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Formes brèves

 | 
Cécile Meynard
, 
Emmanuel Vernadakis

Deuxième partie : Formes brèves : théories et pratiques

Trailers vs fan Trailers : From the Epitext to the Desire Text

Karima Thomas

Texte intégral

1The advent of the new technologies has considerably changed our viewing experiences. The rituals of theatre-going and the pre-movie trailers are no longer the only condition for viewing trailers. Trailers, excerpts and entire films are available at the viewer’s demand. Other related materials crop up uninvited on your screen after viewing a trailer, making suggestions to watch films and trailers by the same film producer, the same actors, on the same theme… or even trailers made by fans anticipating, continuing or contesting the narrative line of an existing or an upcoming film. This paper will analyse the status of this short form and the role of new technologies in endowing it with a renewed value and in changing the viewers’ reception habits.

  • 1 J. Gray, Shows Sold Separately. Promos, Spoilers and Other Media Paratexts, New York: New York Univ (...)
  • 2 It is true that many trailers, because of their formulaic structure, fall short of being considered (...)
  • 3 Like the authors I am referring to in this paper, I will consider trailers and films as texts. The (...)
  • 4 “The paratext in all forms is a discourse that is fundamentally heteronomous, auxiliary and dedicat (...)
  • 5 “The epitext is any paratextual element not materially appended to the text within the same volume (...)
  • 6 Desire text is a word that is inspired by the work of Mathiew Tissen on desire lines in urban lands (...)

2Very little research is devoted to trailers and even fewer to fan trailers. Often considered as merely part of the marketing campaign, trailers garnered the media studies scorn and have come to be seen as “instances of crass consumerism.”1 It comes as no surprise that most studies of trailers focus on their promotional discourse, thus downplaying the aesthetic strategies of this unique genre.2 But despite its standardized form, the trailer has a complex enunciative, structural and narrative economy which is important to explore in order to understand whether fan trailers reproduce and/or depart from trailers and conversely how both trailers and fan trailers contribute to framing the viewer’s interpretation of a film or repurposing a new interpretation from hindsight. My contention is to show that while both paratexts are forms of writing under constraints, a fan trailer is more likely to be considered a discrete text3 than the trailers which seem more often subordinate for their structure and sometimes for their meaning to a source text.4 While the trailer seems more like an epitext5 bound to the source text, the fan trailer, while structurally still bound to the source text, goes beyond this category to become what we may call a desire text6 whose ordering principle is the producer’s wish for a film that may never exist, and whose boundaries are stretched to the rank of open texts.

3The analysis of the complex status of the trailer’s enunciative, discursive, temporal and narrative economy throws light upon the new practice of fan trailers which, freed from promotional discourse and mainstream ideology, develop a new narrative and discursive economy.

Trailers : complex frontiers

  • 7 L. Kernan, Coming Soon: Reading American Movie Trailers, op. cit., p. 1.
  • 8 G. Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, op. cit., p. 347.

4Traditionally a part of the pre-movie viewing experience,7 the trailer’s role is to announce and promote the coming film and to rally the spectator’s attention to a coming attraction. This definition presents trailers as satellites that revolve around the film/text to impart it a meaning. Consequently, in their construction, distribution and meaning-making, trailers seem to occupy a “peripheral” position at the threshold of the text. They correspond to what Genette calls the publisher’s epitext, which includes “posters, advertisements, press releases and other prospectuses, [...] periodical bulletins addressed to booksellers and ‘promotional dossiers’ for the use of sales reps.”8

  • 9 N. Kumar, “How Does You Tube Recommendations Algorithm Work,?” 2017, October 25th [Quora, Online fo (...)

5However, nowadays trailers are available outside the movie theatres long after the film has been released and viewed. The promotional dimension of trailers is no longer necessarily at stake when the viewing experience is the result of an online intentional or accidental viewing. Nostalgic users, curious users or users automatically directed by sites like YouTube, which leverage attention around a cluster of connected texts, view the trailer as a text in itself and not as a piece of hype promoting another product. Online trailers engage in a complex diachronic and synchronic relationship with other trailers as the viewer will be directed by YouTube to a network of trailers about the same film, the same film director, actors, or the same genre. Thus, the trailer is no longer simply a brief peripheral satellite promoting a film, but part of a cluster of trailers automatically generated by a search engine working with implicit and explicit attributes allotted by an algorithm to the viewer’s seed video.9 The new status of the trailer in the digital era invites reflection not only on the relationship between the short and the long (the trailer and the film), but on the short trailer and the open text of trailers associated in one way or another with it.

Double enunciative economy

  • 10 G. Genette, op. cit., p. 351.
  • 11 Jonathan Gray takes the famous example of the film The Sweet Hereafter which has two different trai (...)

