Varnish Remover

Gotta Love Those Bolls

The Cotton Club, produced by Rhea & Kaiser Marketing Communications for Rhone-Poulenc.

Guess what takes center stage in The Cotton Club. A … er … plant. A cotton plant, to be precise, and a sassy one at that. No moldy bolls sprouting wispy white nothings here: This plant is lissome. It is lush. And it will go to great lengths to convince its target market–the rural South–to buy “Finish.” A “defoliant, re-growth inhibitor, and boll opener,” Finish is produced by Rhone-Poulenc. It speeds up the harvest by accelerating the growth cycle of the cotton plant, causing it to age, lose its leaves, and open bolls ahead of schedule. The Cotton Club dramatizes that compressed cycle via the sashaying, shimmying plant, which sheds its inhibitions–and its leaves–in its commitment to commerce, and bares all.

Not that The Cotton Club is in poor taste, you understand. It is true that it is set to David Rose’s famous “Stripper,” which urges one to “take it off, take it all off”–but the spot’s producers, Chicago firm Rhea & Kaiser, were sharply aware of the Cotton Belt-Bible Belt overlap. “This plant is a dancer, not a stripper,” one of its makers insists.

The setting, however, strikes a coyly sultry note. Red curtains and exaggerated underlighting transform an old German opera house in Brooklyn, N.Y., into “The Cotton Club,” where “a new act” is being staged. “First,” says the voice-over, as the camera curves around a gyrating graphic, “it takes off those leaves. Then, it keeps them from coming back.” We aren’t sure what “it” is, but clearly, this product aids aging. Leaves wither and fall as the plant continues to dance–the combination of potent chemicals and strip clubs isn’t likely to endear itself to the PC police; and there are those who would be hard pressed to distinguish between Finish and Agent Orange. But all’s well, etc., because the stuff in the white bottle opens those bolls–”Man, does it open up those bolls.”

To put it another way, the plant takes it all off, then sprouts bolls. Hmm.

A bottle of Finish waits in the wings as chyron and narrator describe its “virtues.” Not only does it defoliate, inhibit re-growth, and open bolls, but it is also “faster and more consistent than any other harvest aid.” As the curtain closes and applause spills across the footlights, the message is reiterated: “Cotton has never moved like this”–as swiftly to harvest, or across a stage.

–Robert Shrum