The Art of the Sell: “Fearless” trailer

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

Back when I was part of a crew that had an endless capacity for discussing all manner of film, one of the topics we circled back to on occasion was the effective use of pop songs in movies and trailers. This was in the first half of the nineteen-nineties, so we reserved special praise for those rare instances when some favorite song of college radio made an aural appearance. Just the presence of the song didn’t cut it, though. It needed to be used well.

In Peter Weir’s 1993 film, Fearless, the U2 song “Where the Streets Have No Name” is coupled to a particularly strong scene, so it’s not surprising that it was also deployed in the film’s trailer. In my opinion, it’s used even better in this promotional setting. The song’s slow build is matched by the procession of visuals and information. As the racing pulse of the Edge’s guitar nears its peak, the trailers races through quietly dynamic moments from the film — Jeff Bridges pulls Rosie Perez up from a bench, Bridges presses his hand on a window, Bridges is pulled toward Isabella Rossellini for a kiss — masterfully edited together. I’ve seen this trailer countless times (when I was in charge of assigning trailers to films at the movie theater where I worked at the time, I attached this to everything), and it still gives me chills.

Fearless is a flawed film, but it deserves to be better remembered. And its trailer is itself a grand piece of filmmaking.

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The Art of the Sell: The Big Sick

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

big sick
I believe this image originated with the Los Angeles Times.

I’m planning to get to my review of The Big Sick tomorrow. As a precursor, I want to offer a commendation to the sales pitch that’s led up to and accompanied the release of the comedy penned by spouses Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. In this, I don’t mean the sorts of more traditional promotional materials. The movie poster is mediocre at best, and the trailer isn’t much better.

Instead, those behind The Big Sick — led by Nanjiani and Gordon — have done an amazing job of using every other avenue at their disposal to tell the compelling story behind the film. Nanjiani and Gordon have seemingly been everywhere together, proving effortlessly engaging on podcasts, public radio staples, and in venerable outposts of celebrity celebration. That part of the campaign has been accompanied by the pair’s expert use of their respective social media presences, marked by effusive fan interaction and joyful wonder at the new world they find themselves in.

If there’s another recent instance of a film’s marketing campaign being simultaneously so ubiquitous and yet earnestly genial — defined by a humble gratitude that never feels calculated —  I can’t recall it. By the time The Big Sick made it to my town, I’d developed a rooting interest in it, as if it were crafted by a family member or a lifelong friend. Maybe that was someone’s devious plan all along. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter. Held up agains the bludgeoning insistence of other marketing campaigns, the affection I feel for The Big Sick — and the people who made it — is a lovely feeling.

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

The Art of the Sell: Moon Knight

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

moon knight

I’ve long held an affection for Moon Knight, both the character and the nineteen-eighties comic book series preside over by writer Doug Moench and artist Bill Sienkiewicz. And yet every time I’ve gone back and perused an issue or two — with an entry in the “My Misspent Youth” feature in mind — I’ve found it to be difficult sledding. Even though I read a bunch of those comics back in my heavy-duty collecting days, the old panels stir few real memories.

Strange as it seems, I wonder if my recollection of the amazing coolness of Moon Knight stemmed less from the comics themselves and more from the advertising that probably drove me to them in the first place. Just look at that copy. “CIVILIZATION ITSELF SEEMS TO BE ONE LONG, AGONIZED SCREAM.” How could that not rattle my young brain. And then there’s the promise at the bottom: “FIFTY CENTS. WORTH IT.” Of course I felt like the coolest kid at the comic spinner when I grabbed my copy of Moon Knight. Who wouldn’t?

 

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

The Art of the Sell: “Fargo” movie poster

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

fargo

By the middle of the nineteen-nineties, I was becoming dismayed with the state of movie posters. I have no empirical evidence to offer to prove my theory, but it truly seemed as if attempts at creativity and artfulness were dwindling. There was little evident willingness on the part of studios to bring memorable images to their promotional efforts. Instead, they wanted great big pictures of the movie stars with as little other information as possible. If they were paying twenty million dollars for Jim Carrey, they wanted to be damn sure everybody knew Jim Carrey was in the movie. All other information was incidental.

There were exceptions, of course. Even though much of the promotional campaign around Fargo, the amazing 1996 film from Joel and Ethan Coen, a fairly straightforward image of Marge Gunderson examining a crime scene, there was an official movie poster that got at the film’s uniquely homey brand of lightly blackened comedy. It’s only right that a movie like Fargo has a poster that evidences the same level of cleverness.

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

The Art of the Sell: “Psycho” trailer

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

There’s so much that’s marvelous about the original trailer for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The virtues begin with the auteur himself, genially leading the viewer through a tour of the film’s sets as if they are real places, all the while alluding to grave horrors that took place within them. And then there’s the pleasant music that accompanies Hitchcock’s ambling, like the soundtrack from Leave it to Beaver was misplaced there. And its six minutes — six minutes! — all builds to a droll gag utilizing a shot from what would prove to be the most famed sequence in a career that had no shortage of contenders for that designation.

The hackneyed phrase “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” isn’t even accurate in this instance. They didn’t make ’em like that back then. How could they? Aside from those directors who were also major actors, there has surely never been another person who took up residence behind the camera who had the kind of immediate stature and inherent charisma to effectively serve as a tour guide in such a promotional effort. As with so many of his other cinematic triumphs, only Hitchcock could have pulled this off.

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

The Art of the Sell: “Stop Making Sense” trailer

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

Jonathan Demme said he preferred to call Stop Making Sense a performance film rather than a concert film. The reasoning behind that is clear. He captured Talking Heads live on stage in a manner markedly different from most predecessor films in the genre. The film is dynamic and enthralling, intensely focused on the swerving rhythms of a band in sync with each other and the added visual trappings they brought to their show. Demme wasn’t trying to make a memento, a mere duplication of the the experience of standing the midst of a concert crowd. He was making a proper film, with all the demands that implies.

So how is that resulting cinematic creation sold? It requires a trailer that’s just as fearlessly challenging and innovative, promising a spectacle that’s simultaneously discombobulating and thrilling. Set aside all expectations, it asserts. This is what a concert film — what a performance film, rather — can and should be.

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