Breaking, Popping and Singing in the Rain

Imagine for a second that you are in charge of an advertising agency, and you have just been given the task of marketing a classic car that has just recently been updated for modern times. What ideas would you come up with? Although there are an infinite number of possibilites, it would be very difficult to create something more memorable and visually impressive than the commercial DDB London developed for the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

On Jan. 25, UK television viewers (and Internet geeks), watched the classic dance sequence from the 1952 classic, Singin' in the Rain, with an incredible new twist. In this "updated" version, Gene Kelly is seen break dancing, popping and generally tearing up those fake cobblestone streets in ways that were probably unimaginable over 52 years ago.

DDB hired the directing duo NE-O, also known as Jake Knight and Ryoko Tanaka from Stink (UK), to recreate a near-perfect, shot-for-shot replica of the legendary dance scene. A crew of 22 men with an obsessive attention to detail took 14 days to recreate the set of Singin' in the Rain at Shepperton Studios while the shooting and visual effects crew mapped out all of the camera moves. When watching the commercial, anyone could easily be fooled into thinking they watching the original footage. Of course, this would mean ignoring the new soundtrack and Kelly's new dance moves which are performed by some of the most talented hip-hop dancers of our time, J Walker, Crumbs and David 'Elsewhere' Bernal (whose style is undeniable).

Each of the dancers underwent over three hours of prosthetic makeup in order to look as much like Gene Kelly as possible. On top of that, each one of them performed with a semi-constrictive wetsuit underneath their spiffy business attire. After all, they were filming in the rain. Of course, the viewer is never really aware that they are watching three street dancers in makeup thanks to the wonderful visual effects skills of the post-production crew, Moving Picture Company. With Alex Lovejoy as Visual Effects Supervisor and Christophe Allender using the amazing compositing software package, Discreet Inferno, the prosthetic makeup is not noticeable at all and was probably used mostly for reference inside the special effects house. The whole time we are watching the commercial, it is Gene Kelly's face we are staring at. It is difficult to think otherwise.

The dance sequence is greatly enhanced by the smooth breakbeat remix of Singin' in the Rain provided by Mint Royale off of the Faith and Hope record label. Although this remix is not yet released, it is sure to become a club hit since it really is a solid dance track. Rumor has it that it will be released into the charts shortly. In general, the automotive industry has been picking real musical winners lately.

Although some people think that resurrecting the dead to sell products is a disrespectful abomination, the rights to use Kelly's image were cleared with his widow, Patricia Ward Kelly, along with Turner movies, the record label EMI and Warner Brothers after much discussion. All were assured that the commercial would be tastefully done, and that Gene would have loved it. After all, he was one of the most innovative dancers of his time, and he was always trying to push his craft.

This commercial comes on the heels of the late 2004 advertisement promoting the 2005 Ford Mustang Bullit. The Ford ad features a digitally resurrected Steve McQueen who drove a 1968 Mustang Fastback in the movie "Bullitt." Steve McQueen was resurrected earlier to drive around the Ford Puma around the streets of San Francisco. I think portraying these actors in ways that were in line with their previous work is fine as long as they're not selling soda or Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners.

The best part of all this is that the reviving and remixing never stops. Even though the advertisers and Mint Royale decided to do a modern update of Singin' in the Rain, apparently the Internet remixer known as Pojmasta didn't think it was modern enough. His love for the cutting edge electronic music genre known as IDM shows through in this glitched-out version [ download - large / small ]of the VW advertisement. I'm sure this is probably just one of many videos that will eventually come to the surface and spread like wildfire. Perhaps more notable is that this video remix was probably done on a zero budget, yet it carries the same theme of updating a classic.

One thing is certain. Sampling the past is here to stay and no one, dead or alive, will be able to stop it.