That video above is a copy of Alice in Wonderland from over a hundred years ago. It was found and restored by The British Film Institute, an organization that has made it its mission to restore old British and World films that, left unchecked, could have been lost to us forever.
Many of the films are from the early 1900s and cover a wide range of genres from coverage of old sports events to large fairs and celebrations. There are even a few silent dramas and comedies.
These types of films are always a pleasure to study and can really be used as a marker for some of the early, fundamental camerawork that have been replaced by the CGI and digital camera tricks we are more used to today.
Taking a glance at the film above you can see some old tricks such as forced perspective to make Alice appear large or small compared to her surroundings as well as the type of rudimentary cuts used to splice the film together. Not to mention the costumes. I mean, wow. The White Rabbit is the stuff of nightmares and looks like something right out of Donnie Darko. And if you thought the kids in The Shining or Children of the Corn were frightening, nothing can prepare you for the fear induced by a large group of kids dressed as playing cards chasing an innocent young woman through the countryside.
If you’re a fan of old films and how the art of filmmaking was used in the days before sound was introduced, you should really go through some of the treasures in this library. You can find the rest here on YouTube.
I’m at a crossroads. As gamer who still primarily plays retro games, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the recent trailer for Pixels, a mass destruction film where arcade classics from the 80’s come to wreak havoc upon Earth. On the other hand, as a film lover, I couldn’t be more worried that it’s a Happy Madison production. For those of you who don’t know, Happy Madison Productions is the company founded by Adam Sandler, whose title nostalgically reminds us that it was responsible for at least two good films.
I don’t normally like to criticize a film before I’ve seen it, but this one stars not only Sandler, but Kevin James as well, two actors who are much like the two chemical components that Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson ran around New York desperately trying to keep apart in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Sure, alone the actors are harmless enough, but put them together and they create a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying any semblance of wishful thinking from the cerebral cortex.
This got me thinking about what other shorts have made the transition to full-length feature films, but I didn’t really want to do any research so I just cut and pasted five random links to YouTube videos in an attempt to trick the eye.
Ok, I kid, but if you scrolled down to make sure, thank you for reading the whole article and not just skimming to see the videos.
A lot of art film geeks and film students know this one. I was first introduced to it in film school. The French short is comprised almost entirely of stills to tell the story of a prisoner who is forced to time travel to the past to rectify the events that led to World War III. This is actually a pretty damn good watch, especially if you’re high because, “Dude that’s not a still! It just moved, I swear!”
Those familiar with the plot might already recognize that this film would become the Terry Gilliam classic 12 Monkeys, a film that ditches the stills and instead goes in the completely opposite direction by casting a manic Brad Pitt who never stops moving for a second.
The Dirk Diggler Story
Much like the feature this was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Inspired by This is Spinal Tap, the story follows the tragic story of Dirk as he begins a career in pornography only to get caught up in a life of drugs.
Of course, this film would eventually become the superb classic Wonderland starring the incomparable Val Kilmer, hot off the success of Aces: Iron Eagle 3, as well as Lisa Kudrow from the US version of the BBC series Coupling.
All right, you caught me. It became Boogie Nights and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing out on a true cinema masterpiece.
You know The Babadook, right? If you don’t, you really should. My favorite indie film of last year, The Babadook follows the story of a single mother and her child who are tormented by a supernatural force.
“Monster” follows basically the same premise as The Babadook, with the exception of starring some guy called Trash Vaudeville who is either the lead singer of a punk infused Cole Porter cover band or a creature created from the lesser parts of John Waters’ films.
“Peluca” was made for the low, low price of $500. Shot on 16m black and white film, the short also stars Jon Heder in the role of Seth, a name that would go down in history when it was changed to the titular Napoleon Dynamite.
Watching the short you can see some of the familiar character traits and plot points that would eventually make it into the quirky Napoleon Dynamite. Much like Napoleon, Seth has an infatuation with martial arts and is always there to help his friends with their follicle mishaps.
Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse
“Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse” is less a short film and more a super early trailer for what would become This is the End. As the title suggests, the short stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel who would reprise their roles for the feature.
