Our latest Spot of the Week was directed by Tony Kaye who, to people in Ad-land, might be the most famous - as well as infamous, some would say - commercials director of the past 30 years. (Infamous, amongst other things, for stunts such as taking a rabbi, a monk and a priest with him to a Hollywood meeting – something that actually found its way into "Hail, Caesar," the Coen Brothers' latest – or dressing as Osama bin Laden.) Which, for me, is as good a reason as any to showcase my favourite commercials directed by him before heading off for Hollywood and a rather bumpy career in feature films. In the second half of the 90s, Kaye went to Hollywood to direct one of the most talked about feature film debuts of the decade, “American History X.” It starred Edward Norton, who won an Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his portrayal of a former neo-Nazi skinhead. Kaye had a lot of trouble with New Line Cinema, the production company, which interfered with his edit and even handed it over to Norton. Kaye went as far as to publicly disown the film and sued – but lost – to have his name removed from the credits.
Tony Kaye first burst into the commercials scene in the UK with two spots in the late 1980s:
Client: Solid Fuel. Title: Furry Friends. Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, London. Art Director: Adrian Kemsley. Copywriter: Charles Hendley. Director: Tony Kaye. Production Company: Tony Kaye & Partners, London.
When asked by Hermann Vaske, back in the Archive interview in 3-1989, if it was difficult to work with the animals in Furry Friends , Kaye said, "The animals got along brilliantly but not the trainers. They had different trainers for each animal, and they hated each other. They were arguing throughout the entire shoot about everything. And while they were arguing, the three animals got along with each other really, really well." (see interview with Tony Kaye in Vol. 3-1989)
The agency behind both of them was Saatchi & Saatchi, London, then under the creative direction of the late Paul Arden. In order to get Saatchi & Saatchi interested in him he had previously climbed up on the roof of their building in London's Charlotte Street from where he threw leaflets bearing the words "You have to work with Tony Kaye!"
Client: Intercity. Title: Sleeper. Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, London. Art Director: Paul Arden. Copywriter: Paul Arden. Director: Tony Kaye. Production Company: Tony Kaye & Partners, London.
Interestingly, at the time, Saatchi's work for British Rails was criticized heavily for giving a completely false impression of traveling by rail in the UK; an exasperating and squalid experience at the time, or so I've been told, and nothing even remotely similar to what Saatchi's adverts suggested.
The ad that turned me into a fan of Kaye's work was this 1993 spot for Dunlop that illustrated the tyre brand's claim "Tested for the Unexpected" in a series of bizarre images and to the soundtrack of The Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs." Of course, since then this type of concept has been done so many times, especially in endless variations on that theme in car adverts, that it has become somewhat of a cliché and makes it perhaps hard to imagine just what a breakthrough this commercial was at the time.
Client: Dunlop. Title: Venus in Furs. Agency: AMV BBDO, London. Art Director: Walter Campbell. Copywriter: Tom Carty. Director: Tony Kaye. Production Company: Tony Kaye & Partners, London.
Two years later he followed this up with a remarkable series of Volvo ads (and working with the same creative team at Abbott Mead Vickers, Walter Campbell and Tom Carty) from which Twister is perhaps the most spectacular one, and possibly the only commercial to spawn an eponymous Hollywood disaster flick.
Client: Volvo. Title: Twister. Agency: AMV BBDO, London. Art Director: Walter Campbell. Copywriter: Tom Carty. Director: Tony Kaye. Production Company: Tony Kaye & Partners, London.
1996 had Kaye collaborate once more with the duo of Campbell and Carty on a stunning TV and cinema campaign, Guinness “Black and White," which was awarded with just about all the prizes worth winning, including an Epica d'Or of that year.
Client: Guinness. Title: Men and Women. Agency: Ogilvy & Mother, London. Art Director: Clive Yaxley. Copywriter: Jerry Gallaher. Director: Tony Kaye. Production Company: Tony Kaye & Partners, London.
As for films on the big screen, in the one and a half decades since “American History X” Kaye has only created two more films, both critically acclaimed: “Lake of Fire” (2006), a documentary, and more recently “Detachment” from 2011, starring Adrian Brody, looking at the life of an inner-city substitute teacher. I quite enjoyed that film, found it very well-acted and moving, even though at the same time I was annoyed by the look it occasionally affected: the look of a fashion or even perfume ad. The way Adrian Brody was at times photographed dressing in immaculate shirts and living in a chicly-picturesque flat to my mind didn't really gel with the inner-city grittiness that the narrative otherwise suggested.
Tony Kaye was interviewed by Hermann Vaske for Lürzer's Archive a second time for Vol. 6-2013. At the time, Kaye was set to embark on a big budget production, “The Merchant of Shanghai,” originally slated to be directed by Taylor Hackford. The biopic about opium dealer and property magnate Silas Hardoon, who transformed Shanghai in the 19th century, has apparently since fallen through. Instead, Kaye has now announced on his Facebook page that he will be turning Joe Vinciguerra's screenplay, "Stranger Than The Wheel" into a movie featuring Shia LaBeouf. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this project materializes.
Edward Norton in American History X (1998), Kaye’s first feature film.
Still from Kaye’s documentary Lake of Fire (2007), which was shortlisted for an Oscar.
Adrian Brody in Detachment (2011), a movie much acclaimed by the critics.