Heaven Can’t Wait!

Friday, 13th August 2010

It’s coffee time.

Gossip columnists the world over raised a virtual eyebrow as they reported how, Alfredo James Pacino – Al to the rest of us – reached a particular rite of passage only now that he is seventy years old. Pacino is currently starring in advertisement for the Australian coffee brand Vittoria.

Al Pacino, George Clooney, and coffee too would be many people’s idea of heaven – and anything Pacino can do, Clooney can do… dirtier.

Grounds for unrest and controversy, however, are the advertisements for Nescafe’s Nespresso Citiz coffee machine, which Clooney made with John Malkovich. There are three endings to the same beginning, all of which were directed by Guy Ritchie. The ones by Pacino were directed by Barry Levinson.

Clooney, who has been fronting the brand since forever, samples the product made from one of the pods from a selection of containers with differently-coloured lids, inside the shop. He then purchases the machine and saunters away, just as a Grand Piano begins its descent towards him from an upper storey balcony. Whether or not the inevitable accident is fatal… remains to be seen, according to which particular bumph of the three goes on air.

This storyboard, of course, has not impressed the Lavazza people, who for the last 15 years have been running the Paradiso concept-campaign. Here, we are familiar with the 70 or so episodes screened so far. The first clip had featured Tulio Solenghi, with Paolo and Bonolis, Luca Laurenti as ‘new’ arrivals, replacing him in 2000. Riccardo Garrone is Saint Peter.

Viewers, not necessarily because of brand loyalty, tend to enjoy these mini-episodes of heaven. Indeed, some years ago Il Sole 24 Ore (the Italian financial daily) named it ‘one of the most memorable Italian advertisements’. Renown Italian directors have filmed the clips – Alessandro D’Alatri; Gabriele Salvatores; Daniele Luchetti and Umberto Riccioni, being but four.

“Our Heaven is more than a campaign: It’s a concept that is dear to all of us, a key part of our brand image. It represents a constant rendezvous in Italian households that has reinforced the close bond between our company and consumers, and it has made the funny gags amidst the clouds the rightful heritage of our brand.” says Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice President of the Lavazza Group.

In the Nespresso spots, Clooney dies and goes to heaven – of course – but does not necessarily want to stay there. This is what irked Lavazza; the firm insists that the idea is a rip-off of its long-running campaign. Nespresso counters that the afterlife is a cultural reference, used as a setting for countless books, songs, films and advertisements.

Of course, both companies are right – and wrong. Heaven is no-one’s prerogative, religion-wise – and neither is it that in advertising (or any other type of communication).

People assume that a Cappuccino gets its name from the habit of the eponymous monks – however this is not the case at all, since the shades of brown are different. Imagine, instead, what a tonsured head looks like! You can even think of the cocoa, cinnamon or nutmeg sprinkles as stray hairs or age sports or freckles! It could be that the monks themselves gave the beverage the name. Basically, the cappuccino, considered a breakfast coffee, is espresso mixed with steamed milk topped with a layer of milk foam, which acts as insulation. It is served in porcelain because of its heat-retentive properties. Some sources credit a 17th century Capuchin monk, Marco d’Aviano, with having come up with the beverage some time after the battle of Vienna in 1683. Yet no mention of this occurs in any historical or contemporary account, or his biographies.

In the weird In Heaven, everything is fine. In Heaven, everything is fine. You’ve got your good things. And I’ve got mine.

These words, out of the weird, surrealist horror film by David Lynch – Razorhead – show us that it’s not only eye candy and coffee that constitute heaven. Most advertisements include mountains of fluffy white clouds, cute angels (or beautiful ones, as necessary). Most of them have haloes and wings, and long white robes – and some carry harps or trumpets not unlike vuvuzelas. In audio-visual media, there are sound effects that often including schmaltzy music.

Spoofs of this usually involve long queues of people and a ticketing machine before one gets to the Pearly Gates. Sometimes, there are male angels with six-packs acting as bouncers; alternatively, clerks sit at a desk with large tomes that have “naughty” and “nice” embodies upon the covers. And a Maltese traditional story by Ġuże Delia even has Saint Joseph evade all this red tape by helping devotees scramble over the wall.

Songs, too, often mention heaven – but here, how heaven is depicted depends upon the feelings the lyricists wants to convey. Country songs tend to be pessimistic – and the ones that mention heaven are no exception. Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love by Trisha Yearwood and Holes In The Floor Of Heaven by Steve Wariner are two prime examples of this. Then there are Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton, and its parody Songs In Heaven; Heaven & Hell (Black Sabbath); Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan); Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin); Heaven’s In The Back Seat Of My Cadillac (Hot Chocolate); Heaven is a Place on Earth (Belinda Carlisle) ; Highway to Hell (AC/DC); at least thirty-nine songs (most of them cover-versions) called, simply, Heaven, and countless others.

Films, being longer, have to have at least an excuse for a storyline. Therefore, the portrayals of heaven are usually those that involve the dead, or angels, who flit back and forth between heaven on earth without the need for Jacob’s ladder. There’s the upcoming Hereafter; the Ridley Scott Kingdom of Heaven; and the haunting What Dreams May Come, which shows us that indeed, heaven is what we make it – but sells the premise that people who commit suicide end up in hell. Incidentally, the title is taken from a line in Hamlet’s To be, or not to be soliloquy.

It is interesting to note that Dante Alighieri wrote the part of the epic La Divina Commedia that deals with heaven as the third part, after having written the allegories of hell and Purgatory.

However, when all is said and done, for Christians, it is The Beatitudes that specify the provisos for making it to Heaven.

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