Thursday, November 11, 2004

Amazon Theater's Portrait - Ugly Duckling And The American Dream

Amazon.com has launched Amazon Theater, a venue for short films online. The first offering, Portrait, can be reviewed at two levels - firstly as a vehicle for product placement - the film is choc-a-bloc with featured Amazon products, ranging from the Jabra wireless headset, the Nokia 6600 Phone and the Nordstrom tote. In fact, the credits at the end of the nine-minute film cover more products than people. Amazon is after all, a vehicle to sell products, and at least this is more an aboveboard vehicle than the hidden placement a la films like The Cat In The Hat.

The second way of looking at Portrait is as a film qua film. It is a film encapsulating in its short length corporate cat-fights, compulsive eating, spam filters, the myth of the beauty inside, and above all, the American fascination with the Ugly Duckling tale.
esther before esther after
In brief, the story is about 4 corporate divas, one of whom is not as svelte, glamorous or sharp as the rest. She answers an email that got through multiple spam filters - one sent by Bud's Glamour Shots and has her portrait taken by them. She shows the portrait to her 'friends', only to meet ridicule and scorn. She goes home, and cries herself to sleep. The next morning she wakes to find herself, and the portrait, transformed to something out of the glamour magazines.

A longer film, and perhaps a more satirical director might have turned this story into Dorian Gray meets the Ugly Duckling. Instead, the remaining frames deal with Esther's showing herself off in front of the corporate honchos, and to drive the point of the 'moral' in, the head honcho has her portrait done, only to find her true nature coming out.

Cinematically, the film is structured as a play, retaining the three unities, and features good acting by the cast, which includes Minnie Driver. It is directed by Jordan Scott, better known for music videos

The combination of consumerism and the American dream is not new, but the introduction of Amazon Theater is an interesting step in an unusual direction, and subsequent entries shall be awaited with interest.

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