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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trailers From Hell Now On The Big (Home) Screen

There's this game I sometimes play when I'm out walking: Pick a film I've known most of my life and review those many occasions we've intersected. For some titles, these number dozens. Ones best remembered still resonate with clarity beyond mundane events surrounding them (for what else made impressions so deep as discovering favorite movies?). We who have surrendered to lives of the screen recognize each other like Cat People. The filmmakers who narrate Trailers From Hell are one of us ... one of us ... for being profoundly affected by films they saw forty and fifty years ago. They've all thrived at writing and directing since, but I wonder if each wouldn't trade a measure of success for a way back to theatres and late-night TV's that fully formed them. What would any of us give for the sensation that came with initial viewing of cherished films? Middle age and beyond is futile hunting ground for moments that thrill us half so much. Is there risk of boring people with anecdotage of moviegoing way back whenever? Well, that depends on how artful the telling, of course, but for sheer joy of revisiting happy filmic legacies, there's no more resonant address than Trailers From Hell and its panel of lifelong eye-witnesses to a fabulous era gone for sure, even as it yet lives through narrations sometimes intense, likeably personal, humorous, insightful, and tremendously entertaining. Trailers from Hell provides unique oral history about the effect films had on filmmakers that also speaks to the rest of us who enjoyed those remarkable (and sometimes remarkably bad) shows. The concept seemed to me a brilliant one when I first encountered Joe Dante's site. Since then, it's just gotten better. There are over 400 trailers uploaded so far, with more added by the week.

My favorite Trailers From Hell narrators are, not unexpectedly, near my own age. Several I envy for getting born those few crucial years ahead that allowed them first-run access to classics I had to settle for on television. Ours was a generation that witnessed the last of black-and-white in theatres and the first of color on TV, a great time to come of movie age. Allan Arkush talks about Rio Bravo and how the theatre exploded when this trailer came on and I was eleven years old at the Lee Theatre in Fort Lee, NJ. As for the cast, he says, they were all on my favorite television shows. Arkush sounds fully aware of how fortunate he was to have been there for the authentic Rio Bravo experience, something I never enjoyed for having merely seen it a first time sliced to two-hour's commercial interrupted mincemeat on Channel 3's Best Of Hollywood in 1967. Most frustrating is the fact I was there to see Rio Bravo's trailer in 1959, for it was booked to follow The Shaggy Dog, my first Liberty excursion at age five. Perhaps our auditorium exploded too, though being months shy of starting kindergarten, how could I remember? Maybe having just been present is balm enough, though Arkush's more aware encounter remains an enviable one.

Reassuring then was advantage I had over Mick Garris. He saw Black Sabbath the first time on black-and-white television. Yes, a lot of us feel your pain, Mick. I too caught a portion of it when High Point's Channel 8 defaced Mario Bava's omnibus chiller with a weekday afternoon's showing, but I'd been fortunate enough to luxuriate in the Liberty's 35mm print three years earlier, and so gave thanks I wasn't introduced to Black Sabbath under such compromised circumstances as you suffered. But how I covet days Joe Dante spent in 50's theatres! He saw everything ... even Them! at tender age of seven (I had to settle for Konga at that juncture, so you've got it all over me, Joe). Dante is the founding force behind Trailers From Hell. He used to work for Castle Of Frankenstein magazine during glory days of the 60's. That's like standing around while they signed The Declaration of Independence. The stories Dante tells are my favorites among the TFH lot. Listen to his Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy narration for instance. He saw that combo'ed alongside World Without End in 1956. Like so many TFH participants, he remembers when and at what theatre. If I had one Sunday afternoon at the movies to relive, I'd pick that one, he says. For the time he had (watching them twice), I don't wonder, but there was a parental drama to come that evening and a missed Hollywood Or Bust the following weekend, the details of which I'll leave to your own discovery at Trailers From Hell. Another choice interlocutor there is John Landis. He's a fun host and knows movies cold. I'd not forgotten his fine tribute to Laurel and Hardy in Danny Peary's Close-Ups, published in 1978 (that's how I knew the following year's Animal House would be a good comedy). Landis does a really extraordinary voice-over for The T.A.M.I. Show trailer. He was actually there when they filmed it. Again, I say --- you fellows absolutely had it made.

