Echoing themes from Jonathan Glazer's memorable 2004 Wrangler commercial "Ride," which eschewed cowboy cliches and captured the style of America's New West, Amsterdam production company Halal roamed the small towns and backroads of Texas to create a film and photo series for the brand's 2019 FW collection.
Glazer's spot famously juxtaposed modern Western imagery with the song "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" from The Wizard of Oz. It was gritty and real, but also self-aware, amusing and in tune with the times.
The new work, from Dutch director Caroline Koning and photographers Olya Oleinic and Kyle Weeks, draws on that vibe for inspiration, adding its own surreal touches to update the Wrangler ethos for a contemporary audience.
In the 90-second film below, scenes speed across the screen—bar fights, rodeos, romantic encounters, random people running through fields and near railroad tracks, a card game, some dude riding a horse in a working-class neighborhood.
Over this dream-like montage, a stream-of-consciousness narration references Glazer's work: "You followed the Yellow Brick Road, but it was a jungle. It's true, you didn't come looking for trouble. You'll eat lots of sugar until you die. But dust in the morning, is just dust in the morning."
"What does it all mean?" the V.O. asks near the end. "It means you need to put your jeans on, tighten your belt, and get on that horse. In case things go south—go west."
Words and pictures combine to create a kind of quirky prairie poetry that places the brand in a modern context without ever seeming too serious or silly. There's much to see and hear, and avoiding a strict narrative invites repeat viewings and diverse interpretations. (You can almost imagine the folks spitting out some teeth after a beer-fueled dust-up and casually uploading blue-jean booty snaps to Wrangler's Lil Nas X promotion.)
In the following conversation, Koning discusses her creative process:
Muse: Was Glazer's work a big inspiration?
Caroline Koning: The idea came from Wrangler wanting to go back to their Western heritage. I, a fan of spaghetti westerns, was immediately excited about this. However, I also felt that this "cowboy world" could benefit from a wake-up call. I didn't want to portray old-fashioned ideas and pictures—it's 2019 in the American West, too. And I would hate to only put familiar stereotypes in the film.
The casting was very important to make it modern. And then I built the film with loose frames. I felt that every scene should [feel like] a new Western indie trailer, but we don't know what's happening before or after it. I was indeed inspired by Jonathan's Glazer ad, but also by Chloe Zhao's film The Rider. That film touched a soft and poetic side, something not often associated with cowboys.
Can you talk about the narration?
The voiceover is done by Donnie, a guy we cast from Amsterdam. I heard his voice and felt he had the right kind of balance between "then" and "now" America. The voiceover is an original script, written by me. I was watching True Detective Season 3 at the time I was writing this campaign, so I was inspired by the lonely characters and landscapes.
What demo are you targeting here?
The target audience are young people in the city, actually. I guess ages 16-35 in Europe. However, all markets are global now; it needs to speak to everyone's inner cowboy all over the world. Nevertheless, the idea that you can only "be a cowboy" by sitting on a horse in the desert is old-fashioned. It's about an attitude. You can feel like a cowboy by winning a card game, sending a daring text, helping a friend out, dancing all night in a bar. Horses help, but they're not necessary.
Where and when was the film made?
We shot all the footage ourselves in small towns near Dallas, Texas. It was shot somewhere around the end of April. It was an interesting process. Things are so instantly "recognizably American" for me, knowing America mostly from pop culture. So, it's an interesting process to choose locations and scenes that are both recognizable, but also fresh and new. The shoot itself was two days, and we shot it on 16 millimeter. Corey Waters, the DOP, was a wonderful guide to American culture.
Any big challenges during filming?
The scene where the rodeo cowboy is on the bull was an exciting one. We only had two takes with the bull, so we shot the take once from the top, and once when Corey was inside the bull-riding arena. All of the crew didn't want Corey to be there—we know bulls are unpredictable. But in the end, he was the only one to make the call, and I would support him either way.
Corey went into the arena. The tension was really high. The two cowboys were prepping the bull. I was filming the scene with my iPhone because I wanted to show Corey what he looked like in the arena with the bull. The cowboy was released, and he stayed on the bull for six or seven seconds, which is a lot. Corey shot the whole thing [while staying] massively focused, and it's my favorite shot of the campaign. The cowboy falls off "perfectly," and no one got hurt. I showed Corey the film right after, and he didn't remember anything because of the adrenaline.
We ended up using the audio from my iPhone to make that scene more documentary-like. The quality is crappy, but I like that. All the voices and things you hear during those seconds were completely real.
Check out the very doc-style pics from Oleinic and Weeks below, which capture the local flavor amid plenty of dust in the morning:
Production Company: Halal
Director: Caroline Koning
DOP: Corey Waters
Stylist: Lisa Anne Stuyfzand
Editor: Maarten Ernest
Grading: Joppo @De Grot
Online: De Grot
Music: Raven Aartsen
Sound Design: Sharkee @Haaifaai Music
Photography: Olya Oleinic and Kyle Weeks