Eisenstein’s “Conflicts” in TV Advertising

Sergei Eisenstein not only pushed film forward as a director; but he was also one of the earliest theorists defining the potentials of film – in particular dialectical montage.

Several years back I was examining how film techniques established by Eisenstein and other the masters of the silent era were still being used in advertising campaigns.

The following analysis breaks down a particular commercial—in this case for Bayer aspirin—the elements discussed are applicable to many of the standardized commercial fare of today.

While this ad (“There’s no pain you can’t Bayer”) no longer is in rotation. I think there’s still some benefit to the analysis.

The ad in question started out with a barrage of “loud” images, a montage in you will, of scenes which portray conflict in everyday life:  police cars, traffic jams, headlines in newspapers of pitfall of society, TV politicians and evangelists, and trouble in the home with a spouse or with children.

The ad then displayed an oversize Bayer logo; presenting to the viewer the entity that breaks down conflict bringing peace and joy into our lives, followed by a barrage of uplifting images:  a woman with a content look and a bouquet of flowers sitting in the sun looking very serene.

Amidst the various scenes that were presented the author of the commercial tapped into a number of “conflicts” that were key to Eisenstein’s theories:

Close-up of an old man with a newspaper. Conflicts of volume and depth, with the newspaper serving as metaphor, possibly the initiator of the events about to be played out before us.

Zoom in to police officer. Pan right across line of police vehicles w/flashers on: Conflict of space found in the contrasting direction of vehicles and camera.

Intercut shots of rock star give stroblit effect and sense of imbalance. An awkward rhythm is created through the insertion of various lengths of black: Conflict is created by flashing from 5 medium shots to 2 sudden close shots.  The change of poses between the shots also creates conflict.

Close shot of woman w/baby shot at angle. Cut to MLS of woman still holding baby, objects tilted downward toward the left with two more children weighing down left side of screen: Conflict in depth created by the empty hallways behind this seen while actors are aligned in one plane.

WS of foundry workers moving from screen right to left. Camera is stagnant.  Cut to CU of hand reaching for timecard: This is a dark image.  Conflict arises in the jump from WS to CU.   Viewer  does not know who is punching timecard.

A biker, screen center, in foreground of traditional Renaissance perspective city scene. At issue here is conflict in depth.  As city buildings pass and cars get smaller in the area behind him.  Our first subliminal text “RELIEF” emerges highlighted in blue.   Exercise (biking) plus our product (Bayer) equals Relief.   Subliminal  text moving left to right across lower third of screen created conflict of direction with biker who goes right to left.

A TV screen, slightly slanted, ECU face of politician or evangelist. Cut to CU of mouth ranting. Conflict in volume.  Frame divided with horizontal lines also causes conflict.  Text “NEW” enters upper 1/3 screen from right to left and in bottom third from left to right; highlighted in red.   Resulting concept: new politics (pertinent to election year), new religion, new feeling.

Frame within frame: MS of woman standing and man sitting.  Jump cut to man’s dark body  engulfing woman’s light body.  Jump cut MCU of jacket thrown over man’s head.  Screen left is dark.  Text “STOMACH GUARD.”  Conflict of dark and light.  Message that product relieves emotional conflict.

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