6Genette’s definition of the publisher’s epitext already points to its twofold enunciative economy, oscillating between a promotional discourse and an artistic discourse. In addition to the “overwhelmingly authorial” voice, the epitext “involves the participation of one or several third parties.”10 These include critics, journalists, publishers, editors… In the case of trailers, film producers hire multiple communication agencies to compete with each other to create the best trailer. Sometimes, different trailers are adopted for different target countries regardless of the authorial intentions of the film producer.11 This bears witness to the complex enunciative economy of the trailer. In fact, at least two voices are speaking through every trailer: the voice of the film director whose film is present through his name, the shots, the quoted dialogues, the chosen cast, etc., and the voice of the promotional staff, present through the editing, the graphic narrative indications, the musical notes, the environmental sampling, etc. Despite its shortness, the trailer seems to englobe metonymically the film while allowing for new meanings that do not necessarily rank highly in the authorial project. Additionally, the viewer’s voice, which was hardly heard in the past, now has an outlet with online viewing experiences through the various comments, likes and dislikes which contribute to augmenting the trailer’s boundaries and meanings.

Double temporality

  • 12 A. Zanger, “Next on your Screen: The Double Identity of the Trailer,” op. cit., p. 207. It is impor (...)
  • 13 A. Zanger, op. cit., p. 219.

7The trailer is built around a double temporality visible at the internal and the external levels and concomitant to the trailer’s inherent double discourse of selling and telling. Traditionally viewed only as part of a pre-film-viewing experience inside the theatres, a trailer “always accompanies another film and invades an experience which is not rightfully its own.”12 The trailer seems both a text in its own and a text for another text. This double status is confirmed internally in its double temporality which is inscribed at a metatextual level in its direct address to the audience through narrative voice-over or graphic narrative lines inviting the viewer to watch the film. These elements alter the conventional spectatorial involvement by disrupting the viewers’ willing suspension of disbelief as they are reminded that they are watching a cultural product to be consumed under specific conditions (date of the film release, theatres which will show the film...). Thus, the trailer is built on two temporal modes: an intensified present tense and a deferred anticipatory future.13 Thus, while showing, the trailer is also deferring the complete viewing and hermeneutic experience to the movie-viewing time.

  • 14 V. Hediger, “A Cinema of Memory in the Future Tense: Godard, Trailers, and Godard Trailers,” in M.  (...)

8This double temporality is also inscribed in the structure of the trailers. Shorter than the film, trailers navigate between the temporality of the film (whose units are being quoted) and the short temporal space allowed for the genre. What is more, the selected cinematic units are often chosen because they are pregnant with references to other films of the same kind or genre. The underlying project is to appeal to the audience by titillating their horizons of expectations. Vinzenz Hediger writes that trailers are set in “the futurum exactum, which is the tense of desire, the tense of imaginary anticipations and anticipated memories.”14 We will see that while the selling will not be an option in the fan trailers, the “tense of desire” will be heightened.

Double narrative economy

9Like most narratives, trailers are conditioned by telling/withholding dynamics. However, the brevity of the trailer and the marketer’s intent to arouse the viewers curiosity make the narrative units of a trailer overloaded with fragmented hints. For instance, cinematic metonymic or metaphorical units are privileged over the mimetic representation, because they hint at the plot without resorting to telling techniques. In the case of quote-quilt trailers, which are trailers using fragmented quotes from the film,

the units of the “quote-quilt” are homonymic (identical in form and sound) to their analogues in the complete film, but they are not synonyms as their referents are different. Thus, the trailer suggests a metonymic montage in which themes are accumulated one after the other, but not fully-developed. The links between them are links of analogy, unlike the film, where the continuity is chronological and the links are causal.

  • 15 A. Zanger writes that “Both the trailer and dream work present their own versions of the film or of (...)
  • 16 Scopophilia is the pleasure derived from looking, while epistephilia refers to the pleasure derived (...)
  • 17 Lisa Kernan compares the trailer’s elliptic structure to enthymemes. They are “unproblematic shortc (...)
  • 18 J. Gray, Shows Sold Separately, op. cit., p. 79.

10The narrative economy of the trailer is, in this sense, similar to that of the dream work. Displacement, condensation, isolation, repression are key words that can easily apply to the process of selection and montage/editing of the trailer’s units.15 The narrative and hermeneutic indeterminacy brought about by the editing calls upon the viewers’ interpretive engagement and generates a kind of intermittence that appeals to the viewer’s scopophilic and epistephilic drives16 and his desire to see the hidden.17 However, when the trailer is viewed once the film has been watched, the question will no longer be what will happen, but why the trailer pointed to those specific elements of the film. What hermeneutic project is channelled by the trailer? In the digital era, when the trailer is encountered online and in the absence of a countervailing textuality to challenge its posited hints, the trailer becomes a text in itself or to borrow the words of Jonathan Gray “the entirety of the text itself.”18

Double discourse

11Determined by the imperatives of selling and telling, the trailer aims at framing the viewers’ understanding of the coming attraction and inviting them to consume the product. Selling can be seen in the overt address to the audience to watch the film by announcing the dates of the film release. An extreme example is Godard’s trailer for The Detective, in which the murderer kills his victim because she doesn’t want to go to the cinema, then he tells the viewers: “Don’t do like this bitch! Go and watch Godard’s film The Detective.” (Jean-Luc Godard, 1985.)

