Cars on screen

As a somewhat regular filmgoer, I often fall prey to the motor industry’s marketing messages.  Yes, we the cinema going public are apparently gagging for a new car, strong liquor and something to treat our terrible acne (mostly recently interminably promoted by a CGI goose) – which does feel less than ideal as a combination.  On the whole, the ad reel is entirely independent of the cinema or film – but I did recently discover a couple of exceptions.

  • Before the Shaun the Sheep movie (U), the ad reel was really very different, nothing to dull the pain of existence or excise my spots, but full of much brighter colours and mysterious products which I presume were aimed at much younger viewers (and left me begging for strong liquor).
  • In Scotland, an ad for the NatWest morphs into one for the Royal Bank of Scotland, losing the dulcet voice-over tones of Rebecca Front to be replaced by a someone with a Scottish accent and changing the corporate logo in the branch at the end (but nothing else).

But, I should return to the plot (such as it is) and the attempts by car makers to flog their wares.  What I have come to realise in these visual offerings is that the vehicles always have UK licence plates, but are clearly not in the UK (and frequently admit that the model shown does not even exist in the UK).  Why is it so important to maintain this flimsiest of fictions?   Would the actors’ skin tones be darkened for sunnier markets as well – or have they been lightened for cloudy Britain?

More importantly, the cars are always being driven either on entirely deserted streets or in some barren wilderness (the latter is normally true if the vehicle is a 4×4).  Clearly, we are being sold some entirely spurious idea of freedom which the automobile is supposed to deliver – and I suppose if we go back far enough in time, once did.  However, to me it looks as though motor manufacturers are in complete denial about the existence of traffic or are hoping their clients will only wish to use their cars after the recent detonation of a neutron bomb (or perhaps in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse).  This gives all the ads a somewhat dystopian feel which seems at odds with the desire to shift product.

A few recent ads, show a “classic” car from a company’s product line and then show it driving near to its latest incarnation.  Without exception (for me at least) these make the older car look much the more attractive – but that may be down to my age.  However, the message seems to be: look how ugly our new car is, why not try and find a decent second-hand example from when our cars weren’t designed be a committee of accountants?

I think this demonstrates why (a) I am a poor target for advertising (I insist on taking home the wrong message) and (b) should never be hired to work in marketing – or perhaps I am the small boy pointing out the emperor’s nudity in this scenario?  The ads rarely look cheap (though clearly are recycled across multiple markets) so I assume someone has checked whether they actually do any good?  Still, I probably shouldn’t complain as they must be subsidising my cinema-going habit – though I must try and curb the desire to laugh (or at least splutter) at some of the more egregious examples.

In a related topic, I have noticed the frequency with which characters on both film and TV will have a conversation whilst in a moving vehicle.  The only problem with this idea is the apparent difficulty of doing this in real life on both safety and continuity grounds (I would guess) means that the world outside the vehicle is usually faked.  My issue is that it tends to be faked really badly – even on otherwise high-budget productions.  It is usually a little better at night, but would still rarely fool anyone who has ever been in a vehicle while in possession of functioning eyes.  Entire series are made leaning heavily on (often quite convincing) CGI, but somehow no-one can create a convincing backdrop for a moving car.  Given this clear difficulty, surely it would make sense to hold fewer (or no) conversations in moving cars? It is not as though (in the real world) people only talk in cars, there are lots of alternatives!  Is the “moving” of the vehicle supposed to distract us from some slightly dull (if plot critical) exposition?  Or is it just down to a failure of the teaching in film school?  Is avoiding this issue part of the allure of period drama?

Vehicular nomenclature

There was a period in my (relative) youth when many manufacturers were content to give their cars only a number to identify the basic model.  Peugeot still uses this method, while only one letter away Audi name their cars after ISO216 paper sizes and Citroen go with the related envelopes.

Others do make more of an effort. In the recent past, Volkswagen have named their cars after ball games (Polo and Golf are clear enough, but I’m not sure about the rules of Passat), canids (Fox and Lupo) or winds (Scirocco).  However, I recently spotted the new VW up! (please note the exclamation mark is the work of VW rather than the author).  I’m not sure if we should expect to see the VW WALL-E or the VW Strange next: are they running through the oeuvre of Pixar or the names of quarks?

Talking of unnecessary punctuation in car names, what is one to make of the Kia cee’d?    It clearly isn’t a possessive and it seems unclear what letter (or group of letters) have been replaced by the apostrophe.  My theory is that the word must be taken from the Kx’a family of languages from Southern Africa and is some sort of click consonant – though this does not help me with pronunciation.

Naturally, I drive a Toyota iQ – which is clearly an entirely sensible name and very cheap to run (or in my case, mostly to not run).  I assume it was named after a cool, modern, hi-tech version of the letter Q.

Feeling Smug

Foreign readers may be unaware of the fuel-based entertainment provided last week by the government here in the UK.  In response to a possible (not certain, mark you) strike by tanker drivers at the end of April, our sagacious leaders suggested that we all panic buy petrol and/or diesel now (at the end of March).  Fearing that this may cause insufficient chaos, they then went on to suggest that we should not stop at filling up our vehicles but should also stockpile fuel in jerry cans in our garages, outbuildings and – for all I know – houses.

Oh, what larks, Pip!  Long queues at every filling station (well, those that had not already run out of fuel) and huge amounts of unnecessary anxiety ahead of the holiday period.  By now, this whole country must be considered an explosion hazard, so can I suggest if any readers are planning to visit the UK that they take care with naked flames or sparks as the whole country could go up in flames if we’re not all very careful (you might consider packing a bucket of sand or fire extinguisher, just in case).  Personally, I’m worried about the forthcoming round-country trip by the Olympic torch: surely a major incident waiting to happen.

As the regular reader will know, my preferred forms of transport are the velocipede and train (depending on distance).  I do have a car, but as I only drive around 800 miles a year (as compared to the 4,000-5,000 miles covered on two wheels) I only have to fill-up two or three times per annum (depending on how much I’m willing to trust the fuel gauge).  Even then, I resent the whole process: driving is bad enough without the whole inconvenience of having to visit a filling station every six months (normally having forgotten where my car’s petrol cap is located) and worse still, they expect you to pay for the privilege!

Having bought some petrol in February, I should be set until September – and so have been able to watch all the recent excitement as a (rather smug) spectator.  If the banana boat drivers (or what ever the maritime equivalent might be) take industrial action, I will be in more trouble – but I’m sure I could find an alternative fruit to fuel my legs if I must.  However, I wouldn’t want you to think I am entirely heartless (even if I am) and I do recognise that many are dependent on more frequent visits to the purveyors of liquid alkanes through no fault of their own.  I was thus intrigued to see a survey carried out for the Independent which suggested that 4 out of 5 people blame the government for the crisis.  This led me to wonder (a) who was the fifth person (William Hague?) and (b) who do they blame?

The crisis also started me thinking about a route to a more sustainable transport system.  Given the huge importance of oil as an industrial feedstock, the strictly finite reserves in existence and the very long timescales for the planet to create any new stock it has struck me since I was a nipper as somewhat insane to just burn the stuff.  The massive increases in fuel costs in recent years seem to have had only a very modest impact on consumption – and none at all on the number of vehicles – so perhaps we need a new approach.  My wizard wheeze is to stop focusing on cost, and instead look at reliability of supply.  If the government can keep generating these crises on a random basis, I think the frequent and massive inconvenience caused could provide the push we all need to switch to electric cars (or back to steam!).