As promised at the end of my last post, an attempt to answer the critical question: Who do the trailermakers think they’re addressing and what is it they think we want from our entertainment?.
First, we notice that the trailer addresses its audience as fellow voyeurs, while offering a take on the film that’s less nuanced and interesting than the scenes its presents. Indeed, the “show” of scenes from the movie as opposed to the “telling” voice over and Pink Panther (both audience surrogates) depicts empowered female characters who are less objects of the male gaze than seekers after their own pleasure. Capocine and Cardinale are independent agents in the plot, capable, assertive and sexually liberated. Those qualities are perfectly legible in the trailer and, I’m starting to think, part of the appeal, rather than evidence of the trailermaker’s sexism.
MALE GAZERS AND FEMALE OBJECTS?
I’ve called our twin hosts surrogates for the ideal and presumed audience: male, mature, privileged, white/pink? heterosexual and motivated by a powerful scopic drive, this ticket buyer takes a healthy interest in beautiful, full-bodied, European females. He exhibits a prurient (or is it normal?) interest in sexed-up entertainments, salacious innuendo and risqué double entendre.
The marketers have imagined an audience that wants something posh and slightly naughty; voluptuous leading ladies and suave, elegant men (in contrast to Sellers); they want sophistication, vaguely continental in savor. The trailer supplies all of these things, without much concern for plot, which is either purposely withheld or considered inessential.
Because Blake Edwards in 1963 was not the Blake Edwards we know in retrospect, and the Pink Panther was neither an iconic cartoon nor a byword for urbane, sexy comedy, the trailer can’t rely on provenance, but instead must work to associate two relatively unknown pleasures — Mr. Edwards and the Panther cartoon, with known and desired ones—Mancini, Nivens, Sellars, Capucine and Cardinale, bedroom farce, alpine luxury and European sexual mores.
But this trailer offers more than stars, generic pleasures and mild titillation. Rather, it models how an audience should enjoy the feature –frame by frame, fully engaged albeit guiltily or conspiratorily and aware of the consequences. Look how the Panther is consumed by his spectatorship; ultimately surrendering to the feature’s explosive visual impact, and body-tagged with its title. It’s even more complicated than that when you stop to think of the Panther’s extraordinary polyvalence: he’s a priceless jewel, a movie title, a cineaste, a critic, a cartoon character and an audience surrogate.
Let’s look to the editing to see how the “promised” more is conveyed visually. In terms of camera work, it’s mostly composed of medium shots, with one long shot of skiing and one closeup of Capucine’s face and the final title flying from the Panther’s flag-post tail. Personal and interior, but not intimate. This is a comedy after all, not epic or drama.
In the trailer, match cuts cleverly link cartoon and live action, the promotional and the narrative registers brought together in a composite shot: The Panther looks at a frame; the trailer cuts to the frame now full-screen, on which cast and scenes appear. Selling is, after all, Telling.
When the Panther reacts to singer Fran Jeffries, his eyes bounce to Mancini’s xylophones and her posterior, then match her shimmy and gestures, directing our attention while delivering a sample of the scopic pleasures in store.
Cutting to the wail of the saxophone, graphic hearts flow from the Panther’s breast at Capucine’s name. In the trailer, he’s the conduit for story and our guide to interpretation. But when we go to the film, the only Panther we’ll get will be in the title sequence and final credits. Here, as it often does, the trailer promises more, whereas the film can only ever deliver less.
And that is as it should be. You can’t have it all, any more than trailermakers can fully portray their features. If they did, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs, which is to tease, to appetize, to seduce, to defer: in a word: to market. What audiences want, it seems to me, is a film like that never seen at the center of David Foster Wallace’s
- Infinite Jest
- a film that needs no trailer—a movie to fulfill all your desires, a movie you can’t stop watching, a movie more important than life itself—a movie that kills. Trailers will promise you that film—and you may continue to believe you’re going to see it—and that, if I may conclude so glibly, is the essence of movie marketing generally and trailer making, specifically.
movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.