The Art of the Sell: “Strange Days” trailer

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of pop art. 

As someone who once strung trailers onto the front of films for a multi-screen theater (as if there’s any other kind these days), I have a special affection for teasers that were clearly shot separately from the features they promoted, that stood as their own little movies. Appreciating the extra effort, I opted for those over frantic assemblages of clips any chance I got. Once it was out of my control, I spiritually extended a special level of gratitude any time I sat in a theater and watched one of those teasers unspool before me. During the first months after I’d stepped away from responsibilities taping together prints in a projection booth, the trailer that most stirred my excitement was in service of promoting Strange Days, the 1995 film directed by Kathryn Bigelow. It featured Ralph Fiennes, fresh off stellar performances in Schindler’s List and Quiz Show, delivering a monologue straight to the camera, in tantalizing close-up. The lines he spoke hinted at the film’s focus on voyeuristic virtual reality, but were also just cryptic enough to provoke the desired curiosity. Helping to carbon date the trailer as product of the mid-nineties, it also employed the dense onscreen text that had been considered cool and cutting edge since Van Halen’s “Right Now” music video, released in 1992, became a sensation. Fiennes is fantastic in the trailer, as charismatic and sexy as he’s even been. This ninety seconds is the closest Fiennes ever came to supplementing his formidable acting chops with strident movie star potency.

When the actual film arrived, it was dreadful. Bigelow got stuck in the very intrusive sleaze that the film purported to condemn. Even Fiennes seemed adrift. When a rough approximation of the monologue from the trailer shows up in the film, integrated into the narrative, it’s drably acted by Fiennes, carrying none of the enticement found when it was essentially its own entity, detached from a messy bummer of a plot. I may now know the Strange Days is a false promise, but believing in its charms remains irresistible.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Art of the Sell” tag.

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