Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers

Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers

Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers

Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers

Synopsis

Movie trailers--those previews of coming attractions before the start of a feature film--are routinely praised and reviled by moviegoers and film critics alike: "They give away too much of the movie." "They're better than the films." "They only show the spectacular parts." "They lie." "They're the best part of going to the movies." But whether you love them or hate them, trailers always serve their purpose of offering free samples of a film to influence moviegoing decision-making. Indeed, with their inclusion on videotapes, DVDs, and on the Internet, trailers are more widely seen and influential now than at any time in their history. Starting from the premise that movie trailers can be considered a film genre, this pioneering book explores the genre's conventions and offers a primer for reading the rhetoric of movie trailers. Lisa Kernan identifies three principal rhetorical strategies that structure trailers: appeals to audience interest in film genres, stories, and/or stars. She also analyzes the trailers for twenty-seven popular Hollywood films from the classic, transitional, and contemporary eras, exploring what the rhetorical appeals within these trailers reveal about Hollywood's changing conceptions of the moviegoing audience. Kernan argues that movie trailers constitute a long-standing hybrid of advertising and cinema and, as such, are precursors to today's heavily commercialized cultural forms in which art and marketing become increasingly indistinguishable.

Excerpt

Trailers, or previews of coming attractions, are both praised and reviled by film scholars and regular moviegoers alike. “They give away too much of the movie.” “They’re better than the films.” “They only show the spectacular parts.” “All the best jokes are in the trailer.” “They lie.” “They’re the best part of going to the movies.” “They’re too loud.” At the same time, they are used by both groups precisely as they’re meant to be used, as free samples to aid in moviegoing decision making. And in the contemporary market, trailers’ reach is ever expanding, with their inclusion on videotapes, DVDs, and on the Internet, where they are an increasingly popular and influential marketing tool. Yet very little scholarly attention has been paid to the way trailers characterize films, and thus presume audience desire, in order to sell them.

While trailers are a form of advertising, they are also a unique form of narrative film exhibition, wherein promotional discourse and narrative pleasure are conjoined (whether happily or not). Thus this book is not a study of film advertising as a whole, and will not treat television advertising for films, nor key art such as posters. I am defining a movie trailer as a brief film text that usually displays images from a specific feature film while asserting its excellence, and that is created for the purpose of projecting in theaters to promote a film’s theatrical release. Trailers are film paratexts that are especially important to study in an era when promotion and visual narrative have become increasingly difficult to disentangle in all kinds of popular media, whether music television, children’s cartoons, “infotainment,” or films themselves. Indeed, as Jane Gaines noted as early as 1990, “Today, the analysis of culture as commodity may have lost its explanatory potency since we are left with so few examples of uncommodified relations.” And more recently, scholars . . .

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