The Godfather (1972): A still trailer for a kinetic epic. (Post 2 of 2)

This trailer would have been all but inscrutable to the uninitiated viewer, even, perhaps, to recent readers of the book upon which the film is based. There are countless characters introduced, but very few clear indications as to the relationships obtaining among them. (The exception being Pacino and Brando. Their Father/Son dynamic seems obvious.) It is a veritable parade (or death march) of cops and gangsters, wives and molls, children, cousins, friends, cronies, weddings and meetings, meals and entertainments crowding thick on each other, unencumbered by dialogue or copy, relying on the character of the faces, the clothing on the bodies and the backdrops of the photographs for context and meaning. It is too much and not enough, either overwhelming or provocative to theater audiences, but either way, a bold, risky marketing gambit.

Yet for all the material, certain plot points are not in doubt. This will be a violent film; Brando is the key figure (presumably, the Godfather); battles among the crime families and with the authorities will figure throughout; serious emotional and interpersonal concerns will predominate. The trailer tells us that this is an epic, intergenerational story, featuring a tangle of plots and multiple locations. It tells us generally that the exploits of a family will be considered. And, like a photo album, which is finally, what this trailer seems closest to being, the order of images expresses a logic that may have been instituted by the album maker, or merely reflect the order in which the snapshots were placed in the pages.

Below I’ve sketched out short answers to my trailer template.

1. What Kind: Long Theatrical, 3:38. Feature Film. Non Standard. Stills, no copy, no v.o. only one live action scene.
2. Structure: Acts… 7.
3. Editorial Notes: succession of push ins/ pulls out on still images. Movement is left to right and to a lesser degree, right to left. The cuts are rhythmic and dictated by the music cue. on average, one second per image. Primary content of visuals: Faces. Meetings. Violence, Crimes. Murders, family, power. A few dissolves, quickly accomplished.
4. Graphic design: title early. Title at end. A marionette graphic (just like book jacket image) over “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather” which sells the provenance of this best seller. No cast run, but Brando is easily recognizable.
5. Genre – gangster..mafiosa Story elements, but not a clear or obvious narrative line. Not technologically inflected or spectacular in presentation, but rather artistic and cinematographic.
6. Music: two pieces of music….one, Italian, traditional, various movements. Suitable for wedding. Ominous. Tempo changed. Instrumentation changes per what is being shown….corresponds to visual info, or cues the presentation of visual info, telling us what to think. Sound level—medium. No dialogue. No V.o.
7. What craft/art emphasized: Still photography and editing. Organization. Rhythm, sound design. This does not appear to be determined by market research but rather to manifest a very personal, idiosyncratic vision.
8. Tone/attitude: earnest. Melodramatic. Emotional, personal, involving. Non linear.
9. Relationship to the film: corresponding, albeit in a different medium, using still rather than live action photography. Indulgent, lengthy, involved, multiple characters, dramatic, emotional, epic, violent, personal – a photo album of a family.

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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