Trailer Trash and Treasure


By Joey Laura


Two recent trailers explore the travails of masculinity, for better or for worse

In a 2011 interview about his project “Trailers from Hell”, Joe Dante discusses “the lost art” of making trailers, which he claims act best as “cinematic haiku.” While many trailer-house products only aim to manipulate, as opposed to inspire, the viewer, good trailers of the “cinematic haiku” caliber are still being made, although plenty of misleading trailers abound.

Two trailers from yet-to-be-released films dealing with money and masculinity can show us how trailers with similar elements (use of music, an embedded “story”) can either appeal to the viewer on the most pornographic of levels or can inspire someone to reflect on the culture at large.

American Hustle

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The recently released trailer for David O. Russell’s follow-up to the rich character piece Silver Linings Playbook isn’t afraid to be big: it’s brash, layered, and willing to command its space.

The “story” embedded in the American Hustle trailer features Irving (Christian Bale) presenting to Richie (Bradley Cooper) a fake Rembrandt painting in a museum. “Now who’s the master? The painter or the forger?” This subtle “what lies beneath” sentiment drives the rest of the trailer’s exploration of Man and his surroundings, how he defines himself by what surrounds him.

Once Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times” kicks into gear, we see two male characters (Cooper and co-star Jeremy Renner) covering their chests, the others (Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bale) with a low-cut blouse, open jacket, or an unbuttoned shirt. The partial nudity of these different actors separates the characters who are willing to put it all on the line. (At the end of the trailer, Bale affirms to Cooper: “You ever took a quarter from a phone booth? You stole. I just got bigger balls than you.”)

This understanding puts the viewer chin-deep into the world of drugs, women, and cold-hard cash. Through characters’ eyelines as they look at other things or characters off-screen, the various incarnations of a man driven by money begin to come to life: man as playboy, entertainer, risk-taker; man as instigator of violence, anger, and sadness, both in him and in others (sometimes other men but usually women).

Not only are there an array of women featured in the American Hustle trailer, but they show as strong a range of emotions as their male counterparts; ditto their sense of star-power. Adams commands the screen with a rich Bardot-esque vitality, not just a limp prettiness (like Margot Robbie in the Wolf of Wall Street trailer); meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence shows off the goods, physically and emotionally, with great class (watch her gawk in a low-cut blouse and stare-down in a stream of tears, both done with dignity and honesty). The strong sense of Woman in this trailer shows a fine point to an essence of Man: the clashing images of both represents the interdependence of them on each other.

The Wolf of Wall Street

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This scatterbrained trailer tries to keep the momentum pumping by stealing the thunder from Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” but the structure of the trailer tells the viewer otherwise.

The backbone of the trailer involves a business meeting between Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey). Hanna talks about the unreliability of the stock market and the meaning of “fugazi” (which is a “a fake”). “Fairydust,” says Hanna as he whistles and sprinkles his fingers.

But it’s not just Hanna that supports a laissez-faire attitude: so does the trailer. In turn, this dictates the structure of the trailer, moving willy-nilly between useless montage and moments from the film that don’t lay out a real meaning for what kind thematic material and humanistic grappling we can expect from Scorsese (like he used to do so well, in films like Mean Streets and King of Comedy and even his music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad”). And if his most recent film Hugo is any indicator—which pretends to appreciate a history of cinema but instead diminishes it—all hope is lost.

The film alludes to rock-and-roll imagery (Belfort screaming into a microphone, a marching-band-inspired office party, speeding cars, etc.), but the only element that drives this feeling throughout the rest of the trailer is a heavily edited version of West’s bass- and drum-heavy sonic art (which, throughout the trailer, is broken up into chunks and repeated as necessary). Just like what they’ve done to West’s masterful exploration of aggression and masculinity, the makers of the Wolf of Wall Street trailer, at best, have a castrated sense of what it means to be a man in America.


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