12Another level of the promotional discourse creates added value for the announced attraction through star appeal rhetoric that puts forward the name of the actors and the film directors. The film’s release becomes the event. The apex of this promotional discourse is what Zanger calls the Meta-text trailers which are based on referencing the film as an event in the cinematic industry through press reviews, awards, box office figures, documentary material, newsreel footage, captions of stills of actors and actresses. Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983) is a case in point. The trailer is a series of vignettes quoting laudatory critiques of the film by famous newspapers and magazines.

  • 19 L. Kernan, op. cit., p. 15.
  • 20 Ibid., p. 26.

13Selling is also visible in the trailer’s effort to target as many viewers as possible by bringing into the a two-minute cinematic text a plethora of genres, story types, spectacular scenes and hyperbolic modes of representation. As Lisa Kernan cogently puts it, trailers are vested with a “mythology of pluralism” with promises “to fulfil the diverse narrative and generic desires of a variety of demographic groups.”19 A promise of something for everyone. Seen in this holistic way, “the job of a trailer is not so much to appeal to a specific audience as to avoid alienating any potential audience.”20 Conditioned by financial stakes imposed by the production, trailers engage in multiple promises which the film doesn’t often live up to. This imperative will be absent from fan trailers, thus making them less commercial and more target-oriented cinematic texts.

14A rapid analysis of a Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel official trailer can help reveal stereotypical promotional discourse and narrative logic found in many trailers. First, the trailer targets an undifferentiated audience. The trailer announces the multiple generic identities of the film by selecting cinematic units derived from science fiction, fantasy, family romance, war films, love stories, success stories, bildungsroman. Many story types are hinted at in the trailer and are aired through the voice over: American dream stories (“good bye my son, my hopes and dreams are with you”); identity stories (“an outcast, if you are different you will be rejected, the world is not ready”); coming-of-age story (the young superman wondering: “what should I do?” then images of Superman as a baby, a child and a man); religious story (the isotopy of the saviour)… These cinematic and narrative units target different audiences without focusing specifically on one particular audience.

15The promotional dimension is also seen in the reference to the film directors and to their previous box office hits; to the film producer as a guarantee of quality (Warner Bros) accompanied by the caption “legendary” and a reference to the original DC comics.

16The choice of climatic scenes representing the hero’s struggle, stamina, tenderness, the emotional intensification brought about through clip acceleration and the collage of scenes of threat and danger participate in the hyperbolic economy that trailers adopt to capture the viewers’ attention and secure their consumption of the promised product.

17The telling and withholding narrative economy can be seen in the gaps inscribed between the selected shots. The viewer sees Superman the baby, the child, the adolescent and finally the man. The selection of these different shots is a metonymic hint to the film genre as the story of a coming of age. Of course, a lot is left unsaid in the trailer, but the viewer is promised a story of the growth of an American child. This elliptic strategy is meant to titillate and readjust the viewer’s horizon of expectation, to arouse his anticipation and desire to watch the full film.

18The double temporality of the trailer is also inscribed in the alternation between cinematic units and intertitles announcing the date of the release of the film, thus reminding the viewers of the paratextual identity of the trailer. However, even though this trailer is structurally a part of the film, its function in the digital era goes beyond a mere promotional tool as it becomes a part of a network of texts.

19Fan trailers, released online, freed from the market imperatives, have a different narrative and discursive economy.

Fan trailers

  • 21 H. Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, London, Routledge, 2013, p (...)
  • 22 K. A. Williams, “Fake and fan film trailers as incarnation of audience anticipation and desire,” Tr (...)

20Fan trailers are examples of fan transformative work which existed long before the internet but have become more widespread thanks to the dissemination of easy-to use editing software. Fan trailers express the fan’s fascination with programs and frustration over the refusal/inability of producers to tell the kind of stories fans want to see. Jenkins writes: “fan writers do not so much reproduce the primary text as they rework and rewrite it, repairing or dismissing unsatisfying aspects, developing interests not sufficiently explored.”21 Fan trailers can be generally divided into two categories: either they are expression of anticipation for a film whose release has been announced or a creative response to an existing trailer or film whose meaning they want to accrue, contest, modify… Seen in this way, fan trailers correspond to what urban planners call “desire line.”22 These are:

trampled down footpaths that deviate from official (i.e. pre-planned and paved) directional imperatives. These pathways of desire – physically inscribed on the earth due to the passage of people – cut across the fields of university campuses, they carve up the urban grid, they exceed the boundaries of the sidewalk ; in so doing desire lines express the excess that premeditated constructions cannot foresee or contain. Frequently, desire lines are regarded as “eye-sores” by city planners – as “scars upon the landscape ;” however, they can also be thought of as solutions to the problem of how to efficiently and pleasurably respond to and navigate the terrain that constitutes our sensorially mediated world.

