A cartoon bird is rendered stark raving mad at the sight of chocolate puffs. Malt liquor heralds the appearance of a rampaging bull. A gargantuan, anthropomorphic Jug crashes through walls and exhorts parched children to drink of its garishly colored bodily fluids. Heck, who needs hallucinogens when you've got commercials?
Clinton Street Theater projectionist and archivist Dennis Nyback spent an estimated one thousand hours compiling the exhaustive, exhausting 40 Years of Classic Commercials, and his staggering labor of loath results in a tsunami of lacerating nostalgia destined to leave the viewer in a happily dazed anti-consumer fog. Even experienced remote-control jockeys may wish to slow down and behold the nature of the insidious, between-show beast.
A formidable number of instantly recognizable pop-culture milestones are included within the 90-plus minute program (and yes, that damnable Dr. Pepper jingle from the '70s still possesses the ability to imprint directly onto one's brainpan), but the main attraction comes from a slew of wholly flabbergasting what-were-they-thinking? moments. The bizarro American beauties on display include Frontiersmen slaughtering Native Americans to push cigarettes, B&W actresses demonstrating the staying power of their lip gloss by firing up a filter-tip, and a gleaming spokeswoman happily pitching an ultimately lethal feminine product. Nyback, coming off like a caffeinated melding of Noam Chomsky and P.T. Barnum, provides a unifying linkage of witty intertitles and the occasional brief lecture.
Gawking at the gooniest of corporate whoredom has been a staple of Dick Clark and Ed McMahon horselaughs for years, but Nyback's obsessive focus elevates this revue far above a simple kitsch-fest into something consistently amusing and more than a little disturbing. Watch, and clammily realize the extent to which the dial has touched you.