5 Ways Movies Used To Be Marketed (That Made No Damn Sense)
Since Hollywood can't hire people to shout "Hey! Movies! Movies are good!" on every street corner, they've had to invent posters and trailers and countless other ways to promote their two-hour Mark Wahlberg commercials. But we honestly have it pretty good and simple right now. Because before we decided that every movie poster needed to be Matt Damon's giant head, we went through some growing pains. Some lovable, bafflingly ridiculous growing pains.
Promo Images That Made Everything Look Like A Buddy Cop Movie
Aside from trailers, the number-one way to promote movies is with posters. And sometimes, you get an iconic thing like the original Star Wars poster where Luke was too interested in his exploding lightsaber to notice that Princess Leia was about to slip off of their fucking rock. And sometimes, you get Now You See Me 2, which literally had no other marketing tactic than "The cast is looking at you."
The art of the "obviously choreographed promotional image" has been lost entirely. And that is a terrible shame, because these were fantastic ways to misrepresent your movie entirely. Batman tells the story of two guys, one representing grim darkness and the other representing cruel, chaotic humor, dueling to the death. And their promotional images told the story of two roommates that comically couldn't stand each other.
That doesn't say "That clown man killed my parents, and two hours from now, he will be a mess of skin and guts on the streets of Gotham." That says "The chief says that we have to get along if we're ever gonna solve the case." But hey, Batman is a superhero movie. Those are goofy by nature, and considering that Michael Keaton couldn't turn his own head in the costume, any time he's forced to pose is going to be a valiant struggle against his neck and his dignity. What about horror movies? Surely, if you made a Texas Chain Saw Massacre film about a cannibal fighting the star of Dawn Of The Dead, you'd arrange them in a way that...
I wouldn't say that these posters tear the magic away from movies as much as they add something that I don't think the English language is quite ready to explain. A promo image for Return Of The Jedi turned a climactic clash into the shittiest Off-Broadway production that I've never seen.
The height of promotional images, though, as far as I'm concerned, came with the lobby card. If you liked movies, but absolutely hated knowing what movies were about, lobby cards were your jam. Very rarely were they stills from the movie. Instead, they were flamboyant poses meant to excite you about the fact that this movie...has people in it. My favorite ever is the one for Aliens, where the cast appears to be gearing up for the most badass Super Bowl halftime show in history.
There's not a damn thing about aliens or space or robots on there. Just steel grating and background dancers from Cameo's "Word Up" video. And maybe it's better that way. Maybe it's a surprise to get into the theater and be like "That alien just burst from that guy's chest! I thought for sure that this would be about future soldiers forced to gyrate to save the galaxy. Wow, this is almost as good as that."
Books That Made The Production Seem Impossibly Perfect
Because most of the production news is leaked out onto the internet as the movie is getting made, books about the productions of new movies are becoming sparse. They're either massive, coffee-table-sized "Making Of" bibles about a classic film's history, or living-room-sized "The Art Of (Insert Movie Title Here)" books. I guess they make them that large to get you to be more accepting of yourself. When people can see that you bought THE ART AND MAKING OF BATMAN VS SUPERMAN from space, you become okay with your own interests relatively fast.
But before the internet processed a thousand news stories about every casting change and every release date delay, we got novelizations. But not, like, novelizations written by people that had so much love for a particular film that they decided to write the definitive narrative about it. Sure, there were those, too, but these making-of books were written by people hired by the studio to make the production seem like it had been a flawlessly executed trail of gold and rainbow. For instance, the 1976 King Kong got one of these.
I've written about this version of King Kong before. A big chunk of its budget was spent on a giant robot that would've been great if it had worked in the fucking slightest. The director was John Guillermin, whose The New York Times obituary lovingly includes a paragraph that is solely about his constant screaming. And even Rick Baker, the acclaimed special-effects man, was sad about the fact that King Kong looked like someone's intricate King Kong Halloween costume.