21Similarly, fan trailers trace new trajectories for existing texts. This dialogic dynamic between a source text and a fan’s desire announces a change in the narrative economy of the trailer. Instead of the telling/withholding narrative economy of the official trailers, fan trailers are highly “teleological” insofar as they engage in a dialogue with the source text through operations of recontextualization, emotional intensification, moral realignment, amplification of the source text, to refer to some of the strategies singled out by Henry Jenkins in his analysis of fan transformative works.

  • 23 K. A. Williams, “Fake and Fan film Trailers as incarnation of Audience anticipation and Desire,” op (...)
  • 24 In H. Jenkins, S. Ford, J. Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Cultu (...)

22These trajectories are the expression of the fan’s desires but they are also triggered and prompted by the nature of the hypotext and the fan practices. The fan trailer, like the desire line, offers “new circuits and potentials” but is also a response “to an invitation thus building a give and take relation”23 between the fan and his source material. Applied to semiotic constructs such as trailers, these desire lines become a response to what John Fisk calls “producerly texts.”24 These are cultural artefacts that invite networked communities to fill in their gaps and loopholes. Consequently, fan trailers foreground a different discursive economy built on sharing rather than on selling. Therefore, instead of the undifferentiated targeting of the promotional discourse of trailers, fan trailers operate a target-oriented production meant to create and appeal to a community.

23Fans deploy a variety of traditional editing techniques ranging from standard cuts, jump cuts, fade outs, dissolves… But they also use remix and crossover, thus making their editing work go beyond changing the order of cinematic unit to completely replacing them, or even doing without them. The examples studied in this section will explore the different narrative and discursive economy of fan trailers.

Expanding timeline

  • 25 Crippled by an accident, Christopher Reeve couldn’t play Superman and was replaced by Brandon Routh (...)
  • 26 The original video is no longer available online, but the author released many updates. Adeel of St (...)

24Many fan trailers express the fan’s rejection of the producers’ version of the character’s fate and decide to go beyond it. Their work proposes a continuation of the source text. A telling example is the one created by Christopher Reeve’s fans who wanted to express their attachment to the icon and the narrative of Superman by creating fan trailers featuring both Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh as father and son.25 More recently, more fan trailers have imagined the new Man of Steel as a sequel to Superman. In Man of Tomorrow, a fan shows how Superman the father (Christopher Reeve) passes the torch to the son Henry Cavill.26 The trailer opts for emotional intensification to pay tribute to Christopher Reeve. It cashes on the most important scenes of Superman’s filmography and the emotional impact of Superman’s Funeral cartoon. Before minute 2:9, Henry Cavill is not portrayed as Superman. He wears the iconic cape and tights only after the death of Superman and as the voice of Christopher Reeve tells him “a father becomes a son and a son becomes a father.” As the son makes his leap of faith, the legacy of his father is transmitted orally and visually as we see the image of Christopher Reeve fading and gradually being replaced by that of Henry Cavill. What is striking in this series of trailers is the fan’s refusal to let the iconic Christopher Reeve go without a narrative justification, hence the desire to extend the time line and create a logical narrative continuity to legitimize the new cast. The underlying meaning is that the new Man of Steel is the descendant of Superman and a symbol of his immortality.

25The fan’s nostalgia for the historical hero is also at the origin of adversarial fan trailers that adopt the strategy of moral realignment to remind the film directors of Man of Steel of the original moral values of Superman.

Moral realignment

  • 27 Screen Junkies, “Honest Trailers: Man of Steel.” Online Trailer. You Tube, 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 3 Oct (...)
  • 28 “Metropolis is reduced to rubble in a sequence that goes on forever and pounds the audience into su (...)

26Some fan trailers harshly deplore the failure of Man of Steel to capture the values of hope, justice and peace that Christopher Reeve’s movies embodied.27 From the bullet-firing sound of the opening credit scene to the heavy metal music, the vertiginous pace of scenes, the selection and editing of footages of innocent victims under the rubble, everything points to the destruction and violence caused by the “icon.” The voice over adds a straightforward condemning message: “watch the hero who stood for ‘Truth Justice and the American Way,’ but this time he stands for destroying American property… if you loved Christopher Reeve’s movies but wished they made them less hopeful, kill a couple of civilians and visualize our worst fears of urban terrorism, DC has made the reboot for you psycho!”28 The fan’s work expresses his clear disappointment to see “the imaginary relationship” with Superman disrupted by this new representation of the icon. The trailer’s traditional promotional discourse, which consists in inviting viewers to go and watch the film, is turned into a warning that the film is not worth watching because it is an assault on the hero’s image and heritage. Thus, the fan trailer takes a new function: that of a guardian of shared values.

  • 29 R. Williams, Culture and Materialism, London: Verso, 2005, p. 42.
  • 30 A distinction should be made here with the DC comics, which includes various examples in which supe (...)
  • 31 H. Jenkins et al., Spreadable Media, op. cit., p. 97.

