One of the defining aspects of movie trailers is that they occupy the same medium as the film they advertise. Indeed, that is one of their distinctive formal qualities. A book review, with excerpts from the book discussed, would be similar in its appeal. (A book trailer?) By contrast, a TV commercial for soap powder, or a printed flyer for a movie, operate in different media and are less viscerally and generically compelling as a result.
In my tireless search to establish the genealogy of trailers, I recently learned about a series of orchestral musical compositions written expressly to be played during intermission of the performance of other works by the same composer as an inducement to patrons to attend and enjoy the “featured” works that were struggling to sell tickets during their extended run.
The composer was the immortal Georg Friedrich Handel, then resident in London, where he was building a reputation as the foremost composer of his day. An entrepreneurial musician, he had his own company, for which he composed operas, oratorios and masques. His oratorios (like opera, they feature an orchestra, solo instrumentalists and vocalists, but do so without costumes, staging or choreographed movement) and Masques were not selling out as he anticipated, so he composed 12 Grand Concerto’s to be performed during the intermission. These were intended to draw paying audiences to his performances at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Now here we have, if not exactly a “sample” of the “feature” that is being presented, promotional materials in the same “general” medium of the “product” being advertised, written by the same composer, and used to attract and retain audiences. Genre and provenance are here exploited for their claim on audience’s attention and interest. The Concerto Grossi were immediately popular and they seemed to have done the job of putting butts in seats for the oratorio and masque performances.
One wonders whether magic lantern shows (the precursors to motion pictures) ever used slides or series of slides to advertise upcoming presentations? Or, if a dramatist ever included a plug for an upcoming productions in the script of his or her play? Indeed, by the same logic whereby series and sequels constitute implicit “previews” for themselves, the History Plays of Shakespeare might be seen as themselves advertisements in theatrical guise for their sequels or prequels.
Comments, refutations, criticisms invited.
movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.