resfest: Traktor Retrospective

Traktor_montage_3I 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?

Traktor_evilbeaverAnyway, 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 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."

Resfest_traktorqaAfter 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.



resfest 2005 pt. one

ResfestWith all the hoopla surrounding CMJ and Fashion Week, it felt like this year’s resfest got lost in the shuffle. This was the traveling festival’s ninth year of celebrating the cool and innovative talents in advertising, music video, design and technology. There were a lot promising events and screenings and I attended three. The first program was called Triple Threat and featured short films, music videos and other works from Jonnie Ross, Nagi Noda and Francois Vogel.

Jonnieross1American Jonnie Ross does a lot of high-tech effects with lo-res formats — some of his stuff looks like it was shot camcorders from 1985 — which makes what you’re watching all the more impressive somehow. For examples of this, check out his funny and clever short "Internal Conflict," (pictured left)  and the music video for Blood of Abraham’s "Dangerous Diseases."

Naginoda1From Japan (though she spent much of her youth in the US), Nagi Noda‘s work is very cute yet sometimes disturbing… like David Cronenberg directing a Hello Kitty movie. Of the shorts they showed, the best was the very sweet "Small Love Stories," and "Mariko Takahashi’s FITNESS VIDEO for being appraised as an ‘EX-FAT GIRL‘" (pictured right) which is an aerobics video with poodles. It’s floated around the internet, you may have seen it.

Francoisvogel1Last was Francois Vogel, the director responsible for those amazing HP Digital’s "You" campaign that use The Kinks’ "Picture Book" and the Cure’s "Pictures of You." (In fact, that’s Vogel himself putting the white picture frames around his neck.) I was looking forward to his section, as I hoped he was going to be the next Michel Gondry. Alas, no. He seems to be stuck on this one idea — the cutout technique he’d later perfect for the commercials — and the short films shown were just variations of the same idea. It’s a good idea, mind you, brilliant even, but he could become stuck like Chris Cunningham if he’s not careful.

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