The Clones (1973) – Science Fiction Meets Science Fact

[Part 3 in our continuing look at trailers for exploitation films. Advertising and marketing for exploitation films enjoy benefits not available to mainstream fare. Lower budgets allow greater risk taking; lower visibility allows more risque risk taking. Experimentation and excess seem to me to be the twin poles around which most exploitation trailers are organized. Often, such trailers hearken back to tried and true formulas from the history of movie marketing. Occasionally, they break new ground and teach mainstream trailermakers some new tricks. Guest Blogger Tony Best shares his insights into a 1973 sci-fi cult "classic?" below.]

Lamar Card‘s sci-fi shocker The Clones (1973) takes a novel and artistic approach to trailer structure. A smart, stylistically engaging short film that eschews gore and shock value, the trailer opens in an authentic laboratory setting with scientists manning banks of medical equipment. This is followed by scrolling text read in an ominous voice by an off-screen narrator discussing the advent of genetic engineering and the new science of plant and human cloning.

The trailer then cuts to a title card for the film, whose graphic design is inspired by Russian or “nested” dolls. A fleeing protagonist—a cloned man, running for his life– is intercut with further laboratory scenes and a stream of consciousness, science-centric montage that evokes the editing technique of Godfrey Reggio’s films.

The preview returns to narrated text quoting United States Senator John Tunney’s statement against cloning research, which supports the trailer’s claim that “what was once science fiction will soon be science fact.” It ends on the title graphic described above. What makes this trailer unique is that it is presented and narrated without bombast as if it were a documentary. The viewer is given the ambiguous impression that the film is fact based.

The Clones coming attraction is unsettling and disturbing, which seems to be the producer’s intent. Although it doesn’t employ sensationalism or typical marketing rhetoric, the trailer suggest that it is “important” to watch this film. Nearly forties years after its release, I feel compelled to watch The Clones despite the concept of genetic engineering being passé and clichéd within science fiction and science fact, generally.

Although I haven’t seen the film (indeed, where to obtain a screener?) I was intrigued by the footage contained within the trailer. While some of the moving images look as if they came from the feature, a significant portion of the footage has a “grainy” quality and can be presumed by the viewer to be stock footage borrowed from other films. If this suspicion is correct, then this preview is not only a trailer but an artistic manifestation and enactment of what the film itself is describing—-the use of components from an original to create a viable copy.

And let’s not forget that a viable clone or copy is also independent, self-directing and unpredictable. Jean Cocteau called the film trailer its own form of cinematic expression, one that exists independently of its original. I think we’ve seen a confirmation of his prescient insight, as trailer websites proliferate, fan-generated trailers fool the marketplace, and graduate seminars devote themselves to the study of these dense, short film texts.

GUEST BLOGGER:
Tony Best is a researcher, digital media producer/archivist and aspiring TV promo creative director based in Los Angeles. An alumnus of UCLA’s Moving Image Archive Studies master’s degree program, Tony has worked on several preservation projects, including digital restoration of “lost” television programs and coordinating the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s “L.A. Rebellion” initiative (under the aegis of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time). He is also a regular contributor to the music and film quarterly Wax Poetics. Tony can be reached at tonyvision@me.com.

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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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