These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

I’ve been taking my place within the hallowed cathedrals of movie theaters for long enough that I can remember a time when there wasn’t a sitcom-length sprawl of commercials as the preamble to any feature. While the natural presumption is that I — in proper cranky old man form — find such intrusions of corporate marketing to be deplorable, I see it instead as, at worst, a necessary evil in a time of mounting costs and more drastic ebb and flow in theatrical exhibition. Maybe more surprising, there are instances, which admittedly happen with damnable rarity, in which the advertising is so clever that it stands as a highlight of the moviegoing experience. The surest route to that outcome is create an ad that take full advantage of the movie theater setting.

Way back when I was reviewing movies for a weekly program on my college radio station, in the early nineteen-nineties, I encountered the finest example of such an approach that I’ve ever seen. And it distantly outpaces whatever the runner-up might be. As I remember it, I was at the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin. It was part of a day trip to the city in order to see as many independent films as possible, all in the service of filling the slate of our radio show since the little Midwestern college town that twas our broadcast home was sometimes lucky to get more than two new movies per week.

Much as I enjoy — even prefer — the sorts of films that play at art house cinemas, the trailers for them are usually not exactly, an enduring truism that was even more solidly certain back then. I’m uncertain about the quality of the films we watched that day, but the trailers had begun to wear me out with their wispy lack of commitment. (Trailers for foreign films were especially nebulous as editors took great pains to disguise the presence of subtitles from prospective audiences.) Up came a trailer for a Noire Pictures feature called Dance with Your Feet, from director Renato Floresca. As it tracked through a familiar series of shots depicting the sort of romantic melancholia that the film business routinely imported from across the Atlantic, I slumped lower in my seat, resigned to the idea that we’d be trekking back to Madison in a few weeks to sit through this feature.

Then, after almost a full minute fake-out, the surprise punchline was delivered. What we were watching was actually an entry in one of the most enduring, ubiquitous, and inventive ad campaigns of the era. Remarkably, it was an entry in the campaign that seemed precisely engineered to play in art house theaters. As I already noted, I don’t remember anything about the full-length features we saw that day, even though they were the purpose of the trip. I damn well remember the commercial, though.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Art of the Sell” tag.

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