Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Recognizably Gap as soon as they hit the screen, these spots feature black-and-white filmlets with clean white borders, fresh-faced, retro-’60s kids and cool, nostalgic music. They’re a major move away from the rock, techno and scratchin’ that filled the house in Modernista!’s preceding Gap ads.

Interim work while new agency Laird + Partners gets up to speed, the three spots are a collaboration among former Gap creative director Lisa Prisco (famous for “Khakis Swing”) and directors Roman Coppola, ad virgin Cameron Crowe and the Coen brothers. With that cinematic power, you’d think the imagery would jump off the screen. Instead, the spots convey a restrained, simple summer sensibility, as classic and immaculate as the cotton shirts, khakis and jeans they promote.

That’s the case with “Down on Khaki Street,” which is so spotless, it’s virtually vacant. The storyline is as blank as the setting. This is especially curious since it’s directed by Coppola and features current gods of early twentysomething quirkiness Ashton Kutcher, Scarlett Johansson, Jay Hernandez and Zooey Deschanel.

But the action consists of the actors riding bikes down an empty city street while smiling. The plot: Ashton comes around from the left and passes the girls, then ends up on the right. Jay Hernandez does a similar weave. The only twist: While there’s not a leaf, nor a piece of garbage, nor a car, nor a soul to be seen on the street, there is a stretch of sidewalk where workmen paint a two-story-high TV set white. Huh?

The entire campaign uses a device that only obsessively tuned-in viewers will notice: Each of the three spots has two soundtracks—one more aggressive, the other sweeter—and it is amazing to see how different the same scenes look and feel with a change of music. Another element, which perhaps amplifies the stilted feel, is that each uses one take, an unedited camera move from beginning to end. Echoing the Dogma school of filmmaking is a pretty high-falutin’ concept, and it adds a needless constraint.

Compared with the other spots, “Denim Invasion,” the one directed by Crowe, is almost crowded and suggests a goofy-youthquake-’60s feeling that’s cool. But the setup is also curiously payoff-free. Kate Beckinsale and Orlando Bloom stroll past a café on what would seem to be a Sunday morning. Suddenly, the great unwashed—or, in this case, those in nicely laundered Gap separates—start following them, and they run, smiling, in front of the crowd. Fade out to white and the Gap logo.

The sweeter song, the Troggs’ “Love is All Around,” really makes the spot. It’s a little ominous with the other music (“Sorry,” by the EasyBeats). Perhaps, cinematically, the run ning is a reference to films like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie or The Graduate. But for me, it’s too close to 9/11 to show a mass of people running toward the camera.

Most visually effective is the spot by the Coens, featuring grand old man of cool Dennis Hopper and a young beauty who is his … lover? Daughter? Amanuensis? What ever, she’s now-bone-thin actress Christina Ricci. Here, the one-take device works—the spot is slow and quiet, like a beautifully composed print ad come to life.

Hopper, classic American outlaw/ figure of counterculture hip/semi-retired art collector, sits with arms crossed, adjusting his sunglasses in the pasha seat. He’s in front of his pool, a lone tree in the distance, à la the Six Feet Under logo. (The drama is also lubricated by the use of a sprinkler moving out of the frame.) He’s served a tall beverage by supplicant Ricci, and they are also playing chess. (Is she Death, as in Bergman?) It’s more David Lynch than Coen brothers, but it’s smart and captivating.

Are the spots enough to stem Gap’s losses? No, but they do make a point of getting back to basics, whether you’re a pasha or just going nowhere on your bike.