But you wouldn't know any of this from The Creation of Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong, by Bruce Bahrenburg, which literally starts out with an explanation of how the reporters "who have probably never seen the inside of a newspaper city room" in "tight pants emphasizing too-thick female thighs" "swoop down" on a breakfast buffet, leaving nothing but crumbs. It comes just short of capping it all off with "And the fatty fat fats farted their way through questions, because critics are stupid and should be thankful for their free pastries, the fatty fart fatties."
He then goes onto explain about how beautiful the cast is. He even describes Guillermin as looking like he wants to be back on the set, which is a really optimistic way of saying "wants to be strangling the assistant director for nearly no reason." And the whole book is like this. Every problem, no matter how self-inflicted, is a triumph of the underdog. Bruce Bahrenburg would write a bunch of these, and if he's still around when I die, I hope he writes my eulogy. "Daniel was funny and well-liked by everyone. And his date never changed her mind about prom."
Awkward Behind The Scenes Documentaries
Documentaries that you find in the special features of Blu-rays and DVDs are pretty standard. You're guided through people talking about how great or difficult everything is, interspersed with footage of the cast being told what to do on set. Unless you're a fan of the movie, or are interested in movie making, it can be pretty dull stuff. Just a loop of "Okay, Gary. That step looked really good. But let's try it again, and this time, raise your knees an inch or two more. And yes, this is hell. We are all in total hell."
That's why Hollywood needs to drop more money into terribly staged, behind-the-scenes documentaries. One of my favorites is from 1992, and it was made to coincide with the release of Batman Returns.
We open with Robert Urich, a beautiful man who was born without self awareness. He says "Welcome to Gotham City" with a voice clear of sarcasm, although sarcasm probably would've been good right now, since Gotham City is apparently just a pitch-black arena and an oddly lit tunnel.
But oh shit! As he's explaining the plot of the movie, Catwoman appears to be spying on the narrator of the behind-the-scenes documentary of the movie that she was just in. And that's the best part about these. The plots of the films are leaking through a tear in reality itself, and Robert Urich could not be more bored by the collapse of the laws of physics.
By the end, both the Bat signal...
...and the Batmobile show up, but after Catwoman, they're just items 2 and 3 on the list of Top 10 Things Robert Urich Does Not Give An Ounce Of Shit About.
If you want to see someone excited that fiction and non-fiction are furiously 69ing, look no further than the lead in this documentary for two of the 80s Japanese Godzilla films.
He's so excited about Godzilla that he steals a Godzilla script from a stranger, and then steals the man's newspaper because the 'Zilla train aint got no brakes, ya'll. After this, he looks at the sky and screams at nothing, which is the appropriate emotional response for a guy that goes around robbing random pedestrians of their Godzilla merchandise in public. I would know.
He then becomes the guy walking us through the documentary and interviewing people involved in the production, which seems like a pretty nice career move from the Godzilla-related theft job that he had eight seconds ago. He also spies on and feels up the Godzilla costume at night, before the sentient Godzilla costume scares him away. Either that, or it's a plea for help from the stuntman that the crew left trapped in the suit for the evening.
I don't want to claim to be an expert, but Hollywood could really see a resurgence if they marketed every film with "This is a great movie! You should see this movie! The wormhole is open! Fantasy and my flesh combine. AAAAAGGHHHHHHHHH."
Trailers That Were Mostly Commercials For The Directors
Nowadays, trailers are slapdash attempts at persuading someone, anyone, to go see the movie that they're promoting. And, like with posters, they're a mixed bag. Both trailers for Logan are likely better than the movie is going to be, but look at the trailer for the new Power Rangers, which doesn't have a single coherent thought in it:
It tries to aim at fans who want a gritty reboot of Power Rangers, fans that want a fun reboot of Power Rangers, people that don't really like Power Rangers because they think it's dumb but might go see something that has kicks in it, and people that listen to Kanye West. It's like a movie trailer for the general idea of Power Rangers movie trailers. It almost makes me miss previews like the bizarre single-minded ones Alfred Hitchcock did, which were more about Hitchcock and his syrupy drollness than whatever thriller he was shilling.
