WHEN A SPOOF TRAILER IS NO LONGER SPOOFING: Machete (2007) & Machete (2010) and the Crystal Image of the Futurum Exactum


Daniel Hesford, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Edinburgh, in his just published article “Action…Suspense…Emotion!: The Trailer as Cinematic Performance,” (in the special issue of Frames Cinema Journal devoted to promotional materials that I’ve been touting for the last couple of weeks) delivers real-world examples of certain theoretical (and provocative) assertions about trailers made by of oft-cited trailer scholars Lisa Kernan and Vinzenz Hediger. For all those interested in trailers’ paratextual, epitextual, intertextual and temporally dynamic character, this article is catnip.

Although Hesford discusses other spoof and mash-up trailers (Broke-back to the Future & Shining), it is the Machete trailer spoof created and produced for the 2007 Tarentino/Rodriguez Grindhouse double-feature, that presents the most interesting case study of art influencing reality (and then some).

In the course of promoting a fictional movie by means of a parodic deployment of exploitation trailer formulae, Rodriguez and Tarentino created anticipation and demand adequate to the green-lighting of a big-budget, star-studded studio feature. That feature then received its own, official and authentic trailer (see below). Of course, both the actual feature and its official trailer depart significantly from the “promise” and “premise” of the preview, although not, significantly, in ways that are qualitatively different from that usual incommensurability between conventional films and their trailers. See below


As Hesford argues, the trailer is more than a promotion; it is, rather a cinematic performance, at once an “ad and more than an ad,” to borrow the phrasing of Kernan. Among the many contradictions held in balance by the promotional agency of this dense, hybrid film genre, there is, “not least…the quality of nostalgia for a film we haven’t seen yet.” (He is quoting Kernan, Coming Attractions, 8) Such nostalgia, as we see with the Machete spoof trailer, may be so powerful as to call into existence the very real, enduring and expensive cultural production we recognize as a feature film.

Developing Vinzenz Hediger’s insight that trailers are films, “made up of almost nothing but quotes” from the films they seek to convince potential viewers to consume, Hesford notes that the spoof trailer “is born out of and indeed relies on, the actual absence of commercial purpose or, in some cases, even an antecedent film text.” In this instance, he asks, rather pointedly, can spoof trailers even be considered promotional texts, advertisements or previews, since there is nothing extant to be promoted, advertised, or previewed?

In answer to what I take to be the rhetorical value of Hesford’s question, what they promote advertise and preview is desire, a quality not unfamiliar to filmmakers and their industry. You might say that a teaser trailer is a document of desire for a film text that is as yet unproduced (or unfinished.) And so are Kick-starter videos and, for decades now, the sizzles and short student films that would-be filmmakers (directors and producers) would use to pitch their services, their creativity and their marketability. By this analogy, the Machete spoof trailer merely takes this logic to its delightful, absurdist conclusion.

Such inquiries, Hesford points out, also “have consequences– not only for the status of the paratext [i.e. the trailer/preview/ad]–but also for cinematic renderings of space and time. Read as previews or adverts for upcoming films, trailers occupy a paratextual threshold. They look forward to a future cinematic moment, but employ footage depicting events in the past–that have ‘already happened’–and in this sense simultaneously look backwards.”

Where Hesford is going with this is to propose that in this chronologically indeterminate space, the “trailer creates a performance of time” which he then links with Gilles Deleuze‘s concept of the “crystal image…which reflects facets of time: the actual and the virtual” and Jacques Lacan’s Futurum Exactum, a verb tense and psychoanalytical concept that Hediger parses below.

The futurum exactum is the tense of desire, the tense of imaginary anticipation and of anticipated memory…one could argue that trailers create a desire to see the film by showing the film as one remembers it, or rather by showing the film one has not yet seen as one would remember it if one had already seen it, i.e. as a collection of excerpts of ciaully and emotionally strong moments.” (Hediger, “A Cinema of memory in the Future Tense: Godard Trailers and Godard Trailers,” in

    Forever Godard

, edited by James Williams, et al.)

So, there you have it. Kernan & Hediger, Deleuze and Lacan, all in one post!! My head is spinning. As I hope to have suggested before, any simple, temporally straightforward notion of the work of trailers should be, by now, put to rest. But do read the article. There’s much more than I can profitably and briefly relate in a 800 word post.

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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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