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I’ve had book trailers on my mind of late. Given that, I’ve been thinking of how emblematic (or not) they can be, of the work being promoted.

I was recently drawn in by the fantastically slick film trailer for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”:

I seriously love this piece at so many levels. The editing, the saturation–and most particularly the way in which the music and the images/text pulse together, such that the music is closely integrated with the visuals and adds the sense of an implacable, sinister escalation of tension and danger. Wonderfully done (so good that it will no doubt be cliche within a year or two).

It actually got us out of our comfortable, on-demand film-viewing chairs and into the movie theatre–a not inconsiderable feat (esp. considering that you can’t pause films in the theatre, the popcorn is absurdly pricey, and we always seem to get stuck in front of a pair of Whispering Demons who are under some mysterious obligation to provide a running commentary during the film).

But out we went–and discovered that the actual film is rather different to what the trailer implied.

Make no mistake: it’s an excellent film, dealing with themes of moral ambiguity and steeped in a hauntingly bleak ambiance. It portrays the creaky juggernaut that is international espionage in the late 60s and early 70s–a world as treacherous and dangerous as it is methodical and plodding. The plot is somewhat intricate (neither of us had read the book), and requires that one pay close attention to the cast of characters and intrigues (I only ended up missing one connection in the logic of the narrative, and felt pretty good about that) and though there are moments of tension–because there is much at stake–there are never James Bond-type action sequences or gadgets. Indeed, this film evokes the inverse of Yeats’s line, “that is no country for old men”. Those who enter this country of moral torpor, quick betrayal, mixed allegiances, grey weariness, and an odd sort of collegial courtesy, become old quickly. They stay, because this is what they’re good at.

Smiley, the protagonist, is as memorable for his sharp intelligence, dogged meticulousness and his ability to make the right connections, as he is for his weary, near-empty implacability. He’s a man with few illusions about the moral superiority of the side he’s on, and this has drained him and made him into a grey figure of repressed grief. The fact that he stays with his wife despite her shenanigans, becomes emblematic of his feelings about his country and his work. He stays in the biz out of a love and loyalty that persists despite knowing its deep-running flaws and imperfections–and also perhaps because he doesn’t believe there’s anything better out there.

There is also a wonderful centrepiece of a scene that for me was worth the cost of admission, in which Smiley recounts, while drunk, a long-ago encounter with an adversary. Beautifully, breathlessly bleak, and so well wrought (conceived, written, lit, acted, filmed) as to unlock insights which illuminate the rest of the film.

So, this made me ask myself: how does all this reflect on the trailer? That fantastic and stylish piece of cutting, editing, and synchronization ultimately promised something rather different to what the film happened to be (for one thing, I probably would have waited to watch it at home if I’d known what the film really was like). The large brushstrokes were accurate, but the details of presentation, tone, feel–they were all rather different and created different expectations. This seems problematic.

One mitigating question is whether the same target audience would like both works–which would at least mean that the trailer would capture the attention of people who would want to know of such a film and see it. They’re both cerebral and stylish, but with a different sense of pacing and a very different ambiance to each other.

As well, if it packs people in to see it (or rent it, etc.) then should the hook matter? I’d say, yes. Given that even going to a film with certain expectations and then discovering it’s rather different–in other words, something you’d enjoy if you were in the right mood for it, but as it happens you weren’t–can backfire. A taut espionage thriller is promised, but a moody, intricate, engaging but rather slow-moving espionage drama is what gets delivered.

Something I’ve been thinking about, as I contemplate my approach to my book trailer. How to capture the tone I’m seeking, that will not only find the right audience, but also evoke the right feel? A work in progress–though for now still just in the back of my mind.

I’ll end with another example of the importance of branding–and a fantastic piece of trailer art. You may have already seen it–it basically re-cuts the trailer for “The Shining” as a touching, romantic comedy. Check it out:

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