27In this fan trailer, the fan reaches back to the past to bring back what Raymond Williams calls the residual. This is located in values of earlier social formations “which still seem to have some significance because they represent areas of human experience, aspirations, and achievements, which the dominant culture under-values or opposes, or even cannot recognize.29 The role of the residual is to create an oppositional meaning. Applied to Superman’s filmography,30 the residual would be the image of Superman as an advocate of “Truth, Justice, and The American Way.” The fan trailer is nostalgic to the icon as the Blue Boy Scout who respects people’s lives and property without abusing his power. The fans’ reaction to Man of Steel’s brutality and the wholesale destruction he brings on Metropolis could be seen as a warning against the perils of the abusive use of power in a time when US military action in Iraq and Afghanistan proved costly and inefficient. The reference to “urban terrorism” and the selection of the footage showing twin towers collapsing are overt reminders of the 9/11 events. Through this example, the fan trailer posits Superman as a reminder of the value of the past and the fan work as a means to unearth the residual which “linger(s) in popular memory” and becomes at the hand of fans “a resource for making sense of one’s present life and identity, […] the basis of a critique of current institutions and practices.”31 Fan trailers not only engage in a dialogue with their hypotexts but also within the community of users of the fan transformative works. Sometimes this becomes the starting point for an elaborate civic engagement. Two narrative strategies are often used to repurpose existing source footage for new meanings. These strategies are re-contextualisation and genre bending/shifting.

Recontextualization

  • 32 3tertainmentJunkie, “Man of Steel The Immigrant,” 12 June 2013. Web 24 Apr. 2015. https://www.youtu (...)

28Recontextualization consists in revisiting the hypotext while fitting newly-found information into the larger frame of the text. Man of Steel The Immigrant is a fan trailer whose titles sumps up the new meaning that the fan’s interpretative work appends to the original.32 This fan trailer uses footage from Man of Steel and an alternative narrative line in the shape of vignettes created by the fan. Two narratives are therefore superposed where words are made to match selected shots to highlight what the fan desires to be the underlying message of the movie. The caption that describes the scene of the child shutting himself in a closet reads: “an outcast, an immigrant.” The fan pinned on the story a new content: that of the existential dilemma of the young hero who, as one caption says, “became what society wanted him to be,” in other words “anybody.” This last caption is associated with the footage showing an unidentifiable shadow. The narrative then explains this peculiar choice: “he was convinced that the world was not ready” associated to footage of Superman secluding himself in the fortress of solitude. The first part of the trailer brings to the forefront of the narrative line the existential dilemma of being different.

29However, the second part of the narrative carries a message of hope: the image of the butterfly resting on a chain is accompanied by this message “despite being an outcast, an alien, he chose to believe, to hope, to be.” The footage and the music go faster and the character’s actions are more combative as if to tell us that even if you are different, or an immigrant, you can be what you are and be accepted as you are. By bringing to the surface what he considers or desires to be the underlying meaning of the Superman narrative, the fan generates a conceptual shift in the icon’s meaning, using it as a starting point to engage in an empowering civic imagination for a better world.

Genre shifting/bending

  • 33 H. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, op. cit., p. 169.
  • 34 H. Jenkins, “‘Cultural Acupuncture’: Fan Activism and the Harry Potter Alliance,” Transformative Wo (...)
  • 35 M. J. Costello, “The Super Politics of Comic Book Fandom,” Transformative Works and Cultures, 13, 2 (...)

30Recontextualization is often intertwined with another narrative strategy, genre shifting. According to Jenkins, “If genre represents a cluster of interpretive strategies as much as it constitutes a set of textual features, fans often choose to read (some texts) within alternative generic traditions.”33 Shots from a western or a supernatural film will yield a completely different meaning if they are repurposed in a romance or a slasher film. Very often, fan trailers operate genre shifting or bending to reclaim minorities experience. In this context, fan trailers “connect popular imagination and real-world politics”34 to quote Jenkins. Matthew Costello explains that any fan transformative work is “a political act” and gives the example of slasher fiction’s challenge to hetero-normative relationships.35 This is the case of Brokeback Smallville, a fan trailer that queers Clark Kent using Brokeback Mountain as a background.

31The cinematic units of the official trailer focus on the archetypal representation of cowboys through references to nature, courage, loneliness, family life and friendship. The love story of the two cowboys is hardly hinted at except through the fragment expressed by the voice over: “secret places.” This is a swift displacement of secret selves and identities.

  • 36 BoPeech, “Brokeback Smallville.” Online trailer. Youtube, 16 Jan. 2008. Web 1 Sept. 2017. https://w (...)
  • 37 About queering icons of America, see L. Lippert, “Queering Cowboys, Queering Futurity: the Re/Const (...)
  • 38 L. Lippert, op. cit., p. 142.