"Hell of a segue there, Daniel!" Thanks, Dad! You see, by the late 50s, Hitchcock wasn't a mere film director any more. He had a popular TV show where he made jokes almost exclusively about how funny murder is, and when you combined that with his critically acclaimed, financially successful films, you got someone who didn't just make movies, but events. Very few modern directors ever reach this level. Tarantino is there, as are the Coen brothers, and Christopher Nolan is also scrabbling up to that peak. But it's a very exclusive club, perfectly exemplified by the clout that it would've taken to create the original trailer for Psycho.
For six minutes, Alfred Hitchcock shows us what some real estate looks like. Yeah, he vaguely ties it back into the movie about stabbing that he just made, but for the most part, it's a commercial for Hitchcock's wonderful accent, which sounds like a nice blend of his heritage, two bottles of wine, and cheeks that are half full of Play-Doh. It's not a voice that multiple people have. It's a voice that you inherit when you open the old, dusty cupboard that your grandpa warned you about on his death bed.
It would be easy to assume that maybe this was an isolated incident and that the rest of Hitchcock's trailers are just random scenes assembled over orchestra music. But would the guy who had the confidence to make the Psycho trailer only do that shit once?
The trailer for The Birds basically gives us a spoken-word prequel to the actual movie. Hitchcock ironically describes all of the terrible things that man has done to birds, but whoever put together the trailer forgot about the first four minutes of that, because they splash "WHAT WAS THEIR EVIL INTENT?" across the screen. Pay attention, bro. The director of the movie goes on and on about bird attack motivation, and you just took it as "That big British guy just wouldn't shut up about eggs, when he needs to be talkin' about why these dang ol' birds are trying to eat the kids!"
And though he remains seated in it, the trailer for Marnie opens with Hitchcock descending from the studio heavens.
We should all be grateful that he decided to come down from his Olympus to share his movie trailer with us, and then promptly talk over the whole damn thing. Sure, the leads are beautiful and their story is engaging, but the real star of this show is an overweight British man and his arid sense of humor. And you better not fucking forget it.
Movie Posters That Shouted Nonsense At You
A big problem with modern movie posters is that they try to match subtlety with the mega blockbuster feeling that the movie actually has. It's a billion-dollar movie about robot dinosaurs exploding, and the tagline on the poster will be something like "He is here." What? Why not "This Cyborg T-Rex Is About To Explode...And YOU Might Be Next"? I'd see the shit out of that. But nope, all we get is "They have come."
It's a far cry from the glory days of movie posters, which screamed at you:
Robert Mitchum, an actor who is most certainly drunk fist-fighting with Jesus right now, was the king of these. The Bandido poster uses "grenaded" as a verb, before it goes on to talk about women in a way that is grenadedly antiquated. And the best part about it is that it's so outlandish that "grenaded" isn't even the main selling point of the poster. It's treated like it's just another way to move. Hate flying? Grenade your way there. It's the safest way to travel. For you.
This one for Crossfire has a woman floating in an abyss of human heads and torsos, and beside that horrorscape, an argument over what the tagline should be. "'Sensational?' Shut the fuck up, Rick. If I had a bottle of whiteout, I'd fix this and shove the rest down your smelly little throat. No, it's dynamite."
Hammer, a British film studio that flooded the earth with Dracula and Frankenstein movies, didn't give a shit about whether their posters were meant to be menacing or not:
That's a tagline that gets written the moment you realize that this is about the 20th mummy movie ever made, and that people are not going to them because mummy panic is sweeping the nation. The aforementioned Dracula gets the award for best poster in history, though:
"Obviously." Hammer, you glib asshole. I know I wasn't around to truly enjoy your heyday, but I miss you regardless. Mainly because the tagline for this movie in 2017 would be "He awakens" or something. And "He awakens" isn't a tagline that you come up with when you have a sincere love of movies. "He awakens" shows up because you have decided that there will be eight of these movies, and not even God can stop you.
Daniel has a blog.
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