Panasonic HD TV
by Judith Williamson
At first sight I thought this was an advertisement for a video camera: its image and caption seem to be entirely about cinematography. The photo positions us looking at a landscape from behind the shoulder of a man making a ‘viewfinder’ with his hands, while the part of the scene he frames is presented inset, slightly larger than in the main image and overlaid on it, towards the bottom right of the page. The main caption, "True to the Director’s Vision", pins down the meaning of the situation unambiguously: this is the director and that is his vision.
The tropes employed in this scenario are well-worn: the director has trendily silvered hair, a stubbled cheek (which is all we can see of his face) and black sunglasses. The scene in front of him, and us, is an open country of scrubland with distant hills on the horizon, and at the centre of it a dirt road with a car driving away into the sunset, an orange sky with the sun hanging low behind old-fashioned telegraph poles. This is clichéd, but with a purpose: it shouts Cinema with a capital ‘C’. The reference is not just any old filmmaking but Big Movies, the ‘real thing’.
The idea of the ‘real thing’ is also key to the relation between the main photo and the inset image – a relation which is the central dynamic of the ad. The inset is clearly differentiated as an image: not only does it present an enlargement of the framed view – the car, road, and the sun behind the telegraph poles are closer-up than in the main picture – but, crucially, it is angled in a way that shows it is some kind of flat screen, tilted inwards towards the plane of the page. It suggests that the ‘director’s vision’ can be captured truly on screen – unsurprising material for a camera ad that places you in the director’s shoes.
It was only when I read the small print at the bottom of the page that I realised the ad is actually for a high definition television:
"Introducing our new DX909 televisions, available in 65” and 58”. Thanks to High Dynamic Range (HDR), every picture is faithfully reproduced as the filmmaker intended, with stunning clarity and incredible detail... Tuned by Hollywood professionals to achieve industry-benchmark Ultra HD Premium and THX 4K certification, the power of pure cinema is now showing in your home."
This emphasis on "Hollywood professionals" and "the power of pure cinema" makes sense of the main image and inset in a different way – the director’s own vision can be brought in full Hollywood style to your own living room! It also makes perfect sense as a marketing strategy in an era where people are, as Peter Mannion, the decent-old-buffer Tory minister in The Thick of It hilariously put it when fending off new technology, watching television on their telephones. If TV can be watched on your smartphone, the selling point for a screen in your home needs to focus on the big picture, the cinematic image to which phones or tablets can’t do justice. The focus on the ‘director’ in this ad could be seen as part of a straightforward message that you can watch large-scale cinema as its makers intended.
Yet something more is happening here: the structure of the ad firmly positions you, the potential consumer of the image, as its producer. We are aligned with the director, we share his (of course, it is not ‘her’) vision: we see, in the ad, not just the final image he has chosen to frame, but the entire scene, the wider landscape he is working in. The over-shoulder view through his hands merges our own supposed bodily location with his. The supercaption "Mastering the Magic of Light" acts as a pivot between the ad’s different meanings as, at one level, the director is the one mastering the magic of light – which is how one first reads the ad – but in the small print, it turns out to be the high definition television that is mastering the magic of light, bringing "stunning clarity and incredible detail".
Superimposed on the director’s shoulder in this ad is a tiny caption that identifies him and the film he is making: "Vanja Cernjul, ASC, directs ‘Converging Beams’". The print at the bottom of the page states that this short (made for the campaign) can be seen on the Panasonic website. The film itself is fascinating for its blurring of roles between director, actor and viewer: I watched it many times and was unable to establish definitively which was which. A man with designer stubble is seen driving, in profile, looking through a camera, giving directions with hand gestures – then a man with designer stubble is seen running on a beach with a blonde woman (in the film being made) – is it the same man? – and this ambiguity continues, in scenes that switch between a crew filming, a filmed romance, a film being viewed, all involving a man with stubble and punctuated with images of the woman smiling invitingly at him/them, until a final scene when a man gets into a car with the woman and the director figure is seen exactly as in the still ad, making the frame with his hands as the car drives into the sunset.
The ambiguity between director, actor, and viewer in the online advertising film makes explicit the play in the still ad between what is seen and who sees it. As we share the director’s vision, we are also immersed in the scene itself. There is a romance to being a movie director, shooting in a wild, open landscape; there is also a romance to driving down a dirt road into the sunset, as the ‘characters’ in the image/ film are doing. These two different kinds of excitement can both be ours, it seems, if we have a large and powerful enough television. Those who watch TV or films on their phones may be passive consumers: those watching the Panasonic 4K HDR are, this ad suggests, part of the action.