I don’t have nearly enough time to devote to this now — I’m in the early stages of a study that hopes to finally conclude whether the Bulletboy’s old “Smooth Up In Ya'” song1 (1989) really had hidden sexual overtones or not (next up: Warrant’s “Cherry Pie”) — but I feel I’ve got to say something anyway. And, I’d meant to frame this in some “Open Letter to Hollywood” or something, along the lines of that other thing I did, but then, no matter how I twisterized my brain, I just couldn’t figure out who’s consistently responsible for the poor quality of today’s trailers: “Hollywood” would seem to be the catch-all, I suppose, and I could always break it down to distributors or production companies, nevermind those few directors (I think) who insist on not farming out the trailer making, but the more I thought about it . . . I don’t know. Are we to blame — the audience? I mean, Hollywood’s a puppetmaster, sure, telling us what we like, what we don’t, but, too, we’ve got the real strings in our pockets, in the form of money. So, I guess I just don’t know. And like I said: with “Smooth Up In Ya'” cycling through my head, I don’t really have the brainpower right now to track it down.

What I do know, though: my movie habits, they’re a-changing. Whereas used to I had to get to the cineplex the day the movie was opening, now I tend to give it a week or two, then just slip in to some early weekday showing. Why? Because if I go opening day, then, to get a decent seat, I have to get there early. Which is to say I then have to endure the cavalcade of trailers, which each times gets just closer and closer to ruining the whole moviegoing experience for me. And I don’t mean to be a crotchety cynic, some Abe Simpson codger bemoaning the good old days when trailers were ‘pure’2 — I suspect that, as they’re essentially advertisements, any purity they have is really tied in with nostalgia, ie, they’ve been cleansed by memory — but I will at least say that they suck now. And this may be just because I’ve reached some kind of saturation point. (as for the Diet Coke ads etc — yeah, that sucks, but that kind of tomfoolery I can take; it’s even kind of fun).

As to why I’m dwelling on this enough that it’s leeching through my fingertips here, it was because of, I think, pretty much every trailer which came packaged with TURISTAS. They’re just insulting3 — not the ‘appealing to the lowest denominator’ kind of insulting (I often suspect I am that lowest denominator, I mean, and am pretty gleeful about it), but the kind of insulting where what the trailer-maker’s saying is essentially “here’s the movie in capsule form; not only can we go ahead and give away every plot point and comic turn, but we can paint 99% of the resolution for you as well, that’s how sure we are you’re going to come see this movie.” It just really and truly makes me sick. And I only started thinking about this when watching the DEJA VU trailers over and over, the first one, which half-decent, at least in that it was so obviously contorting itself to not give away the central conceit, and the second one, which seems to have been made at some last-minute, when somebody got scared the first one wasn’t telling enough of the movie — that it wasn’t hooking the audience in, selling itself properly.

But there are far worse. Romantic comedies seem to be the most culpable, for some reason; at the end of those trailers, I know that I now don’t need to see the movie: I’ve just seen every highlight, have already been involved in all the laughs that movie’s going to have to offer. And yeah, I remember from years back there was some trailer-awards thing, but I haven’t seen it for a long time now. I got too depressed about the whole enterprise, I guess.

As for good trailers? The KILL BILL ones were solid, I thought. And the INLAND EMPIRE one, man, it’s maybe the single best trailer since THE MINUS MAN (the swimming pool one, which — does it still exist anywhere?). And the SAW franchise usually plays it pretty close to the vest, ie, they tease us in with gore and splatter, then give us the story twists, which I greatly appreciate.

As for the worst, though, yeah, it’d make this a much more comprehensive post for me to list and link them here, I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about enough that visual aids aren’t really necessary.

Anyway, had I framed this as an open letter, I’d be ending it something like this:

  • ‘So, whoever makes these trailers, these affronts, these abominations, these things which I consider detour signs, in that what they’re telling me is to avoid this movie, to go around it to something better, even if a little more out-of-the-way, is to please please please remember the effect a little indirectness can have4. That coyness is a virtue, that that dance of the seven veils, it’s a pleasure that’s hard-coded into our psyches — that you don’t need to give everything away on the first date, in our first three precious minutes together. Rather, bat your eyes some, turn around and walk away, maybe only look back from the end of the hall. That’s how you can be sure we’re going to call next time.’5

And, yeah, please: there has to be some body of critical work tracing or articulating trailers. Can anybody link me? I would ferret them out myself, but, man, Warrant’s single-entendres, they’re a-calling, and, being born when I was born, I have to cock an ear that direction now.

©Stephen Graham Jones, 2006

[ Next up: probably a non-review of STRANGER THAN FICTION ]

Smooth up in ya
(I wanna go, I wanna go)
Smooth up in ya
(Right now, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah)

2 though I have been known to carry an onion in my belt

3and, if memory doesn’t swerve, I’m thinking I really already got into this a bit in a DEMON THEORY footnote — seems Zemeckis or somebody might have got quoted or misquoted. Anyway, if not, call me on it, I’ll dig that up from a draft, post it here.

4not sure it’s still findable, but Rugged Land’s first book trailer, for HENRY LIST OF WRONGS, I think, which was maybe either the first book trailer ever or the first one that was produced right anyway, it’s kind of a study of how to both be indirect and sell. Very well done. Super-jealous of it.

5if ever you find yourself tempted to use double-quote marks for yourself, then, I don’t know: get a hammer, start beating the tips of your fingers in. I mean, I even feel kind of dodgy and artificial using single-quotes and a block indent, like it’s some kind of affectation. or, wait: ‘affectation.’ I don’t know.

Author: SGJ