The Irritations of Modern Life: 49. Film Trailers

WHEN I go to the cinema, I behave normally and acceptably up to a point. I queue up along with everyone else, I read the show times, I buy my ticket, and I wait in line again to pay a small ransom for an ice-cream.

But while every other person then filters into the darkened screening- room, I have started loitering in the foyer like someone who's been stood up and doesn't care who knows it - until I know, until I'm absolutely certain, that the film is about to start.

Then I run down the stairs, barrel past the ticket attendant, clatter up the aisle and stumble down my row, stamping on people's feet and kicking over their popcorn just as the opening credits are beginning to roll.

This is, I am aware, irresponsible and annoying behaviour. But I have this problem and I can't see any other way round it. I hate, I detest, film trailers.

I am an obsessive cinema-goer. I go two, three, sometimes four times a week. There are films I look forward to for months. But just one sighting of a trailer can ruin everything.

Trailers are badly thought out and badly put together. They have that seemingly impossible knack of making a good film seem bad and a bad film good. They level everything - independent, art-house, documentary, blockbuster, romantic comedy, sci-fi - down to the lowest mass-market common denominator.

Emir Kusturica's film Black Cat White Cat was a return to his strange, compulsive, visionary form. It was a mad carousel of gold-toothed Gypsies, gun-wielding grandmothers, car-devouring pigs and feckless fathers marrying off their sons to clear their gambling debts. But the trailer made it out to be some kind of Yugoslav Grease: "A girl!" crowed the man with a Carlsberg lager voice, "a boy! And whaddya know?"

I, for one, didn't know any more - I had my jacket over my head.

The real killer is the comedy film trailer. Distributors appear to be under the illusion that the way to fill seats for comedies is to let everyone in on the best jokes. Hence last year's There's Something About Mary (below) was hoist by its own publicity - for weeks we saw the Matt-Dillon- electrocuting-the-dog gag, Cameron Diaz with semen in her hair, Ben Stiller in his Planet of the Apes wig. So when the film finally arrived - funny though it was - it was undermined at every turn by the audience knowing what was about to happen.

Notting Hill, however, fared rather better. There we all were, thinking the trailer contained the best jokes; little did we know that they were the only jokes. The trailer made it out to be a fast-paced comedy about the nature of celebrity, when it is in reality a facile, underwritten and overplayed money-spinner.

I don't know what the solution is. Films do, of course, need publicity, and people like to know what's coming up. But do we have to put up with this assault of misleading hype every time we enter a cinema?