But hold on a minute. My idea was to talk about the new Trailers From Hell DVD, their first. You haven't ordered one yet? Well, get over there and do it now by all means, for not only does it include a selection of TFH's best trailers and narrations, but they've added a feature and cartoons as well (like any balanced program). All looked great projected on my screen. Given the commission to design their one-sheet, I might blurb "Trailers From Hell" Is Now A Full-Length Motion Picture, borrowing snipes from Munsters Go Home or perhaps the 1966 Batman to commemorate TFH's transition from mousepad to TV remote. Anyway, it's an event, and Greenbriar readers shouldn't miss it. Those bonuses include The Vampire Bat, too long unseen in watchable prints, but happily tendered here with the best video quality I've come across yet. Two animated oddities are as welcome, The Haunted Ship (a Van Bueren Aesop's Fable) and Ub Iwerks' The Headless Horseman with Castle Films main titles (reason in itself to have the DVD).


Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Thank you for this post, John. Trailers from Hell is the site I visit most often…. yes, even more often than Greenbriar Picture Shows. I find it essential. I’ve even got their schedule down pat – they post new trailer commentaries every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For times when I’ve fallen behind in my own blog posts, I’ve embedded Trailers from Hell horror-comedy commentaries on my Scared Silly blog to compensate.

For me, the site serves two purposes – it helps cinephiles relive those moments when they first saw favorite (and not-so-favorite films) but even more so it introduces people to films they’ve never seen. Films that we’ve read about for years, that have come highly recommended… but no written recommendations are as effective as the informed opinions of TFH’s reviewers as they actually SHOW you the trailers while commenting on them. I’ve sought films I long avoided as a result of such enthusiasm.

I agree that Messieurs Dante and Landis offer some of the better commentaries. They are simultaneously informative, nostalgic, and entertaining, filled with infectious, wide-eyed enthusiasm. I’ve also found Larry Cohen to have some good insights, and young pup Edgar Wright shows a reverence for film history that belies his age (and he’s quite a funny fellow). Pretty much everyone involved delivers something worthwhile – there’s always something to learn and enjoy on TFH.

I was not aware of Landis’ Laurel & Hardy essay – I will try to get a hold of that. I knew he was also a big Abbott & Costello nut – he and Dante both have done several A&C commentaries. I’ve written to the site on occasion asking them to start reviewing some Stan & Ollie trailers, too (at the very least “Babes in Toyland/March of the Wooden Soldiers” to satisfy the site’s fantasy fans) – hopefully they’ll follow suit at some point.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I enjoy all the commentaries on Trailers From Hell pretty much equally,I particularly like Roth's take on Hitch's, The Birds...But Dante and Landis are undoubtedly the kings!They're like old movie buddies that always like the same stuff you like..I've followed Landis since he and Rick Baker appeared in a Famous Monsters Of Filmland spread in 1971..or'72 promoting SHLOCK..and Dante since he came to San Marcos to do PIRANHA

9:23 PM  
Blogger Dugan said...

Thanks for the great post on TFH. I will chime in with a couple of my favorite commentators, Ernest Dickerson, on two of favorites, The Thief of Bagdad and It Came From Beneath the Sea. Josh Olson on just about everything he commented on. Alison Anders, I enjoyed her story about meeting Sam Fuller. All the "gurus" have a love for film.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Regarding Landis' commentary on the T.A.M.I. show, he seems unaware (or has forgotten?) that the material for the show was filmed over two days, and the highlights edited to make the film. It wasn't a "concert" per se, although certain acts did follow each other in more or less the order presented on the film.

7:43 PM  

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