32Brokeback Smallville is a fan work that echoes the love story of Jack Twist and Ennis Delmar in Brokeback Mountain (2005), however, the two gay heroes are none other than Lex Luthor and Clark Kent.36 The clips selection turns the homosocialty between Clark and Lex into something more explicitly erotic. Unlike Brokeback Mountain trailer, which “de-eroticized the gay love” relegating it to scenes of invisibility, and which also depoliticized the gay love story, by promoting the film as a universal love story, the fan work brings to the forth Clark and Lex’s queerness.37 The selection of different shots and clips is meant to tell a different subversive story about the icon and, through him, the national imaginary of masculinity that he came to represent. Indeed, the fan trailer pieces together every longing glance that both heroes have cast on their objects of desire, but the editing makes them the reciprocal targets of the enamoured glances. This new version harbours the fan’s desire to inscribe a gay superhero in the collective imagination of the nation by superposing the theme and narrative lines borrowed from Brokeback Mountain on Clark Kent. Leopold Lippert concludes: “bridging the realms of romance and pornography, slash liberates the characters, and indeed the character archetypes, from the heterosexist norms of commercial media production.”38

  • 39 H. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, op. cit., p. 223.
  • 40 H. Jenkins et al., Spreadable Media, op. cit., p. 297.

33This last example, even though tagged by youtubers as a fan trailer, epitomizes my contention that fan trailers amount to mini-movies. Unlike official trailers which emerge from and impart significance to a source text, fan trailers emerge from a plethora of texts and use these semantically dense semiotic units to create a new cultural product that exceeds the boundaries of the source materials. Indeed, trailers, like most “fan-generated texts, cannot simply be interpreted as the material traces of interpretative acts but need to be understood with their own terms as cultural artefacts.”39 This slash movie is a case in point. The shots from the Smallville series, the title hints to Brokeback Mountain and the genre shifting that it implies all create a new product which is a mini slash movie that doesn’t impart meaning to its source but instead pre-empts mainstream ideological content with its own. These fan trailers underscore the shift of the traditional communicational channel. Fans are no longer the receivers of mainstream narratives, but the “multipliers” who “attach new meanings to existing properties.”40 This new configuration has consequences on the definition of the text, the author and the receiver.

Conclusion : the open text

  • 41 J. M. Johnston, Coming Soon: Film Trailers and the Selling of Hollywood Technology, North Carolina: (...)
  • 42 V. Hediger, “A Cinema of Memory in the Future Tense: Godard, Trailers, and Godard Trailers,” in op. (...)
  • 43 Quoted by V. Hediger, op. cit.

34In fan trailers, the narrative dynamic is no longer predicated on telling and withholding, but on excavating/questioning/and pre-empting mainstream content with grassroots desire content: the “new dissemination media have changed the structure, the aesthetics and the availability of trailers.”41 The film market top down distribution gives way to a constellation of online collaborative contributions leading to an open text. The fan trailers, their discussions on forums by fandoms and anti-fans, and the endless repurposing of the edited clips and scenes, all this becomes the transsubstantiation of the open text. Godard’s playful declaration of the death of cinema and the birth of trailers should not be dismissed as a joke, insists Vinzenz Hediger.42 Indeed, when Godard announced that his films would be like a four to five-hour trailer, he was thinking of the capacity of trailers to deconstruct mainstream cinema by revealing the textual construction at work.43 Similarly, fan trailers, reviews, repurposing, are an instance of the text’s permanent construction/deconstruction and reconstruction. With fan trailers, the text overflows its boundaries to the extent of wiping them out. Jonathan Gray quotes Busse saying:

fan work becomes a work in progress in so far as it remains open and constantly increasing : every new addition changes the entirety of interpretations. By looking at the combined fan-text, it becomes obvious how fans’ understanding of the source is always already filtered through the interpretations and characterizations existing in the fan-text. In other words, the community of fans creates a communal (albeit contentious and contradictory) interpretation in which a larger number of potential meanings, directions and outcomes co-reside.

  • 44 K. Hellekson, “A Fannish field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture,” Cinema Journal, 48, no. 4, 2009, (...)
  • 45 It is worth noting that the market has also invested fan works, as some fans are being paid thanks (...)
  • 46 K. Hellekson, ibid, p. 115.
  • 47 Loc. cit.

35The dialogic dynamics inherent to this open text empowers the readers by rendering the textual landscape an inhabitable space for whoever wants to claim it. The peer-to-peer relation that replaced the top/bottom relation inaugurates a new discursive economy. Indeed, released on a collaborative platform, fan trailers are motivated by sharing rather than selling. The promotional discourse that is part of the capitalist production and consumption economy has little place in the fan trailers which, like most fan works, are rather governed by the “gift economy” to use the words of Karen Hellekson.44 As she puts it, fan works are not consumer products but hypereal gifts which means that they participate in the three actions of a gift economy: to give, to receive, to reciprocate.45 Hellekson says “the gifts have value within the fannish economy in that they are designed to create and cement a social structure.”46 Fan trailers, like most fan works online “are incorporated into a multivocal dialogue that creates a metatext, the continual composition of which creates a community. […] The individuality of that piece is lost; it becomes a part of something greater.”47

  • 48 R. Barthes, “The Death of the author,” trans. R. Howard, UBU web Papers, 1967, pp. 1-6.

