, the M&S Food is this year’s Celebrities Trapped In Winter Market staple (Emma Willis and Paddy McGuinness, who both feel a bit B-team, you know?) and a bizarre series of ads based around demonic sweaters forcing their wearers to dance to early-90s hip hop. They’re not quite brave enough to rip off the legendary “Jumper hound” tweet, but it’s clear that they’re intending to, and the final shot of a dog in a jumper is an obvious allusion [edit: They actually have ripped it off on Twitter, but not in the TV advert]. The choreography is quite clever, I grudgingly allow, moving as it does from the arms and giving the dancers an unwilling, dragged-along jerky motion. But that’s also kind of sinister?

 

It’s very one-note, and I’m hard pressed to say much about it. I just wanted it to stop after about twenty seconds, but it didn’t.

Well. There we are. There are others – many others – that I simply don’t have the energy to cover, especially after Marks went ahead with two. Turns out this is a huge industry! There’s just too many of them now! McDonald’s are trailing their Christmas advert, as if we care! And we probably do! After all, as we see year after year, usually someone gets it right. Some corporation hires the right agency, spends HBO levels of money, and it hits home. I don’t mind. It’s Christmas. 

Time Alone

Imitation snow on the window, light blazed, bath filled with thick bubbled. Almost time. Later, water clouded and slick with scented oils, the cold invades once more. Time passed, the time is past. The steam misting the cold window now water again, soaking into the snow-foam.

Cold tiles. Feet bare, tread high and find the bath cold, water stale and still. She steps in, lies back. The water moves slows, closes clammily over her skin. Imitation snow on the window spreads milky patches across the sill. The lights are dim, the blue night grey in the white bathroom.

It is a ritual, performed for no one and no purpose. The oil on the surface is flammable and its blue flame dances will o’the wisp in the room. Corpse-lights. Here, Dracula’s coachman sets a rock to dig in the morning. She extends a leg, and allows all to slip greasily back into the water. She speaks, addressing the room. She incants.

The light will soon be on the other side of the window. True snow is promised in the mellow bulge of the clouds, banking over the distant hills. She takes the water in a small bottle, caps it. Curses, blessings, simple comforts for superstitious minds. She trusts its power. Walks, feet flat to the frigid floor, back out the way she came. Time over.

May Queen in July

This hole is in your head. You have not imagined it, it is in your head. The line of gold bleeds light into your clear, clouded, pearlescent, missing, hidden, shaded, augmented eyes. Your head is the path. This is not in your mind, it is in your head. Look behind you and see how you ripple through our spaces.

Every time you breathe, you choose also not to and the ripples swim and darken, become deeper and more profound. More of you is gone, till the last of you winks out behind a broken wave. The golden thread dims. Please breathe. Your hesitation causes uncertainty. The wrong choice. You are not prepared for this, even as you have been shaped by the walk to reach this point.

The path you walk to each lighted spot is garlanded; honeysuckle and elderflower, juniper and pine, scents the you of now can follow to the next you. May Queen in July, Spring in November. Your path is scented with change and opportunity, follow to the previous you, along the golden line, through the darkening ripples, through the hole in your head.

Sweetness Follows

The end is always the same. Inevitable. Everything broken. How do we begin to explain how it happens, every time? Sweetness cracked like eggshells, hope dimming on her face. Light palled by drawn curtains, summer alive and prowling at the edges of our experience. Birdsong filters through an open window and the realisation that it is late afternoon comes with it.

Continue reading Sweetness Follows

Places of Silence

05.07.2019-promptHard, sometimes, to untangle experience from memory. She raised the phone, tapping the screen to bring the unruly focus under control. The screen presented a world much smaller than her sightline, a compacted miniature of reality in a vivid block of light. Colours burst from every passing pedestrian; yellows and reds the summer side of a bloom of flowers, deep rich purples, slow baby blues the colour of a thought as it escaped knowledge.

There. Good. She tapped again and the image froze, briefly, shearing the moment off from the onward march of reality and into a pocket world of memory – the phone’s memory, the memory of the cloud, incorporeal and endless. Her own memory, whenever she needed it.

