IN A CAR WITH NO DRIVER, DRIFTING THROUGH A DARK CITY

The idea that Berlin is a city of ghosts was lent some life lately by a commercial for Ford. Shot in Berlin by Noah Harris for the London agency Ogilvy, the advert opens with a alien-looking TV set leaving a suburban garage at night. A Lynchian figure, disturbingly normal, rakes leaves in the background; a downbeat techno soundtrack crunches into gear.

The TV glides through Mauer Park, where streams of further sets meld with it to create a more complex assemblage, like the Constructicons from Transformers linking-up to form Devastator. A blizzard of video art streams across their screens. The TV-machine clunks through a tunnel. We cut to the three modern skyscrapers in Potsdamer Platz, triumphantly glittering. The TVs are still out on the highways, pulled taut towards some goal. A dog strains on a leash, breaths out icy air. The TV-hybrid shifts form, mutates into a chrysalis.

Karl-Marx-Allee. Handsome Berliners in a bar, beautifully isolated, sip coffee coldly. The TV-shell snakes past them, reflected eerily in the plate glass, still gathering bulk and velocity. Finally achieving their critical mass, the kaleidoscope of the screens coalesce into their ultimate image, a red Ford Fiesta. The shell splits and sloughs-off. Butterfly-like, the real car emerges. It glides away into Friedrichstrasse. A slogan appears: “This is now.”

Car ads tend to repeat a small set of standardized tropes. Streets are empty of traffic, the car lacks a driver. In general, the idea is to sell an experience, and to create the space for the viewer to insert themselves into it. In this case we discover that the Ford Fiesta supplies an experience of the zeitgeist, which is a desolate, luminous, creative city. Berlin. Buy the car, and the poetry follows.

Except that the city is not really Berlin but a generic world capital, lacking physical logic. The route that the televisions take through city make little geographical sense; the names on the street signs have been edited out; the advert avoids all the most historical Berlin landmarks. In the absence of the Brandenburg Gate, and the remains of the Wall, there is little to flag-up the city to the man on the street. But the man on the street doesn’t buy cars.

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