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The 'Trailer Trash' That's Sent Us To The Cinema

Mar 30, 2013
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In the world of movie trailers, nearly all of us have heard this: what might be called a sonic semicolon:

(SOUNDBITE OF HEAVY BASS NOTE)

SIMON: Seems that every trailer for a film in which big things blow up - and that seems to be the storyline of almost every film these days - rumbles with those forbidding bass notes. Ian Crouch says this is just the most recent production cliche for trailers. On The New Yorker's Culture Desk blog, he offers a brief jaunt through movie trailer history in an entry titled "Trailer Trash." Ian Crouch joins us from Maine. Thanks very much for being with us.

IAN CROUCH: Hi there, Scott.

SIMON: Have you simply had enough of that big, bad note?

CROUCH: Absolutely. I mean, I remember the first time that I heard it was for the trailer for "Inception," which was just a few years ago. And at that time, it seemed like a really compelling sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER)

CROUCH: But then over the years, trailer after trailer, it kept sort of popping up now at the point where it seems like it's in every trailer out there.

SIMON: Now, you've looked back in time to films. For example, 1951's "The African Queen," famous film with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart - let's listen to a bit of that trailer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER)

SIMON: Oh, the magnificence of Technicolor. Trailers were different in those days, weren't they?

CROUCH: Yeah, they absolutely were. The first trailer was in 1913, and then it didn't particularly change for about 50 years. They had a few clips from the movie and then large sort of titles flashing across the screen and then that classic low and authoritative news reader voice.

SIMON: Voices change through the years but what we just heard was - unless I missed my guess - you know, somebody who was trying to do a British accent.

CROUCH: Absolutely. And it sort of conveys the idea that going to the movies was this huge cultural event, that everyone had to be there and if you missed out on it, it would be like missing out on a moment in world history.

SIMON: OK. Now, we get to the '70s and '80s. Movie trailers, according to your blog entry, shifted once more. Here's a trailer for "The Poseidon Adventure," 1972.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE TRAILER)

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

SIMON: So, what was different about trailers in these days?

CROUCH: Well, I think it comes down to the voice. You can tell that it's slightly more plainspoken and grim and sort of just-the-facts style. And I think that refers sort of to a more circumspect and jaded era, even in the biggest of Hollywood blockbusters.

SIMON: Ian, do you see anything over the horizon in trailers? I mean, we're, you know, for one thing, we're living in an age where you don't have to go to a theater to see a trailer.

CROUCH: Most of the trailers now that I watch would be trailers that are available online. So, there are not so many that rely on the loud power of the cinema to communicate a sound and they've become more visual, perhaps, because of that.

SIMON: Ian Crouch, who writes for The New Yorker. Thanks very much for being with us.

CROUCH: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Oh, let me take that again: Ian Crouch, thanks very much for being with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEAVY BASS NOTE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.