Thursday, September 4, 2008

Schindler's List

It's entirely appropriate, I think, that one of the greatest movies of the past 20 years should have resulted in one of the best trailers I've ever seen.

Schindler's List was released in December of 1993, won 7 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. It's an astonishingly painful and moving reconstruction of the Holocaust, of death and of hope. The first time I saw it, I exited the theater with the front of my shirt wet from sobbing. As far as a film can ever be that way, it was a transcendent experience.

The trailer nearly matches it. Except for two brief instances, there is no dialogue from the movie, and no sound. Instead the montage of imagery is overlaid with a haunting, stunningly beautiful piece of music by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar called Exodus. The music does not appear at all in the film -- not knowing that, I bought the soundtrack on CD, and was profoundly disappointed at its lack -- and instead makes the trailer its own small masterpiece.

Even without the movie to provide context, the trailer is filled with imagery so horrific to almost defy belief -- and, it must be said, to suck you in and make you want to see the film: the pile of gold-filled teeth being emptied onto the table; the girl yelling goodbye as the Jews are expelled from Krakow; the little boy drawing his finger across his throat; the child looking up at the sunlight from where he's hiding beneath the outhouse.

The trailer for Schindler's List does more than simply make you want to see the movie. It makes you want to understand the movie; understand what happened. As such, I think it's probably one of the best theatrical trailers ever made.

In a world where he's gone

Bur first, since we're talking about trailers here, it's appropriate to mention Don LaFontaine, the "voice" of pretty much any trailer you care to remember. He did voiceover work for the studios for more than 25 years; his "In a world where..." intros have surely become a cliche all by themselves.

Too much of a cliche to me, I have to admit. Hearing his voice only served to destroy the verisimilitude of being pulled into the trailer. A lot like the grossly over-used Wilhelm scream effect -- which these days does nothing more than display a lack of imagination on the part of the sound designer.

Still, he was a giant in his field, and he's left a huge void that nobody will ever be able to fill. He will be missed.

The best part of the show

Watching the coming attractions is an integral part of going to the movies; sometimes -- unfortunately -- it's the best part. I love the trailers. I like lots of trailers; the more the better. My friends and I went to see Hellboy II last weekend, and I felt ripped off because there was only one trailer.

All trailers are an advertisement, created not by the artists who made the movie, but by a firm hired by the studio to promote it. They're put together, as often as not, before the movie has finished shooting; which is why you often see scenes in the trailer that never end up in the film. Most of them are as generic and forgettable as the day is long, but some of them rise above that and become brilliant works of art all by themselves. I'll try to mention the good ones, and the awful ones as well. I suspect the bad ones may be more fun to talk about.

First some terms: teaser and trailer. The teaser is released to the theaters first, usually 6 months, but often as long as a year before the film is released. It's usually about 30-60 seconds long, and often doesn't contain any scenes from the film. This teaser from the movie Twister is a good example. It's actually a pretty good teaser: tense, exciting, dramatic narration. Too bad the movie sucked so badly.

The trailer usually shows up between 3-6 months before the movie opens, and can be as long as 2:30 in length, though studios can get a small number of exceptions each year for longer trailers.

Green Band trailers are the ones we typically see at the movies. They have a green background and can be shown before any movie.

Red Band trailers have a red background, contain more possibly objectionably scenes from the movie, and may only be shows before films rated R or NC-17.

There's also a Yellow Band trailer, seen only on line, with text that reads "The following PREVIEW has been approved for RESTRICTED AUDIENCES ONLY by the Motion Picture Association of America." I have never seen a yellow band trailer.

And that's that. Let's get the show on the road.