It seems great trailers are few and far between, most films choosing to go with a revved-up music video that manages to hit every plot point in 2 minutes. I think this is too bad; to my eyes, the film trailer can be a space where the world of advertising can give itself over to art, where a commercial can be a work unto itself. I know people argue that commercials always carry this potential and I know that the winners of this year's Television Advertising Awards probably want to hold up their own medium as an artistic one. But film trailers are an especially intriguing form; at 2-4 minutes, they can drop gags and hooks in favor of things that take just a bit more development, like rhythm or a tone for instance. What other form of advertising could work to establish rhythm and tone without the weight of a clear, pushy message? Further, with a parent film behind them, in the trailer's best form it's a fascinating editing exercise that--in movement, language, and concept-- both capture something essential of their parent features and create something new and beautiful unto itself. With that, let's hit my top three:
#3: Inland Empire--David Lynch
I love this thing because with every terrifying breath it seems to elude to a firm plot. "This looks riveting! What are those creepy bunnies doing in there?! Why is Laura Dern freaking out like I've never seen her before!?!? I've gotta see this thing!" And then you hit the opening night performance or add it to your netflix queue only to ask basically the same questions throughout the film. Both trailer and film use strange tonal devices to terrify, but the trailer holds a hope that these will be revealed in a fantastic play-by-play Hollywood escapade while the film just throws a nightmare at you with no hope of explication. Once any allusions to a firm narrative are found faulty, the trailer becomes a perfect miniature of the film itself.
#2 L'eclisse--Michealangelo Antonioni
This trailer works beautifully because, in a way, it really embraces its advertisement yet manages to be a pretty and intriguing object unto itself. We get Antonioni's name up on our screen first, then the name of the film in big block letters, and then our two big stars get portraits with their names shining bright. We're told it's "an exceptional film!!!" and it's bookended with that silly twist that makes you wanna shake a leg in 1960s Italy as soon as possible. And behind all these traditional hooks, we have just seven shots, dispersed among a full 2 minutes, that mathematically set up oppositions. The distance and space of the first shot coupled with the crowd of the stock market; the portraits of individuals in their elements against that strange lovers' hand-tango; that dark barn beneath the "The Eclipse"--these things play off and against each other in a tidy sort of poem. I find it at once quite practical and quite beautiful.
#1 Toni--Jean Renoir
I could watch this thing once an hour for the rest of my life. I've really stopped thinking of it as connected to a larger project because it stands alone so extraordinarily. A tune welcomes us into a world where a train gives birth to two lovers walking down a path. Grapes to bees to hugs. Then a series of dark, shocking images and, though the tune progresses, the ominous sounds of moving trains slowly rise. These mechanical churnings push the tune into mournful territory and suddenly we find ourselves among the surreal--on a quiet lake, alone and scared; standing by while rock slides and crumbles; a moment of confrontation; a desperate sprint out of town. In 1 minute and 21 seconds and without a word of dialogue, this thing conjures grand emotions. From those bright grapes to desperation above frighteningly serene water, this trailer demands we take it seriously unto itself and feel its beauty without reference to another site.