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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World's Longest Commercial Break

A studious-looking Russian correspondent in the corner ventured this: As an art form, aren't television advertisements a little, well, commercial?


The question was delivered with an appealing ingenuousness. A hush fell over the press conference. We all took a deep breath, sat back, and watched Jean Marie Boursicot take him to school.


Which he did. Mozart, after all, wrote his Requiem on contract, pointed out Boursicot, a 40-year-old Parisian. State subsidies are not always forthcoming in the West, and artists have to eat like anyone else. And finally -- and you got the sense he had given this speech before -- what is so wrong with making money?


"Money," noted Boursicot, who has spent the last 13 years enshrining the art of the market, "is useful.


"In every country except America, there is this idea that money is dirty," he added, and then cut to the chase, plaintively: "Everybody thinks that advertising is not an art."


Boursicot disagrees, and has taken his argument to its most grandiose possible dimension: a seven-hour compilation of some of the best advertisements ever aired, produced by some of the best directors who ever had to eat like anyone else -- among them Franco Zeffirelli, Claude LeLouche, Jean-Luc Godard, Salvador Dali and Roman Polanski.


He takes his show on the road once a year, and has now covered 16 countries. Six months ago the 1993 "Night of the Ad-Eaters" toured Krakow and Warsaw, and on Friday it will be presented at Moscow's Estrada Theater. With the cooperation of the Russian firm "Festival" and hefty sponsorship from Absolut Vodka, Muscovites will be able to enjoy more commercials all at once than many of them have seen in their lifetime.


While the show does highlight the work of Serious Artists, Boursicot takes a recreational approach to "Night of the Ad-Eaters," an event that celebrates the retro pop glamour of advertising, or, as the French would have it, le pub.


"It's not like Cannes," where the density of genius can be exhausting, said Thomas Koch, Boursicot's assistant.


"We don't want to intellectualize," Boursicot stressed.


He's not in much danger. The show itself is a visual binge for the MTV generation. Classics such as David Lynch's "Geo" jeep spot and Nikita Mikhalkov's "Barilla Spaghetti" trailer, a four-minute film with 20 minutes of credits, are strung together into a production that even Koch described as "very hard" to watch straight through, but which lends itself to a night, and a subsequent morning, of general festivity.


"It is absolutely not the idea to sit and watch for seven hours," Koch said.


This effect will likely be heightened by the event's timing: "Night of the Ad-Eaters" kicks off at midnight and continues for a full seven hours, until, as Koch points out, public transportation is running again.


In Paris, Boursicot has developed a cult following, and Le Monde once described the event as "an exploding cocktail of rock concert, football game, and county fair." Indeed, Boursicot's array of self-promoting novelty items (lapel pins featuring a Christ-like naked man tied to a column and posters of a neo-classical naked man kneeling coyly) suggest a dubious nightclub rather than a screening-room.


Boursicot's preoccupation with advertising began when he was a 10-year-old film enthusiast in Marseilles. Growing up next door to a cinema, he would sift through its trash for scraps of film, but he almost never got hold of the feature. Instead, he began collecting the advertising trailers that the owners snipped off the end of the reel.


These days, Boursicot is well known as one of the few advertisement archivists around, and firms will sometimes call him up to review their own campaigns, Koch said. His collection spans from 1905 up until 1993, and include samples from across the world.


The best new advertising is coming out of Africa and Asia, where "it is still a new art form," said Boursicot. In America and Europe, the influence of MTV, with its pounding beat and rapid juxtaposition of images, has shaped recent work into homogeneity, he added.


To date, not one clip has come from Russia. Russian marketing is still in its early stages -- but by no means is "Night of the Ad-Eaters" meant to venture into the didactic.


"We're not here to give lessons," Koch said. It seems clear that they are here to give a party.





"Night of the Ad-Eaters" will be shown at the Estrada Theater, 20/2 Bersenevskaya Naberezhnaya, on Friday from midnight to 7 A.M. Tel. 230-0444. Tickets available through "Festival" at 245-1726. The film will be screened at St. Petersburg's Oktyabrskaya Cinema on Jan. 29.