36The internet as the new dissemination media has fulfilled Barthes’ prophecy of the death of the author and the birth of the open text.48 Fan trailers, like most fan-generated content, are a case in point. The collaborative platforms are the places where nests the reader-as-author and the text as a beginning/ a rhizome.

Notes

1 J. Gray, Shows Sold Separately. Promos, Spoilers and Other Media Paratexts, New York: New York University Press, 2010, p. 82.

2 It is true that many trailers, because of their formulaic structure, fall short of being considered artistic works. “How to Make a Blockbuster Movie Trailer” is a parodic trailer that sums up in less than two minutes the different clichéd components that make up a trailer (shots, music notes, visual effects, information about date of release, cast, director…). Auralnautes, “How to Make a Blockbuster Movie Trailer,” You Tube, 14 Aug 2017, Web 1 Sept 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAOdjqyG37A.

3 Like the authors I am referring to in this paper, I will consider trailers and films as texts. The definition of text is not limited to the written or spoken word, but to any system of signs that carries layers of meaning. J. Gray, Shows Sold Separately. Promos, Spoilers and Other Media Paratexts, op. cit., L. Kernan, Coming Soon: Reading American Movie Trailers, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004. Annat Zanger uses “trailer text” to refer to the trailer and “complete text” to refer to the film (A. Zanger, “Next on your Screen: The Double Identity of the Trailer,” Semiotica, no. 120: 1-2, 1998, pp. 207-230, p. 208).

4 “The paratext in all forms is a discourse that is fundamentally heteronomous, auxiliary and dedicated to the service of something other than itself that constitutes its raison d’être. This something is the text. Whatever aesthetic or ideological investment the author makes in a paratextual element (‘a lovely title,’ or a preface-manifesto), whatever coquettishness or paradoxical reversal he puts into it, the paratextual element is always subordinate to ‘its’ texts, and this functionality determines the essence of its appeal and its existence.” (G. Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 12.)

5 “The epitext is any paratextual element not materially appended to the text within the same volume but circulating, as it were, freely, in a virtually limitless physical and social space. The location of the epitext is therefore outside the book.” (Ibid., p. 344.) In this paper, I am applying Genette’s theory to a cinematic context.

6 Desire text is a word that is inspired by the work of Mathiew Tissen on desire lines in urban landscapes. According to him, these desire lines are the footpaths that deviate from official paved paths. They answer only to the walker’s desires for a different trajectory. This theory has been applied by Kathleen Amy Williams to fan transformative works. As explained later in this paper, the same theory will be applied to fan trailers.

7 L. Kernan, Coming Soon: Reading American Movie Trailers, op. cit., p. 1.

8 G. Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, op. cit., p. 347.

9 N. Kumar, “How Does You Tube Recommendations Algorithm Work,?” 2017, October 25th [Quora, Online forum content]. Message posted to https://www.quora.com/How-does-YouTubes-recommendation-algorithm-work. Accessed 12 Feb. 2019.

10 G. Genette, op. cit., p. 351.

11 Jonathan Gray takes the famous example of the film The Sweet Hereafter which has two different trailers for viewers in USA and in Canada. While using almost the same shots, the trailers’ editing released two different storylines. The one destined for American viewers promoted a story of quest and discovery while the Canadian trailer promoted a story of loss and coping with loss.

12 A. Zanger, “Next on your Screen: The Double Identity of the Trailer,” op. cit., p. 207. It is important to emphasize that nowadays the trailer viewing experience exists not only in movie theatres but also on individual computer screens and mobile phones. In the second part of this paper, we will see how the “new dissemination media have changed the structure, the aesthetics and availability of trailers.” (K. M. Johnson, “The Coolest Way to watch Movie Trailers in the World: Trailers in the Digital Age,” Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, no. 14:2, 2008 pp. 145-160, p. 146)

13 A. Zanger, op. cit., p. 219.

14 V. Hediger, “A Cinema of Memory in the Future Tense: Godard, Trailers, and Godard Trailers,” in M. Temple, J. Williams, M. Witt (eds.), For Ever Godard, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007, pp. 144-159, p. 155-156.

15 A. Zanger writes that “Both the trailer and dream work present their own versions of the film or of waking hours, respectively, meanwhile refusing to disclose their standpoints. Common to both types of texts is the modification of existing signs. The main strategy they employ is ‘negative feeding’ of the narrative through omissions, changes in order, displacements (which result, in the trailer, in the segmentation of metonymies), and condensations (which result, in the trailer, in the combination of two separate flashes) [...].” (Ibid., p. 223.)

16 Scopophilia is the pleasure derived from looking, while epistephilia refers to the pleasure derived from knowing. Epistephilia is coined by Bill Nicols to refer to the principal psychic motor of documentary films. Lisa Kernan, writes “while the trailers are the domain of fiction and do evoke the realm of scopophilia, I find epistephilia a useful concept to discuss in relation to their persuasive arguments that we should see the film they promote – at least, trailers allude to this ‘pleasure in knowing’ by oscillating between withholding and satisfying the audience desire for story knowledge.” (L. Kernan, op. cit., p. 250.)

