Here's a nifty little crash course in the history of movie trailers

Here's a nifty little crash course in the history of movie trailers

Movie trailers have become an art form unto themselves, with their tricks and tropes dissected almost as thoroughly as those of the movies they're ostensibly promoting. And yet, many movie fans may not have given much thought to the origin of these trailers or how they have developed and mutated over the decades. Thankfully, there is now a lively and informative video essay on this very subject at a site called FilmmakerIQ, which functions as a sort of online film school with illustrated, bite-sized "courses" on such cinephile-friendly topics as aspect ratio" and popcorn. 

Among the latest additions to the site's course catalog is "The History Of The Movie Trailer," a 15-minute presentation by editor and director John P. Hess, whose own credits include the short films Pitch Black and Sales DI. As Hess tells it, the lineage of the humble trailer stretches back to 1913, when adman Nils Granlund slapped together a short promotional film for a Broadway show and stuck it onto the end of a then-current movie. (And that, class, is why we call them "trailers" instead of, say, "preludes" or "appetizers.") The idea was quickly copied by other exhibitors, and soon trailers were playing in movie theaters around the country. Studios started assembling their own trailers a few years later, eventually outsourcing this task to a crucial yet overlooked company called the National Screen Service, which held a virtual monopoly on "coming attractions" until the 1960s. In many ways, of course, the evolution of movie trailers mirrors the evolution of the movie industry itself, including the heyday of "cliffhanger" serials, the rise and fall of the studio system, the mid-century emergence of auteurist directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, and the inevitable dawn of the summer blockbuster, ushered in by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975.You can see the video essay below, but  an accompanying article and several representative examples of important film trailers are here.


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