I can’t remember which ones came first — the MTV Jukka Brothers promos, the Diesel "For Successful Living" campaign or the "Miller Time: By Dick" ads — but sometime around 1999 I became aware that some Swedish film collective called Traktor had directed them all.
The commercials were just so… subversive. And funny. And strange. Sometimes, you weren’t even sure what they were selling. But you sure remembered them. And so began my obsession with Traktor. I had to read Ad Week to find out info because they didn’t have a website. These were enigmatic Swedes.
Around this time Traktor was making a movie for Warner Brothers, Shiny New Enemies, starring Steve Zahn, Selma Hayek and David Cross, but it kept getting pushed back. The name changed to the more generic title of Chain of Fools… then the film’s website went offline and the movie all but disappeared. But they kept making commercials — and music videos, like Basement Jaxx’s monkeyrific "Where’s Your Head At" and Fatboy Slim’s "Ya Mamma."
So I was really excited when I saw that this year’s resfest was featuring a Traktor retrospective. Around the same time I discovered they had finally put up a website — perhaps the lowest budget website ever for such a cutting-edge collective. (Compare with fellow Swedes Stylewar’s Flash-heavy website.) But it does have the lion’s share of their best work available as Quicktime downloads — what else do you need?
Anyway, so it was a lot of fun to see 75 minutes worth of Traktor in one sitting, a lot of which I’d never seen before. Highlights: Those Diesel commercials, though I remember one involving a Bollywood musical where a man jumps into a very shallow pool — they didn’t show it; Fox Sports’ "Regional Sports Report" promos (watch "China" and "Turkey"); The Discovery.com ads; the "life becomes a porn tape" commercials for Axe Body Spray; and classic Miller Lite ads like "I Can’t Control My Arm," "Epidemic" and, of course, "Evil Beaver."
After the screening, three of the Traktor collective came out and answered a few questions from the audience — this was by far the best-attended resfest event I went to — but the crowd was pretty timid, including me. They were in their mid-’30s, but as Swedes they still looked great and had all their hair. (Maybe the others who didn’t come onstage are bald and/or fat. Probably not.). I want to move to Sweden and become part of a filmmaking collective now more than ever. That or join one of the country’s many great pop bands.