Food as Product: Lover Come Back (1961)
|(image via secretsofstory.com)|
This is my second post for the Food in Film Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings, this time focusing on the Doris Day and Rock Hudson film Lover Come Back.
I'm of the somewhat unpopular opinion that Lover Come Back is the best of the trio of films Doris Day and Rock Hudson made together. What I like about it above the others is that it has an actual plot behind the typical romantic shenanigans, that being its look into the world of advertising. This allows it to function not only as a likable romantic comedy, but also as a rather biting satire of modern advertising that still feels incredibly relevant today. While I think all of us classic movie fans have an appreciation for these films as time capsules to another era, there's something special about finding a movie that was ahead of its time and actually foreshadows elements of modern society, as this one does.
|(image via bettesmovieblog.blogspot.com)|
Lover Come Back is the follow-up to the smash-hit Pillow Talk, and sees Day and Hudson as rival advertisers. Day works hard to come up with great ideas for her prospective clients, while Hudson's approach is to get them drunk and surround them with pretty girls; while Day is obviously the more professional and competent of the pair, Hudson's techniques ultimately prove more effective, leading to a feud that has Day absolutely determined to acquire the new VIP account before Hudson can sign it. One problem: VIP is not an actual product. Hudson filmed a number of fake commercials for less-than-ethical purposes--one of his party girls was threatening to expose his shady business practices until he offered her the valuable opportunity to be the "VIP Girl"-- and intended to shelve the ads permanently. Unfortunately for him, they wind up on the air anyway, and now the whole country is clamoring for VIP. If the Ad Council discovers that Hudson's company has been advertising a non-existent product, their reputation will be ruined, so he turns to an inventor friend to come up with a suitable product to be "VIP". In the meantime, Day mistakes Hudson for the inventor, and he carries on the ruse to keep her distracted while the real inventor works frantically to create something in time for "V-day".
Now, when Hudson initially approaches the inventor, he makes it clear that the product can be anything: toothpaste, cigarettes, a lotion, anything. The entire advertising campaign is built around not showing or describing the product, only espousing that it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. The VIP girl, wonderfully played by Edie Adams, poses alluringly for the camera as, in a series of increasingly outrageous commercials, she credits VIP with everything good in her life--her figure, her husband, even her child.
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At the time, this film was a parody of the advertising world, but today much of it reads as entirely plausible. I don't know if any company has actually sold a product that doesn't exist, but certainly we see many advertising campaigns for products not yet released, as well as an influx of these kinds of exaggerated commercials for rather insipid goods.
In the end, the product bestowed with the VIP label is food: pastel-colored mints that, when swallowed, enter the bloodstream as pure alcohol. For only 10 cents a mint! The Ad Council is rather unimpressed when Hudson presents a box of them as evidence of VIP, but as he points out to them, he never said VIP was anything more than a mint. The situation reflects the structure of modern advertising, in which outrageous claims are a part of most ads, but they are always presented in a manner that cannot be refuted. Even in the case of VIP, the claims made by the VIP Girl are pretty airtight: while it's hard to imagine how alcoholic mints could improve your figure, alcohol consumption can certainly lead to marriage and pregnancy. While the context of the actual product makes the ads even funnier than they were to begin with, the selling points they incorporate could be applied to basically anything and are almost impossible to argue against.
|(image via notthistimenaylandsmith.blogspot.ca)|
Now, what's particularly interesting about all of this is the choice to have VIP be a food product. At the time this film was released, food as a commercial product was still a new concept: 1961 was only 16 years removed from WWII, and food is historically an incredibly precious and valuable thing during war-times. It was the post-war prosperity that changed everything, birthing the culture we live in today where food is mass-produced, uniform in appearance, and entirely disposable. Something essential to life became a product to be bought, sold, and marketed, just like anything else.
The art history class I'm taking right now includes a unit on food in art, and as I re-watched this film, the appearance of "VIP" reminded me of a painting called "Pie Counter" by Wayne Thiebaud that he painted in 1963, 2 years after the release of this film.
|(image via artblot.wordpress.com)|
The painting is visually appealing, but as you look more closely, you realize how bland and unappetizing the pies really are. This painting is both a depiction and a critique of this modern food culture, where mass-produced and mass-consumed "cafeteria food" is the new ideal. This new way of thinking is clearly seen when the Ad Council is presented with "VIP" and they start digging in: one asks how many different colors there are, and upon finding out that there's 6, it's suggested that everyone present have one of each color. When did color become a valuable factor in food consumption? It's a huge cultural shift that has occurred rather dramatically, and a film like this one is the lasting evidence of it.
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A lot has changed since 1961, and Lover Come Back does serve as a time capsule in many ways, particularly in the atrocious interior decorating glimpsed throughout the film. However, the relevance of this story is actually greater today than in 1961, a look into a future where the world is run by advertising and absolutely anything can be desirable if presented in the right way. In particular, a world where a basic necessity has become as commercial and marketable as toothpaste, or cigarettes, or body lotion. It's a strange world we live in now--and I can't help wondering when a real-life version of VIP will hit the market! For all I know, it already has.
Be sure to check out all of the other delicious entries in the Food in Film Blogathon. Maybe find a post about a nice home-cooked meal to help get this commercial taste out of your mouth!