Credit: AP Photo
Documentarian Morgan Spurlock hosted a traditional premiere of his latest film "POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" last week in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, it made its East Coast debut in a city that built its name around the title's success: POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Penn.
The Central Pennsylvanian town of Altoona, Penn., agreed to rename its city for 60 days to the tune of $25,000, and for the sake of Spurlock's point. The Sundance-selected film argues that everything these days -- from sacred institutions to urinal cakes -- is up for sale to advertisers. Hollywood has been saturated by product placements, schools are willing to backbend in order to make up for budget shortfalls and companies are willing to drop top dollar for sponsoring A-list talent if it means an edge over the competition.
Spurlock managed to make a film about sponsorship and advertising based solely on a budget generated by sponsorship and advertising, with companies like Jet Blue, Hyatt, Penn.-based convenience store chain Sheetz, Ban and POM paying up to $1 million for a piece of the pie.
And if an American city is willing to allow its name to be similarly co-opted by a corporation, who is to stop them except its consumers -- er -- citizens?
This week, the "Super Size Me" filmmaker -- in concert with the film's sponsors -- brought publicists and media in New York to visit Altoona during the historic ceremony, to see the sights, devour the brands and watch the East Coast premiere in what they described as "the Greatest Day Ever." Below, I give a general blow-by-blow of what occurred, from arrival to the bitter, snacky end. And of course we flew Jet Blue. Of course.
[Journey starts after the jump...]
6:54 a.m.: It’s early, so I keep calling Morgan Spurlock “Morlock” in my head. I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it.
7:22 a.m.: Skip to the front of the line at JFK security, which is anybody’s airport dream ever, except you still have to take off your shoes. The junket seems to consist of a ton of publicists and dudes with glasses. There’s a lot of picture-taking at the terminal and Spurlock’s looking spry and rocking the full-branded jacket. High functioning and energy stirs suspicion in me that he and/or his handlers are cyborgs.
8:35 a.m.: POM martinis and mimosas, usual crop of Jet Blue salted snacks. I’m offered alcoholic beverages more than once and it is not yet 9 a.m.
9:07 a.m.: Nap No. 1
10:12 a.m.: Spurlock takes something like 30,000 pictures with the plane. The plane holds a steady camera face. Collection of marketing folk seem tantalized to be standing, at length, on a airplane tarmac. State College is gorgeous.
10:56 a.m.: Ushered on a nice coach bus. Tourist documentation and booklets from Altoona business bureau.
11:15 a.m.: I’ve been issued my inaugural Sheetz snack bag. Snacks, you say?
11:16 a.m.: Nap No. 2
12:32 p.m.: Arrival at the Altoona city hall, and there’s Sheetz doughnuts and coffee and I’m not above saying no. It’s an easy eyeful determining who is a local Altoonaian and who is carted in from the big city.
12:40 p.m.: Spurlock is glad-handing the local high school cheer squad and marching band. The former has quaint chants about “let’s go POM!” The latter performs Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.” I wonder how the Prince of Darkness would feel about this.
12:52 p.m.: A ragtag crew of kids are protesting the scene, demanding that the $25,000 that Altoona earned for selling its name should go toward “education NOT incarceration,” the schools and not the police department.
1:02 p.m.: Sheetz prez describes Spurlock as a pitch-man and a pimp, among some other (positive) adjectives. Spurlock looks pleased.
1:09 p.m.: If there’s such thing as a sarcasm marathon, Morlock is winning. He discusses the opportunities in the future for us to have “Pepsi, Tennessee” or maybe “Axe Body Spray, Oregon.” Not only is he aware that the meta-commentary of “POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” just went fourth-quadrant meta with the renaming, but he’s got both eyes open on what this event ultimately yields: publicity. While the rest of the country is hand-wringing over the Obama birth certificate, Spurlock and his co-conspirators continue to sell-out of selling-out by shelling-out for an absolutely absurd name of an American town.
1:12 p.m.: The mayor reads a well-worded proclamation of the town name change, adding to the absurdity, and furthermore makes it clear that if the name of the town were to be changed to merely POM Wonderful, we’d never be here ‘cause it wouldn’t happen. G-O, let’s go POM.
11:13 p.m.: An enormous banner with the new town name is unfurled and it looks predictably advertise-y and tacky as hell. It’s marvelous.
1:20 p.m.: Cinemablend’s Katey Rich
and I talk with a local woman and her daughter about the name-change. They seem somewhat indifferent -- if not just simply amused -- by the act, and are planning on sending a letter to themselves with new town name in the address just to see if it works.
1:42 p.m.: One of the marching band kids says something to the effect that he doesn’t mind being a fruit for a little while.
2:06 p.m.: We clearly need to be fed and Sheetz has opened the whole barn door to us at their mega-palace. It’s everything that made you stomach-sick and head-happy during “Super Size Me,” only with electronic menus and beer. The afternoon becomes unofficially sponsored by Stella Artois.
2:51 p.m.: Spurlock re-appears to unveil a sign leading into town, informing visitors of its new name. I think around 456,300 pictures have been taken of him by now. He has managed to keep his clothes on.
4:15 p.m.: Arrival at the Jaffa Center, greeted by Shriners. I cannot remember the last time I was greeted by a Shriner. A miniature pony, too, is on-site for a salutation. It pleases me so.
4:46 p.m.: Spurlock and I do a Q&A. He is charming and professional. Stay tuned for that post.
6:00 p.m. Ultra-large bags and boxes of Sour Patch Kids, Milk Duds, Twizzlers and other typical cinema accoutrement is served to a crowd of about 250. Sheetz has an extended video promo for its franchise, and I gotta feelin’ they didn’t pay to license the song that accompanies.
6:09 p.m. Spurlock is rocking a headset and makes reference to Tom Cruise in “Magnolia.” Respect the hock?
6:12 p.m. According the sorts of applause generated by the opening parade of brands in the film, the genetic makeup of said crowd seems to consist mostly of local Sheetz employees and friends, Mini-Cooper aficionados and a whole lot of people from POM.
6:28 p.m.: The child-actor who performs as Spurlock’s son in the film is sitting in front of us, and the F-bomb has been dropped for the first time. Mom’s body language indicates a sigh.
8 p.m.: People seemed to really enjoy the film. They are also exiting the theater with huge boxes of popcorn and Milk Duds of their very own.
8:05 p.m.: Sub sandwiches, sliders, beer, wine and tables featuring literal piles of cookies. Premiere attire runs the gamut of gowns with heels to Steamers jerseys.
8:55 p.m.: Coach buses re-stocked with gift bags from places like Boyer and McIntyre’s Candies and Benzel’s Pretzels. I, and my companions, are Super Sized.
9 p.m. Nap No. 3
10:15 p.m.: Jet Blue departure delay announced, best guess is midnight. POM open bar. Mulling the word “capacity,” hashtag #greatestdayever.