Wednesday, February 14, 2024

From Conan to State Farm and Beyond, the World [Media Notes 111]

At the top we see a trailer from the first Conan movie, Conan the Barbarian, released in 1982. Below that we have a commercial that just aired during the 2023 Super Bowl. Both clips star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who first appeared in Hercules in New York (1970), where he was credited as “Arnold Strong.” He won various body-building titles between 1965 and 1980. The Terminator would come out in 1984; he was paired with Danny DeVito in Twins in 1988; True Lies came out in 1994. And so forth.

I’m imagining a film that tells the story of an Arnold Schwarzenegger figure though a series of movie trailers, news clips, and appearances on talk shows, etc. Afterall, aside from his movie career, Schwarzenegger has led a very public life. He married into the Kennedy clan – Maria Shriver, niece of John F. Kennedy – and was Governor of California between 2003 and 2011. There’s lots of film on him.

That’s one thing.

I’m also imagining a movie that’s told entirely as a series of thirty or forty imaginary trailers for movies appearing over, say, a period of thirty years. These imagined movies feature a group of a half-dozen actors and stars whose careers track one another’s. Sometimes two or three appear together in the same film. Maybe there’s a film or two where all of them appear. They appear in various configurations, leading, supporting, bit role, cameo, and so forth. The whole thing would be done so that we pick up resonances from their personal lives through the trailers, friends, lovers, married, divorced, and so on. As if that isn’t enough, we’d also follow changes in American society through the trailers.

That would be a very tricky film to make, requiring a great deal of sophistication and finesse to pull off. Do you think Quentin Tarantino could pull it off?

Let’s get back were we started, with the Conan trailer and the Super Bowl commercial. Let’s take them into the classroom, Media Studies, Cultural Studies, something like that. With the Conan we’d want to deal with the source material, the Conan stories, but also with the history of strong-man adventure films set in an ancient world. Deal with gender roles, war and violence, social class. And then we have the actors: How did such very different actors as Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, and Max von Sydow end up together? What’s that tell us about the film industry? What about the imagery? Want to go into special effects? Where was the film shot, why, and how? What’s the relationship between the trailer and the film it’s selling?

We go through the same drill for the Super Bowl commercial. We can review the history of Super Bowl commercials. What about the role of irony in commercial, Super Bowl commercials in particular. This commercial bleeds irony. It also bleeds meta-narrative. It utterly shatters the “fourth wall.” What’s the history of breaking the fourth wall? And then we have all those “behind the scenes” movies, which are also being parodied here. What’s it say about our time that breaking the fourth wall is utterly routine? How, specifically, does Arnold play against his public image and his image as an actor? What types of films are parodied in the commercial? You get the idea, no?

Then we can compare and contrast the movie trailer as a form with the TV commercial as a form. They’re both short; they’re both sales vehicles. How does juxtaposition work in the two forms?

More later.

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