A black bounded space. Longer than wide, wider than tall. Tilted. Distant red lights: possible ways out. A colorless shine, paler, marks a stepped, uphill pathway. Side trails lead off it into the darkness, but they are narrow, almost booby-trapped: You bark your shins, catch your toes as you sidle along. Sometimes your shoe sticks to something underfoot. If you have come with a companion, you grab her hand. When you stop finally, you fall onto a scratchy, angled surface that rocks a little. Now your hands feel hard, cold, ring-like holes; if you brought something to moisten your lips, you can store it there. From the darkness come the voices of other wayfarers, audible but incomprehensible. Although it was hot before, it is chilly now; did you dress for the occasion?
The downhill wall suddenly blazes with commands or questions. QUIET PLEASE. Or SCARLETT O’HARA’S MAID WAS PLAYED BY: 1) BUTTERFLY MCQUEEN 2) HATTIE MCDANIEL 3) LENA HORNE. For this is not Poe or Plato, but the neighborhood multiplex, and you have come to see a movie: Harry Potter, Part 3 of Volume 12, or The Tree of Dinosaurs, or This Conan Will Not Run for Governor. But after the exhortations and the timewasters and before the show come the trailers.
Ages ago, movies were preceded by shorts and newsreels: Laurel and Hardy in messes, the Battle of Britain. When my father was a high-school basketball player, he learned the hook shot, then a new thing, from seeing it done on newsreels. He demonstrated it for his skeptical coach, who let him use it. Now the movie house is so far outside the loop of what’s happening now — everyone got the latest about Kim Kardashian and Qaddafi, assuming they wanted to learn it, on their iThings before they came in — all the movie industry can do by way of warm-up is show you what else you might see in the shank of the season, and in the seasons to come. What is coming?
The cartoon. Animals find a way. Cute animals. Famous actors and actresses speak through their bills and maws. Pixar, which seemed so refreshing at first, has already found the path of least resistance to visual mediocrity; the story lines were already at Mediocrity Junction, waiting to greet it. The Hero with One Face is small, plucky, a little different (orphaned? pigmented?). The villains have the personality of Hitler joined to the meager arsenal of a unionized schoolteacher. The Hero will prevail in the end, just you wait. This trailer is greeted by perfect silence.
The Christmas cartoon. It’s not even Labor Day yet, but it’s not too early to ramp up the pre-Christmas buzz. Same as above, with lots of snow. Subject: Christmas as a celebration. Toys are always safe. Q for writers: Are there penguins at the North Pole? This trailer too is greeted by perfect silence.
The procedural. Crime or espionage. The hero fights for the right, but maybe the right is also wrong. Sinister bosses: CIA, cartels, corporations. Hitmen Slavic. Sidekick maybe black, although that’s gotten a little old. Women are temptress babes, or sidekicks, with buff delts under sweat grime and a mean way with a Glock. Torture. Explosions. This trailer is greeted by perfect silence.
The drama of redemption. Once upon a time a family. A lower-class ethnic neighborhood, or a farm. She was young, so was he. A brother in trouble, a father who was a criminal or who was stern. The truth shall make you free, freedom will tell you the truth. This one will have a score that uses an orchestra. Samuel Barber, take another lap. This trailer is greeted by perfect silence.
The sex comedy. Golly, she is nice looking. She will take her clothes off; the coupling will be simulated. He looks like a twerp, but young women must find him attractive. The two together are cuter than the animals in The Cartoon. They want to have sex, but instead all they can do is have sex. There are sidekicks, also M and W, who have sex too, only they aren’t quite as cute. The score of this movie is upbeat. This trailer is greeted with perfect silence.
The gross-out comedy. Same as above, with humiliation. The male stars are not cute at all. The women still take their clothes off. Excretions. Don’t wipe yourself with a pizza, you douche! OMG, he did! This trailer is greeted with perfect silence.
Monsters. Aliens, or machines, or machine/aliens. This is the trailer you can hear when you’re outside the black bounded space, down the carpeted hallway, buying a pail of popcorn. It makes the walls throb. Explosions! Explosions! Explosions! In between, scientists try to explain; one, the Hero with One Face who went to MIT, or the woman sidekick, has an inkling, but his/her explanation won’t have a chance to set things right until the megapolis has been turned to cinders. This trailer is greeted with perfect silence.
Pretensions. All the preceding is garbage, but what do you expect? We had a directors’ revolution in the Seventies, though, and here is one of the fruits. Palme de Berlin, standing ovation at the Redford Fest. The location is Europe, or Tajikistan. Elements of The Procedural, plus Sex Tragedy. Choppy continuity. This trailer is greeted with perfect silence.
I hate trailers and tried, for years, to indicate as much by hissing them, but I hissed so often and received so little (actually, no) encouragement from my fellow sufferers, that I surrendered to the perfect silence. Are the movies they represent so bad? Not always. The curse of the form may be the form itself. Imagine reading a string of blurbs — it would make Nabokov oafish. Many movies should be only two minutes long, but all must go through the mill.
Finally, the studio logos appear at a slow tempo, we are about to see what we have paid for. Action!