The Trial Of Trailers
I have a good friend who is an avid trailer junkie. His appetite is voracious and when he finds a great trailer an excitable group email is promptly sent. Many times have I stood outside a film with him and heard the comment, "Yeah, it wasn't as good as the trailer". The idea that a trailer could spoil a film simply doesn't exist in his world.
It has only been in the last few years that I have become oddly averse to trailers. Much like Noel Murray in this wonderful rumination on The Av Club, I too loved watching the trailers for upcoming films when I was younger. It was exciting and never once did I consider that the film was being spoiled. Whilst my growing combative relationship with trailers is clearly a facet of this internet enabled spoiler culture that has recently arisen, it's worth noting that I'm still rather hypocritical in my personal interaction with trailers.
Some trailers I avoid like the plague. If I get the feeling that one of the joys from a specific title will be in the unfolding of a surprising narrative then I'll tend to avoid the trailer, especially if I don't need any convincing to see the film. Recently PROMETHEUS was a prime example of a film that I avoided all related promotional material, and considering that the trailer showed significant moments from the climax, I'm glad I did. LOOPER (coming out this September) a sci-fi film featuring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis is another trailer I am actively avoiding. I know I'm going to see it and don't want any other information.
Of course, there are other trailers that I not only watch as soon as I get the chance but also become part of the social media chorus, praising and sharing around with no hesitation. Two perfect recent examples have been Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED and Paul Thomas Anderson's THE MASTER, both films that I need no convincing to see, yet am eating up all pre-release materials with relish. The DJANGO UNCHAINED trailer in particular seems reasonably plot heavy but for me the joy in this new Tarantino film with be a visceral kick of his exuberant style rather than any particular narrative surprise. The trailers for THE MASTER are even more obtuse, giving away virtually nothing of the plot but rather playing as evocative, tone poems for what is surely looking to be another amazing effort from PTA.
The excitement I get from watching these trailers reminds me that I don't hate the form as much as I often feel. I'm still genuinely entranced by a good trailer and in all seriousness, I believe some can transcend their promotional origins becoming true works of art in themselves. See the below trailer for the Coen Brothers, A SERIOUS MAN for a perfect example of this.
A great trailer needs to do a few things to satisfy me. It needs to be conservative with plot information, preferably giving no more than that first act. It needs to, as accurately as possible, reflect the tone of the film and not misrepresent what it is promoting. And finally, ideally, it should to be creative in its own right.
Sure, not many trailers made today fill that criteria and most either paint the film as something it is not (the recent DRIVE trailer is a prime example of a film being misrepresented) or simply give away the entire film. Ultimately though, other than a few of us on Twitter, not many people really care about these issues. Most general multiplex audiences sit and enjoy their half dozen trailers before a film. These are not people who trawl film news sites and watch the latest teaser the minute it hits Youtube.
Sure I hate those trailers that give everything away as much as the next person but lets be positive for a moment. Below are some examples of trailers that I believe are brilliant. Some are magnificent short films in their own right. Others are surprisingly experimental ways of advertising a film.
THE SHINING / A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
This trailer for THE SHINING is pure, evocative simplicity. I have seen it dozens of times and it still causes the hairs on the back of my neck to stand tall. That torrent of blood flows perfectly too. In his obsessive fashion, Kubrick oversaw all aspects of his productions including advertising and exhibition resulting in some magnificent trailers. The A CLOCKWORK ORANGE trailer is especially amazing. The jarring, almost epileptic inducing montage is years ahead of its time and the nature of the trailer itself acts as an amusing comment on the film. Gaspar Noe must've taken notes.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Rhythmic montage and symmetrical framing can be like porn to me sometimes and this trailer is pretty much nirvana to my aesthetic sense. I love how it reaches such a frenetic point near the end that the soundtrack begins distorting. It reminded me of the moment in Fincher's FIGHT CLUB where the film was so chaotic it literally fell off the sprockets. We have alot to thank PERSONA for.
FEMME FATALE / FILM SOCIALISME
Several films over the years have attempted to be clever and essentially play their whole film out in the trailer. Godard most recently did it with FILM SOCIALISME and lucky for us all that he did for we can say we have seen the whole film without having to suffer through that unwatchable mess at regular speed. On the other hand Brian De Palma did a similar thing several years earlier to much better effect and with a hilarious tagline. Take that Jean Luc!
OK so this trailer may break one of my personal rules in that it entirely misrepresents the tone of the film but those familiar with FUNNY GAMES will understand how perfectly this trailer encapsulates Haneke's entire thesis and intention with the film itself. Some may even say that this trailer achieves what the feature length film sets out to do in a much more succinct fashion. The sheer nasty, black heart that lies underneath this trailer makes my spirit soar.
I cannot underestimate the impact this trailer had on all and sundry when it first appeared. It is possibly a perfect trailer and the jarring juxtaposition it had with everything else playing ensured maximum attention and impact. Ultimately who would not want to see what is coming next? Even watching it now makes me want to immediately put CLOVERFIELD on.
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL
Finally, this trailer brilliantly managed to advertise the film while also acting as a separate reflexive sketch about movie trailers. More comedies should take note from this trailer. As funny as the film itself.