This fragment was hers, an image of a crowd breaking around her like the sea. No matter how far she came from this world of damp heat and the close tumult of human contact, she could pick this photograph from a digital file and see. How it was. Who she was when she was here, that was contained behind the image but memory is a two-way process. The memory remembers you also.

She lowered the phone, slipped it like a sea-smoothed pebble into her pocket, moved as if she had never been still into the crowd. Off, now, to places of silence.

 

Headcanon

21.06.2019-promptLight pressed in; the absence of darkness. Heat. A swollen menagerie of floating grotesques bloomed in his eyes as each arc and flare traced its lines on his retina.

He watched through the barrier. It would hold, it would do its job as he did his. He felt at that moment as if he was out there in person, defending the outpost like a knight. His shield held aloft, the bursts of arcing phosphor spears and arrows of a brutish army. He could smell the farmyard rank of the cavalry horses, the sharp fear-stink of the infantry trapped in their metal suits as surely as he was. At the end of the battle they would be prised out as heroes or as meat.

He was in an air-conditioned bunker, far below the surface. The monitors ahead of him blazed with the light of the attack but he felt nothing. No heat. Not even his heart beating faster. A trackball moved under his cool palm, recalibrating the aerial defence system. Eventually even this would be unnecessary. He was Atlas, supporting the sky, becoming stone. Raindrops could, given time, reduce him to dust. He just had to wait.

The lights pressed in. He dimmed the screens.

The Centre of the School

This is the centre of the school. Wide stairs, lost to the outside, the broad, darkly-lacquered wood last seeing daylight as an expansive oak. These knot-holed bolt-holes are peppered with ghosts of conversations had at right-angles, echoes bumped and rolled through click-clack heel-halls.

Stand here, on the landing, wait for it. Wait for the bell that moves the school, that animates these pass-throughs. So much smaller than adults, children make up for this by filling their immediate environment with sound, with their boiling-hot personalities. Their humanity, still plastic, fizzing, seeps into every woodworm pock in these old beams.

Stand here and let the waves of them crash around you.

Then nothing, and they are somebody else’s puzzle to solve. The staircase eases itself into shape, cracking and shivering. The whispering gallery of interconnected corridors returns. Gossip drifts on dead breezes, the only voices now the low murmur of the teachers. A laugh cracks through the stairwell, gunshot sharp. It chases out a joke that will never be funny again, wrong time wrong place wrong person, it hit there it hit then. Here, in the heart.

Chaser

15.03.2019-prompt

Knocked back, flat by the boom of it, water running over his eyes in blinding trails. His vision throbbed like a toothache, the streak white across the middle, scarring the land as he tried to focus on the horizon. The rain may as well have been a shower, he could be back in his hotel, naked in the glass cubicle, cold water pounding on him as his clothes offered no protection.

They call it storm chasing, but the storm was chasing him now, a wild thing thrashing at his being. The wind didn’t so much howl as scream, a constant bellowing roar at all pitches simultaneously. He could not hear himself, but he knew he was screaming too, a sound torn out of him by the base animal he had found himself reduced to.

He abandoned his post, his equipment was scattered and useless anyway. He’d felt rather than seen his camera smash, the lens that had suffered so much in the past without a scratch or smear reduced to a pulp of iridescent glass rubble.

He ran towards the safety of his car, a low-slung, heavy brute of an off-roader. In a city it would be absurd. Here, it looked like a palace. It rocked on its axles, threatening to tumble away before he could grab the door. In a last burst of determination, he made it into the sanctuary of the driver’s seat, where he sat, shivering and defeated, and waited for the storm to chase new lands.

Going to Town

The scents of Christmas – cinnamon, pine, the muted sharpness of oranges – were starting to feel oppressive. He’d lost his taste for mulled wine this year, and the warmed-over dregs of a cheap rioja, with shards of broken star anise floating like driftwood on the surface, disgusted him. The snow settling outside depressed him, made him feel trapped and lonely.

Continue reading Going to Town