17 Lisa Kernan compares the trailer’s elliptic structure to enthymemes. They are “unproblematic shortcuts for stating a conclusion that has already been made by syllogistic reasoning […] trailers use enthymemes or deliberately incomplete syllogisms which rely on implicit assumptions that the audience is enjoined to ‘fill’ in [...].” (Ibid., pp. 40-41.)

18 J. Gray, Shows Sold Separately, op. cit., p. 79.

19 L. Kernan, op. cit., p. 15.

20 Ibid., p. 26.

21 H. Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, London, Routledge, 2013, p. 162.

22 K. A. Williams, “Fake and fan film trailers as incarnation of audience anticipation and desire,” Transformative works and Culture 9, 2012, n. pag. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0360.

23 K. A. Williams, “Fake and Fan film Trailers as incarnation of Audience anticipation and Desire,” op. cit., p. 8.

24 In H. Jenkins, S. Ford, J. Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2013, p. 201.

25 Crippled by an accident, Christopher Reeve couldn’t play Superman and was replaced by Brandon Routh. The fans felt that the narrative line should explain the change of the cast by imagining that the new Superman (Brandon Routh) is the son of the former Superman (Christopher Reeve). They made the transition narratively plausible, but also paid homage to a departing icon whose name was associated with that of Superman.

26 The original video is no longer available online, but the author released many updates. Adeel of Steel, “Passing The Torch (Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill).” Online Trailer. You Tube, 6 Oct. 2015. Web 22 Sept. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnFkAUW3GjA.

27 Screen Junkies, “Honest Trailers: Man of Steel.” Online Trailer. You Tube, 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sge5sUNJkiY&t=11s.

28 “Metropolis is reduced to rubble in a sequence that goes on forever and pounds the audience into submission. How many more times do we need to see cities destroyed in fetishistic digital detail, the sensurround sound and fury obliterating drama and even sense for the sake of a ‘big finish?’ Is this our lot in the post-9/11 entertainment landscape?” (T. Burr, “A No Nonsense Superman in The Man Of Steel,” Boston Globe, 13 June 2013. Web 12 Apr. 2015. http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/movies/2013/06/12/saving-world-serious-business-man-steel/7x6ZdGSAQPa6XZJ8XhvHiL/story.html.

29 R. Williams, Culture and Materialism, London: Verso, 2005, p. 42.

30 A distinction should be made here with the DC comics, which includes various examples in which superman abuses his power. For further details on this aspect, see St. Buchenberger, “Superman and the Corruption of Power,” in The Ages of Superman: Essays on the Man of Steel in Changing Time, J. J. Darowski (ed.), Jefferson: Mc Farland & Company Inc. Publishers, 2012, pp. 192-199.

31 H. Jenkins et al., Spreadable Media, op. cit., p. 97.

32 3tertainmentJunkie, “Man of Steel The Immigrant,” 12 June 2013. Web 24 Apr. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73BVOKDHHbE. The theme of Superman the immigrant is also expressed in a vid that uses Hans Zimmer’s music: The Road to Jerusalem and footage from Superman. The music was initially used in the mini-series The Bible, which tells the story of Moses who grew up away from home, thus becoming the archetypal immigrant.

33 H. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, op. cit., p. 169.

34 H. Jenkins, “‘Cultural Acupuncture’: Fan Activism and the Harry Potter Alliance,” Transformative Works and Cultures, 10, 2012, n. pag. Web 12 Sept. 2017. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2012.0305.

35 M. J. Costello, “The Super Politics of Comic Book Fandom,” Transformative Works and Cultures, 13, 2013, n. pag. Web 12 Sept. 2017. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2013.0528.

36 BoPeech, “Brokeback Smallville.” Online trailer. Youtube, 16 Jan. 2008. Web 1 Sept. 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvwPfoeQRfk

37 About queering icons of America, see L. Lippert, “Queering Cowboys, Queering Futurity: the Re/Construction of American Cowboy Masculinity,” in Configuring America: Iconic figures, visuality, and the American Identity, USA: The University of Chicago Press, 2013, pp. 133-148.

38 L. Lippert, op. cit., p. 142.

39 H. Jenkins, Textual Poachers, op. cit., p. 223.

40 H. Jenkins et al., Spreadable Media, op. cit., p. 297.

41 J. M. Johnston, Coming Soon: Film Trailers and the Selling of Hollywood Technology, North Carolina: McFarland: 2009, p. 146.

42 V. Hediger, “A Cinema of Memory in the Future Tense: Godard, Trailers, and Godard Trailers,” in op. cit.

43 Quoted by V. Hediger, op. cit.

44 K. Hellekson, “A Fannish field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture,” Cinema Journal, 48, no. 4, 2009, pp. 113-118.

45 It is worth noting that the market has also invested fan works, as some fans are being paid thanks to advertisings on their pages.

46 K. Hellekson, ibid, p. 115.

47 Loc. cit.

48 R. Barthes, “The Death of the author,” trans. R. Howard, UBU web Papers, 1967, pp. 1-6.

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