Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Coming attractions”

Posted on July 11, 2014

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Thoughts on trailers in general and the ‘Gone Girl’ trailer in particular.

I cannot wait to see Gone Girl. For one, it’s directed by David Fincher – that makes it an automatic must-see. Two, I’ve read the book, and its halfway twist is easily one of the best acts of rug-pulling I’ve encountered. It’s genius. The story is about grown-ups behaving very badly, and it’s also about emotional sadism – wife goes missing, husband becomes the prime suspect and is humiliated by everyone. Fincher is a perfect fit, and if there were any doubts, the first trailer, released a few months ago, blew them out of the water. (As I write this, the second trailer has just been released. That’s what reminded of the earlier one.)

A word, first, about my relationship with trailers. I love them in theory. Those first images from a much-anticipated movie, the first peek into a director’s head – what’s not to like? But trailers have become increasingly spoilery. If it’s a comedy, the trailer has all the good jokes. (We often come away saying that the only good jokes were the ones in the trailer.) If it’s a special effects movie, then we get a glimpse of the money shots and they lose their impact. (They’re ideally seen for the first time as the film is unfolding, as a part of the narrative.) And in a drama, key events sneak into trailers and kill the suspense in the story. As I like to watch movies with a clean slate, I used to try and resist watching trailers. But that’s, of course, become impossible today. You could be passing a colleague’s desk at work and a trailer could be playing there. Long story short, I no longer actively resist trailers.

And so it happened that I got my first glimpse of Gone Girl. The colour palette was just right. This is a dark story, almost forensic in its dissection of a marriage – it needs these sombre tones. But the song that played over the images was surprising. It was the romantic She, most famously covered by Elvis Costello. If you remember Notting Hill, it’s the number that begins to play at the end, when, at a London press conference, a reporter asks the Julia Roberts character how long she’s planning to stay, and she looks at Hugh Grant and says, “Indefinitely.” That’s how romantic a song it is. Just look at the lyrics: “She may be the face I can’t forget, the trace of pleasure or regret, maybe my treasure or the price I have to pay / She may be the song that summer sings, may be the chill that autumn brings, may be a hundred different things, within the measure of a day / She may be the beauty or the beast, may be the famine or the feast, may turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell / She may be the mirror of my dreams, a smile reflected in a stream, she may not be what she may seem, inside her shell.”

If you’ve read Gone Girl, you have to laugh.  (Mild spoiler warning till the end of this paragraph.) The words that seemed so joyous in that Notting Hill stretch now acquire a chill. Key phrases leap out – “She may be the face I can’t forget, the trace of pleasure or regret, maybe my treasure or the price I have to pay / She may be the song that summer sings, may be the chill that autumn brings, may be a hundred different things, within the measure of a day / She may be the beauty or the beast, may be the famine or the feast, may turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell / She may be the mirror of my dreams, a smile reflected in a stream, she may not be what she may seem, inside her shell.” How different something sounds or seems when the context is changed. The song is one thing over the brightly lit rom-com images of Notting Hill; it’s another thing entirely in Fincher’s universe.

This is how I like my trailers. You get vignettes from the film – all of them quick-cut, so there’s no chance of stumbling on a plot point. And these vignettes are fused together by a score or a song. (Even if you don’t know these lyrics, even if you don’t remember Notting Hill, it’s still a stretch of music that binds together a series of disparate images.) There are occasional bursts of dialogue, but nothing that gives anything away.  (At the end we hear the husband say, “I did not kill my wife. I am not a murderer.” But that’s just the book’s premise. In an ideal world, even this hint of what we’re in for wouldn’t be there, but I guess studios would get jittery if the trailers gave away nothing.) All we’re left with is the defining mood of the film – not plot, not performances, just mood.

Most trailers get the vignette part right but not the mood part. Case in point: the recently released trailer for Vishal Bhardwaj’s Hamlet adaptation, Haider. This, too, is a series of images bound by a song – an angsty rock number – but it’s not seamless. It just seems to be a hodgepodge of bits from the movie. There’s no sense of something beginning, building, and subsiding – at least, it’s not organic. Guns, women, romance, drama, gangsters – it looks generic. Even the Kashmir setting doesn’t really come through. Of course, the real test of a film is the film itself. The trailer is just a warmup. But a good trailer makes us warm up to the movie a lot more.

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2014 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.