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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

'Coming soon' - or already here?

Writing my post the other day about titles raised some questions in my mind about the nature of art. Can the title of a book, movie, song, or similar have a kind of artistic merit by itself, regardless of the quality (or otherwise) of the work it describes? Most of the examples I gave were titles that appealed to me because they triggered something in my mind - a memory, or the recognition of an emotion from the past - that might have nothing to do with the content of the work.

I have similar feelings about movie trailers. Occasionally I see a trailer that appeals to me as something to watch on its own (although the difference is that if I like a trailer it almost inevitably makes me want to watch the movie). For instance, take a look at this trailer for Kenneth Branagh's 1996 version of Hamlet, and see how exciting it is:

The cast! The music! The colour and movement! The action! ... The cast! The movie itself turned out to be pretty good, but who would want to sit through a four-hour unabridged version of Shakespeare's longest play, when you can see all the best shots, and glimpse all the big stars, in a minute and a half? I was 15 years old when I first saw this trailer, and I remember it leaving me breathless with excitement. I wanted to watch it over and over again. I kind of still do.

But the tone and mood of a trailer can often be surprisingly different from that of the film in its entirety. For instance, the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's Australia:

gave the impression of an old-fashioned sweeping epic in the style of Old Hollywood. So, on watching the movie I was very surprised to see it incongruously infused with Luhrmann's trademark slapstick elements, speeded-up camera footage, etc. I loathed Australia-the-movie. So much. One day I may write a post about it - called Baz Luhrmann earned my trust and then abused it spectacularly, leaving me feeling depressed, confused and angry.

Another favourite of mine - and an example of a great trailer that promotes a mediocre movie - is this one, for 1997's Paradise Road:

Doesn't it look great? Corny, sure - but all those great actresses; a rollicking great war story; triumph over adversity (through art!) - how could you not be thrilled? In fact, it was pretty average. But even knowing that, I still find the trailer exciting.

Then there's the old disguising-the-fact-that-this-movie-has-subtitles trick:

In fact, I thought 8 Women was a really fun movie, and would recommend it to anyone, but I do think it's strange that the only line of dialogue in the trailer is the isolated (and dramatically irrelevant) moment when one of the characters says "That is the question" in English - and that the rest of the plot is covered by an (English-language, naturally) voice-over. That's like advertising an American movie in France, and including a random shot of someone saying "C'est la vie!". It seems to be trying too hard to say 'Look! This movie is accessible to you!", rather than concentrating on what really makes the film appealing.

All of the points mentioned above hinge around one major issue - the fact that a trailer is not created as a piece of art, but as a promotional tool - no matter how noble the film-makers' intentions, and no matter how free from studio interference they have been, the trailer is always created entirely to persuade people to shell out and buy a ticket. Does this mean there can be no artistic merit?...

The most exciting trailer around at the moment (for my money) isn't for a movie at all, but a TV series - Boardwalk Empire. The first episode was broadcast a couple of nights ago in America, so we'll soon see whether it lives up to the trailer's promise...

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