One of the unfortunate byproducts of nerdery is the increased susceptibility to hype. Like many of you, I caught the first glimpses of the new Fantastic Four teaser this week and began trying to piece together what I had just seen. As far as I could gather, Reed (wide-eyed intern), Sue (the girl who programmed WOPR from WarGames), Ben (high school varsity baseball player who’s been held back two years) and Johnny (the guy who built KITT) all get in a bunch of steel tubes that explode and send them to Hell. From there, they spend the rest of the movie fighting enemies that are always just out of frame.
I suppose the teaser accomplished its goal. Sure, I want to see more, but only because I have no idea what the hell I just saw. This seems to be the new marketing strategy of Hollywood. We see a teaser, talk endlessly about it for three or four days then forget about it. Later, they release the next cryptic trailer that has us doing the whole song and dance all over again.
Was it always like this?
Searching for answers, a friend and I began to look at the trailers of our ancestors. What we found there was a world of movie marketing long since forgotten. Trailers from these ancient times differed in a number of ways.
Nowadays it’s common for an official theatrical trailer to be preceded by a teaser. The lengths of these teasers fluctuate. Normally you’re looking at somewhere between a minute and a half. Then again, some teasers look like they just pieced together all the footage they had from the first day of shooting:
As I’m sure you know, that was the teaser for Breaking Dawn Part 2, unless of course you happened to blink and miss it. Taking out the green preview screen, this trailer clocks in at around forty seconds or around the time it takes to melt butter in a microwave.
Of course, eventually they got enough footage to make a full trailer for audiences, which clocks in at a whopping two minutes, which is about the average running time of current trailers.
Compare that with the official trailer for Lawrence of Arabia from 1962:
That trailer is almost a full five minutes long, where they basically take time to list the entire cast of the film. Furthermore, they take time to give you a basic rundown of who T.E. Lawrence was by opening with nice little quote by Winston Churchill. The equivalent to this would be if the Breaking Dawn trailer opened with a quote from Stephenie Meyer and finishing off by listing off each cast member of the Cullen Family.
For some of you that may not be familiar with the Fantastic Four, you may have been curious as to whom these fresh-faced lads and lasses were decorating your computer screen. Now maybe this is because Hollywood is banking on the fact that fans of the FF4 are already familiar with these characters. Still, I’ve found that current trailers still make very little attempt to introduce their characters. Take this trailer from the upcoming Jupiter Ascending:
What can we gather from that? Well, we know that Channing Tatum is a badass with a neck tattoo and he wants to get Mila Kunis for whatever reason because doctors are trying to kill her for whatever reason. Kunis even goes as far as to ask, “Who are you?” to which Channing simply says, “I’m here to help you” for whatever reason. From there it seems clear that the story revolves around Kunis, yet we don’t hear her name till the end of the trailer, where everyone says, “Oh, like in the title! That explains why she’s moving up so many beams of light!”
Now let’s look at the trailer for the sci-fi classic Tron from 1982:
In this trailer we get a pretty good idea who we’re dealing with. There’s the villainous computer introduced in, what can only be described as, the most frightening Apple ad ever seen. Then there’s our hero, Kevin Flynn, who’s of course a genius because he’s searching for answers. They even briefly introduce Tron before explaining what it’s like inside the computer itself.
Finally, a big unspoken rule seems to be that you don’t give away too much of the plot. This is particularly the case with modern horror movies that all seem to rely on some big twist at the end.
For instance, check out this trailer for Insidious:
If you didn’t have time to watch it, don’t worry. The trailer is simply a montage of all the scary things that happen in the film in rapid succession. There is virtually no dialogue to explain any of this, just a few blurbs about hiring the landlady from Kingpin and that their son is haunted.
Let’s see how they explained the plot of a movie in 1976 with this trailer from Carrie:
Oh sorry everybody, I should have said SPOILERS, but I believe the statute of limitations runs out at exactly thirty-eight years. Plus, now you don’t even have to watch the film, because that’s literally the detailed, step-by-step plot of the entirefilm. If they had Cliff Notes for feature films, this would be it.
But my absolutely favorite part of this trailer is the introduction of John Travolta in his first ever film debut. They could have picked any clip from the film to lead the viewer to wonder, “Oh, I wonder what kind of character he plays in the film?” But why even try to instill any sense of mystery? No, instead the editors decided that the best way to introduce this new burgeoning superstar was by letting the audience know within five seconds he was absolutely going to die in the most fiery and violent way possible.