One era's pop-culture trash is another's camp treasure. Just check out eBay sometime, where the McDonald's Happy Meal toys you threw away when you were nine are now fetching prices that would put Prince William through Cambridge. Of course, few things are so roundly despised as a brand-new commercial; we mute the sound when it's on, we frantically change the channel, we build special machines to scan our programming for us and remove all unseemly interruptions. But a commercial for that same product from 1975, 1985 or even 1995? That's different! That's history, baby! We'll watch TV specials about old commercials, we'll buy videotape compendiums, we'll visit Internet sites and exchange messages with other idiots about our favorite ads of all time.
Movie trailers are, essentially, longer, louder commercials that you sit and watch in a darkened room without benefit of distraction. You can't walk out on them because you're waiting for the movie that follows, and besides, you paid to get in. In recent years, movie chains have added more and more trailers before shows and broadened their scope to include ads for products other than movies, to the point that you can now arrive 20 minutes after a movie's scheduled starting time, and you'll be just in time for a plug for the LA Times. Trailers have grown ever louder and more aggressive, with guns firing and glass breaking and people's heads exploding every six seconds, and sensitive folk now know that if they don't bring ear plugs to the movie house, the evening is ruined. Before their movies, our grandparents enjoyed raffles, jugglers, cartoons and newsreels. We get commercials for mopeds and H&R Block.
When you think about it, you'd have to be a crazy person to drive clear up to LA to watch an evening of nothing but old movie trailers. But plenty of crazy people are doing just that to see a double bill of Trailer Camp and Bride of Trailer Camp, two shows screening this week at the Egyptian Theater, and those lucky crazy people will have a great time. The shows feature a dizzyingly eclectic bill of trailers, with Attack of the 50 Foot Woman alongside women's prison pictures alongside Saturday Night Fever. Some of this fare is classic and some of it is fascinatingly obscure, such as Andy Warhol's Bad or Sextette, starring an ancient, ghastly Mae West. Many trailers are for movies you might have seen on the first go-round and probably aren't all that eager to see again. Who among us, for instance, would line up for a screening of Grease or The Wiz or Jaws 3D? But when they're reduced to bite-sized snippets of the most memorable moments from each picture, supplemented by a lot of pleasantly dated advertising hokum ("The Wiz! The Stars! The Music! Wow!!"), it becomes quite mesmerizing.
The advertising of yesteryear delights because it evokes a vanished era and reminiscences about where we were and what we were doing when we first saw it. But those long-gone ads also remind us how sharply they differ from the shrill commercial assaults of today; some from even a few years ago can seem so pleasantly low-key and hand-made. Lacking the awful, modern polish bought by slick computer graphics and an arsenal of demographic researchers, old movie trailers can seem as funkily, lovably quaint as a doily knitted by your grandma. The sad thing is that in 20 years, as advertisements for the latest blockbuster are projected on the side of the moon or broadcast directly into our frontal lobes, people will no doubt look back at the terrible forces of commerce that invade our lives today and weep tears of nostalgia.
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Trailer Camp and Bride of Trailer Camp screen at American Cinematique's Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 466-FILM. Thurs., Feb. 21. Trailer Camp, 7:30 p.m.; Bride of Trailer Camp, 9:15 p.m. Each show, $7-$8. Curator Jenni Olson hosts a Q&A after each show.