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BILLY THE KIDDER IT'S THE SOUND OF TRANSATLANTIC LAUGHTER AS BILLY KENT, WHO'S LEARNED IT TAKES THREE (MOTION-CONTROL PASSES) TO TANGO, AIMS TO MAKE AN INTERCONTINENTAL COMEDY SPLASH

By Published on .

BILLY KENT'S FILM WORK STARTED OUT WEIRD, AND, thanks mainly to the British, it's only getting weirder. Consider, for example, that Kent, who directed a Little Caesars spot some months ago, which may finally air in the near future-he swears it's a riot-had an earlier run-in with pizza in a student film aptly titled "A Slice of

Life." The film, presented as a sleeping man's dream, or maybe a "real-life" flashback, features a mother, her baby and a slightly unsavory cigar-smoking gent, an unkosher Zero Mostel type, who has an eye for Mom. Well, to make a short story shorter, they all end up in a pizza place, where the guy, while simultaneously admiring Junior and ogling Mom, leans over the baby's carriage and inadvertently deposits the steaming hot contents of his extra-cheese slice on the tyke's kisser, caught in a nice baby-on-his-back POV. Cut to the sleeping guy, who wakes up screaming with awful burns all over his face. End of film.

You'd think something this strange would be the result of real-life experience, maybe a personal trauma of the director's early years, therapeutically re-enacted in the cathartic medium of celluloid. But no. Kent insists he was never a literal pizza-face, nor was anyone he knew. While he won't rule out certain adult traumas at work here, he'd rather not go into them. And why should he? The film, a Sundance Festival winner that has aired on PBS and Bravo, is a bit long for the reel, though we do have the "Five Shorts" of 1992, and short they are at under a minute each, which manage to maintain a respectable weirdness quotient of their own. There's a quixotic quickie in which a sunbather is serenaded in the surf by a mariachi band, and another where a kid playing with a toy dinosaur is transported to what may be the Cretaceous period; but the standout is a John Watersish vignette, brimming with sleaze, in which a greasy guy is having dinner with a tacky blonde in a bullet bustier. As she begins a candlelight spiel in which she seems to be breaking off the relationship, he spots an antennae-twitching cockroach emerging from her crazy coif, which freaks him out in a series of loony carnival-mirror images, possibly bug POVs. End of film.

Trevor Robinson and Alan Young, a creative team at London's Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, didn't fret about the deep meaning of Kent's reel when they hired him to direct a pair of utterly demented Tango orange soda spots, which are just now airing in the U.K. Themed "You

know when you've been Tango'd," these :30s are indisputably the high point of the 29-year-old Kent's commercials work to date, as well as potential international award winners, especially if there's a cate gory for Best Use of a Human Torso in a Soft Drink Commercial. In one, a legless, heavily muscled, blue-haired monster in a kilt springs out of a garbage can and bounds along on his fists to retrieve his missing webbed foot, which has inexplica bly bounced off the back of an unsuspect ing Tango drinker. (The composite-heavy spot involved three motion-control passes of a bodybuilder, first in a flying rig, then on a skateboard.) In the other, a teenager at a soccer game is suddenly transported to a deserted stadium-something about "the transdimensional power of real oranges"-where he is plagued by a witch and a demon, who cause his head to blow off, oncamera (it's a Monty Python-style mannequin stunt).

Kent: portrait of pleasure. The director funs it up in London

Clearly, we've been Tango'd: frames from Kent's pair of British comic monstrosities, which sound even more bizarre than they look

BY TERRY KATTLEMAN

It's the sound of transatlantic laughter as Billy Kent, who's learned it takes three (motion-control passes) to Tango, aims to make an intercontinental comedy splash 15

Not exactly "I like the Sprite in you."

The spots are narrated, so to speak, by an insanely overwrought pair of sports announcers; a parody, says art director Robinson, of American football commentators "who make us laugh with the way they overanalyze things." So, not to overanalyze, besides the sports spoof, the spots owe their origins to "the cliche of British advertising in which something amazing happens because of the product," says Robinson. "We wanted to have fun with it." And why Kent, a relatively untested import, to run with the fun on this continuing saga? (There are several earlier spots, quite nutty but not nearly as diabolical, directed by a Brit, Matt Forest, which won several U.K. awards including D&AD Gold.) "We wanted a new feel to it; a younger eye," Robinson explains. "We like his macabre sense of humor. Like his promo with the guy in the road; the guy who's dead. It's real cheap and it's a great idea. And I loved the guy who had dinner with the blonde, and the cockroach is in her hair. The whole reel had a good feel to it."

The promo Robinson refers to is a 1988 music video for one Ben Vaughn, who Kent claims is a real musician and whose clip may even have aired on MTV. The song's refrain, "Daddy's gone for good," is indeed accompanied by shots of a roadside stiff, intercut with a twowoman chorus doing a 10-cent version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" boogie.

Music videos, in fact, were Kent's ticket to the wacky world of film comedy. The New York native, a 1987 graduate of Vassar in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., flirted with philosophy and economics before focusing on film and drama, and in his senior year he and two classmates were surprised to find themselves finalists in a hastily entered MTV Make my Video contest. Their 16mm take on Madonna's "True Blue" involved a beautiful brunette, says Kent, in a '50s car for a "|'Rebel Without a Cause' feeling." This led to a cheapie local music video directing job, which led to about 40 videos for karaoke bars, as well as a Myer's rum spot to play in clubs via the now disbanded Fred/Alan, then MTV's ad agency. After a year at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where he made several short films, Kent returned to New York for more Fred/Alan work, mainly MTV IDs and promos and Nick at Nite spots. He did some time at Flashframe, a music video company-Kent says he's done five or six videos, but with the exception of Ben Vaughn's, he wouldn't even show them to his mother-then joined the late Highlight Commercials in mid-'92, and moved on to his present home, Cosmic Pictures, New York, a few months later.

As for Kent's London connection, the Tango job (shot through Redwing in an arrangement with Cosmic) wasn't his first brush with warped upper lips. Besides an amusing Electronic Arts videogame spot for Chiat/Day/London, Kent has done a series of pre-Tango 5-second spots for Red Mountain coffee, also for Howell Henry (but another creative team), which consist of fast-motion bits of silliness-a zombielike woman walking on hot coals while a lunatic plays the accordion, say- followed by the Red Mountain logo, backed by a pouring sound and a woman nasally intoning the word coffee. That's it. Yes, it's a bizarre way to hawk java, but, as Kent wisely notes, he wasn't about to pipe up with a typically Yank, "|'Hey, guys, how about showing some people drinking it!'|"

Kent, who offers Stanley Kubrick and his "incredible amount of irony," as an important film influence, is quite comfortable in his deepening niche, which he describes as "somewhat stylized comedy," with a side order of special effects: "It's amazing how every circumstance requires a different treatment for special effects," he says, "but I'm very adaptable stylistically." Other Kentian stylistic adaptations include a cute spot for a knockoff fragrance called Tahoe, from Parfums de Coeur; a Marshall's commercial with a not-so-funny Bo Jackson; and some Cartoon Network promos with an oh-so-funny Martin Short as Ed Grimley- it was a "step-back-and-be-humble situation," says Kent, who is not exactly the arrogant type to begin with.

In fact, come what may, one is hard put to imagine Kent losing his soft-spoken, easygoing but bent sense of humor. Asked what he expects 1994 to hold in store for him, he says with a laugh, "Either I'll be packing my bags for a job or I'm just gonna be watching a lot of television at home." u

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