Due to his ferocious commitment to his own artistic integrity, director James Gray has weathered a difficult career trajectory partly of his own making. His 2013 feature, THE IMMIGRANT, was a stunning work of uncompromising cinematic art, but its botched rollout and limited audience appeal doomed it to failure from the start. As such, it was going to be a while before he could summon up enough professional capital for his next feature. In order to sustain himself in this prolonged drought, Gray followed in the footsteps of many filmmakers before him and turned to the world of advertising. Here, he had immediate value– ad agencies desired his services because his reputation in the feature realm attracted well-known celebrities and film stars. From 2013-2017, Gray developed his talents in the commercial sector with three efforts that, while not necessarily advancing his own artistic growth, further developed and refined his technical capabilities with varying aesthetics.
CITROEN: “IMPOSSIBLE” (2013)
A European ad that American audiences have only been able to see online, Gray’s 2013 spot for carmarker Citroen applies a stylish cinematic look befitting the participation of a director like him. Titled “IMPOSSIBLE”, the spot features Ewan McGregor on the receiving end of an interrogation by TWO LOVERS’ Vinessa Shaw regarding his car’s performance features. Gray employs a cold, metallic aesthetic to match the sleek modern environs, framing his subjects in his signature style– through architectural elements like the glass fish bowl of a conference room. Gray indulges in the genre aspects of the spot’s story, crafting a slick little spy thriller that reminds one of a toned-down Tony Scott effort.
CHANEL: “BLUE” (2015)
Gray has often been painted as an acolyte of Martin Scorsese thanks to their shared interest in the social history of New York City. With 2015’s Chanel commercial, “BLUE”, Gray avails himself of the opportunity to directly follow in Scorsese’s footsteps, crafting something of a sequel to his stylistic predecessor’s well-known Chanel spot starring Gaspard Ulliel. Ulliel returns here, desperately seeking solace from the dizzying whirlwind of celebrity while Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower” blares on the soundtrack. Gray replicates the aesthetic of Scorsese’s earlier effort, applying a metallic cobalt sheen over the dreamlike visuals. The piece exemplifies Gray’s natural, heretofore-unknown talents with a high-fashion visual style, with the director peppering flashy elements like bright lens flares and ethereal double-exposures throughout Ulliel’s existential journey.
LANCÔME: “LA VIE EST BELLE” (2016)
In 2016, Gray was hired to direct a spot for Lancôme titled “LA VIE EST BELLE”, which provided him with the opportunity to direct the fashion brand’s spokesperson, Julia Roberts. The spot’s loose narrative finds Roberts escaping a boring dinner party in an elegant French mansion and breaking out into a lively garden party with a romantic view of the Eiffel Tower. Gray uses the same glittery, high-fashion sheen that he did with Chanel’s “BLUE”, albeit in a warmer tone that favors a pink/purple color cast. “LA VIE EST BELLE” is a fairly anonymous spot from an artistic perspective, but Gray nonetheless delivers a strongly-realized and confident effort that matches Roberts’ star-wattage.