A good trailer doesn’t reveal all – it sells an idea

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The Independent Culture

Contemporary trailers tend to offer potted versions of the films they’re advertising, and the University of East Anglia research is quite correct in saying that they often give away huge amounts of a movie’s plot line.

It’s as if those making them want to cram in as much information as possible to reassure spectators that they won’t  be short-changed.

It all used to be done very differently. “How do you do, ladies and gentlemen, this is Orson Welles. What follows is supposed to advertise our first motion picture,” is how writer-director-star Welles pitched his masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941.) The trailer begins with a close-up of a microphone. Then, for no good reason other than “ballyhoo”, Welles cuts to chorus girls. The tone is self-deprecating – and deliberately fosters a sense of mystery.

Trailers shouldn’t need to reveal plot details. They’re selling an idea. “None of man’s fantasies of evil can compare with the reality of Jaws,” the voice-over tells us of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster. All you need is an image of a shark and a swimmer. The American trailer for the upmarket porn flick Emmanuelle (1974) is even more minimalist. It includes no footage of the movie whatsoever, just a soft-focus still of its star Sylvia Kristel and the all-important slogan: “It’s the first film of its kind that lets you feel good without feeling bad…”

Geoffrey Macnab is The Independent’s film critic

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