10 META-Trailers Worth Watching

As I noted in my Nov. 23rd post on Meta Trailers, trailers are always implicitly self-referential. Some trailers, however, foreground their status as familiar, formulaic and appealing feature film advertisements as the basis for their own promotional message.

Here is a list of 10 trailers that are as much about themselves as they are about the films for which they were produced. Typically, this self-conscious, “inside-joke” approach works for comedies and satires, but occasionally a dramatic or horror film uses it.

The trailer for this documentary about Jerry Seinfeld performing as a stand-up comedian, sends up the Voice Over Artist and the cliche’d trailer rhetoric given him (or her) to read. While it tells us almost nothing about the film, this trailer routinely ranks in the list of best or funniest trailers ever.

Real Life
Here, Albert Brooks, speaking as himself, heralds his new film, “Real Life,” by spoofing the 3D viewing experience and its promotional excesses. We learn, briefly, that the film is about a family who finds its private existence the subject of a major motion picture, but the only footage we see is of Brooks goofing around with the presumed audience, us.

Miracle on 34th Street
This trailer opens with the “producer” of the movie being shown a “draft” of the trailer his marketing men have shot. He stops the preview after 30 seconds to complain that the approach is too “broad,” insisting that the trailer can’t be all the things they say it is. Then, he walks out onto the studio lot where he learns, from a succession of conversations with passing actors, stars and starlets, that his marketing guys were right. The film really is everything they said it was, and wonderful to boot.

Robin Williams hosts this trailer, standing in a wheatfield, goofing on how the trailer will look. But this is how the trailer looks: Robin Williams goofing in a wheatfield.

The Birds
Hitchcock uses irony to promote his horror film about Birds turning on their human predators. He offers a 5 minute lecture on the special friendship between mankind and the feathered co-inhabitants of the planet. He concludes by dining on a roast chicken. It’s classic Hitchcock, with the great director using his own celebrity as the vehicle for his delivery of the many reasons birds might hate us. The last 40 seconds of the trailers show Tippi Hedron in a panic, saying “they’re coming” over the sound of screeching birds.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
“It’s easy to talk about Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf; it’s hard to tell about it,” says the dulcet-toned voice-over artist reading the nearly wall to wall copy that underlies a succession of stills, scenes, and raucous diegetic dialogue from the film. In the course of explaining the difficulty of making a trailer for this film, the voice-over manages to describe the set up, the actors and the conflict, while also lauding Albee the dramaturge and Nichols the director.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
This trailer tells the story of the movie by having its voice-over artist consult the “hitchhiker’s guide” for the term “movie trailer” and then read aloud the content as scenes from the movie play underneath. It’s one of the better pieces of movie advertising that I can think of as well as one of the more concise and comprehensive descriptions of movie trailers I’ve ever encountered.

Pink Flamingos
The original trailer for John Waters’ notorious film about people competing for the title of world’s filthiest couple, shows no scenes from the film, but uses audience reaction shots after a midnight screening as well as blurbs from influential critics to elicit interest in the scandalous movie.

The Muppets
In this teaser trailer from early in 2011, all the cliche’s of a formulaic romantic drama are parodied, including the sappy music cue and the shot of the downhearted male protagonist in the rain. But then, the cast run reveals the hitherto unexpected presence of Kermit and Miss Piggy. At this, Jason Siegal, the live-action star, interrupts the trailer to ask of the camera and audience, “Are there Muppets in this movie?” Indeed, there are. The trailer continues as an formulaic action adventure, extravaganza.

Anna Karenina (1935)

Told in the florid, hyperbolic style of 1930’s National Screen Service promotion, the expected titles and copy cards, cast run, scenes and closeups are interrupted by a 30 second appearance by child star Freddie Bartholomew, in costume, who welcomes the audience to this preview for his next picture, thanking us for our letters and encouragement and telling us what a treat it’s been to act with Ms. Garbo. Garbo is the true selling point of the trailer, which features her name in blinding white font, no less than 5 times. “Garbo with the dashing, flashing, gayest, maddest, most tempestuous sweetheart of her screen career,” is how Frederick March, her on-screen lover is introduced. Weird and wrong, but trying something new, this trailer is memorable mostly for being about itself and its formulae.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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